We have watched as Barack Obama deliberated over how many troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. The White House mission, as I see it, was to present the illusion of winding down an unpopular war without also disavowing or halting the disastrous Bush-Obama brand of nation-building -- which continues, we are told, until 2014. Life-and-death troop movements came to resemble a contest to guess how many jellybeans are in the jar. Distracted, no one seemed to notice the ground shifting ... in Iraq.
While we were looking the other way, the Iraq of anyone's lingering "surge" dreams vanished. But not under the drifts of rubble from the latest car-bombings to further bury the "fragile" security once secured by U.S. troops. Dream Iraq -- the "ally in the war on terror," the veritable Switzerland of Sunni-Shiite cooperation surge-improved security was supposed to enable -- completely disappeared (if it was ever there) in the hardened, U.S.-won corridors of Iraq's ruling institutions.
As the 2011 deadline for the departure of 50,000 remaining U.S. forces in Iraq approaches, the United States has been hinting, heavy-breathing with the desperation of a discarded mistress, that we might be prevailed upon to stay, just for the asking. Why? Probably to postpone the total, down-to-the-spool unraveling of Iraq during Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. This political ruse is strenuously supported by Iraq hawks of the neoconservative persuasion who want to postpone that unraveling indefinitely, even if it means turning the U.S. military into a foreign legion to do so.
Against this backdrop, the following, symbolically momentous but barely noticed events took place.
First, the government of Iraq actually asked a delegation of six U.S. congressmen to leave Iraq! This took place on June 11 after Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Iraq repay the United States for its unstinting war and reconstruction expenditures -- something, don't forget, the Bush administration promised us way back when. Historical precedent set from Finland to Great Britain to Kuwait overwhelmingly favors reimbursement; the United States itself eventually managed to repay France after the American Revolution.
Rohrabacher has politely parsed Iraq's angry exit-invitation as "unofficial," but Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh left no room for doubt: "We as a government reject such statements, and we have informed the American embassy that these congressmen are not welcome in Iraq."
Second, anti-American, Iranian pawn Moqtada al-Sadr claimed to have polled religious authorities about U.S. troops remaining in Iraq and received unanimous disapproval. This is no surprise, but there is a slap in the face in the fatwa which Iran's Fars News Service reports was issued by senior Iraqi Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Kazzem al-Hosseini al-Haeri: "The extended mission of the infidel occupiers in Iraq even for one single day after the mentioned date (as cited in the security agreement) is haram." "Haram" means against Islam.
Third, the Iraqi parliament accuses the United States of looting $17 billion from Iraq. The speaker of the Iraqi parliament traveled to Washington this week partly to make this charge to Vice President Joe Biden. Last month, The Australian newspaper reports, the Iraqi parliament's "anti-graft committee" sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council openly accusing "U.S. institutions" of "stealing the money." The Australian quoted Iraqi parliamentarian Jawad al-Shehaili as saying: "The issue is not about returning the money. It's about revealing that the U.S. side did nothing for Iraq. It gave from the right hand and stole from the left."
How rancorous can a country -- for whom more than 4,000 Americans died -- get?
As recently as 2007, the Bush Iraq Strategy Review predicted Iraq would be "an ally in the war on terror." In December 2008, Charles Krauthammer saw in Iraq "our best hope for the kind of fundamental political-cultural change in the Arab sphere that alone will bring about the defeat of Islamic extremism." Last year, John McCain burbled on about an Iraq that "over time will be a beacon, a model to other nations."
Beacon of American hostility, he should have said.
The dream is over, and what a nightmare -- and that includes the demonstrably failed strategic impact of the surge. Bizarrely, the surge still enjoys golden status. After all, Obama not only replicated it in Afghanistan, he tapped its leading practitioner as CIA director.
When do we get to wake up?