Much has been made of the fact that there is a conflict
betweeen most of the Pentagon top brass, which wants to train Iraqi forces and draw down U.S. troops, and the civilian "leadership" headed by Bush that wants "double down" and send more troops. The fact that we don't have
the troops to double-down with
; the fact that intensifying the American presence in Iraq will only increase resistance
to that presence; the fact that training Iraqi "security forces" is essentially arming and training tribal and militia groups that will not remain a consistent or national security force--all of these facts have been well-covered before, and don't need repeating.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this conflict, however, is being largely overlooked: Finally--perhaps for the first time--the Pentagon and the Administration will have to decide whether they are fighting a war or conducting an occupation.
I have made the point many times before that ever since Saddam was quickly deposed and Bush raised the "Mission Accomplished" banner, what we have been conducting in Iraq has been an occupation, not a war. The fundamental difference between a war and an occupation is simple:
In war, your objective is to seize (or defend) territory, kill or capture the enemy, and (hopefully) depose the enemy government.
In an occupation, your objective is to subjugate and manage a foreign population with peace and stability, while building up infrastructure in and/or exploiting the resources of that population.
Similarly, a "war" can end in only one of two ways: victory or defeat (with the occasional stalemate). An occupation, however, can end only in annexation or withdrawal.
Rhetorically, one of the biggest difficulties in discussing the Iraq mess has come from the frustrating logical disconnect promulgated by the Administration: it talks about the conflict in Iraq as if it were a "war" (saying it will accept nothing less than "victory", for instance), but acts in all respects like it is conducting an occupation. Democrats and progressives, meanwhile, cannot talk about troop withdrawals without looking like they advocate America's defeat in war--when all they're really calling for is withdrawal from an occupation since we cannot annex an Iraqi population that hates us.
Now at long last, however, the Administration is being forced to make a choice between WAR and OCCUPATION.
Steve Gilliard really said it best:
Sadr has at least 60,000 men under arms, and I would bet could raise far more than that if he needed to, including several army units. So what is the plan, go into Sadr City and replay Stalingrad? Then fight off the Sunnis in Ramadi, who, will for no other reason than cussedness, attack our supply lines. So you will have the US trying to hunt down people in their homes, alleys they know like their hands, streets which have been presighted for years.
And to add to this madness, they're gonna be looking for Moqtada Sadr. In his home, in the neighborhood named for his family. How much you wanna bet they fail? ...
Yes, Steve. That would be war. If we're actually at WAR, a replay of Stalingrad--with the concomitant horrific number of lives lost and damage done--is exactly what we're looking at. If Sadrist militia members are the "enemy"; if al-Sadr controls territory that we want to control; if al-Sadr constitutes the leader of enemy that needs to be deposed--then yes. That is exactly what the basis necessities of fighting a war would require.
Alternatively, there is what Meteor Blades said:
Whether the troops can be found to up the ante in Iraq and whether, if found, they can actually defeat al-Sadr in his own city without playing the Fallujah card is not something I'd want to "double-down" on even if we were just talking dollars instead of lives.
In war, the "Fallujah card" is always an option. Much as the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima are horrific and appalling, such large-scale massacres of "the enemy" serve a purpose in war: they prove the point that you and your army are not to be messed with, that resistance is futile, and that surrender and pacification are the only option.
Further, a large scale "war" that we would truly need to engage in to fulfill the wet dreams of the NeoCons in power would require national sacrifices and probably a draft.
But then, we're not currently fighting a war--which is why these things have not yet happened.
Democrats and progressives are not the only victims of this rhetorical disconnect. Authoritarian FReepers and 101st Fighting Keyboardists can't figure out why this hasn't already happened; they believe that liberals are tying the Administration's hands from fighting the "war" heavy-handedly enough.
But the truth is more sinister: Bush has not been fighting a war there. The reason for that, of course, is that what Bush and the NeoCon corporatists want from Iraq is a stable country with an American puppet government that sells its oil cheap to the United States, under the control of American oil companies. Killing the Iraqi people, taking their territory and killing their leaders (war) doesn't serve this purpose--subjugating a foreign population with stability, while exploiting its resources (occupation) does. You don't build 14 permanent bases if you're fighting a war, instead of engaging in an occupation.
Of course, the American people would never support the ongoing decade-long occupation of another country, so the Bushies have had to use the language of war to describe the conflict, leading to much psychological disconnect and confusion.
Now, however, the bluff is being called. The "Occupation" is a complete and utter disaster; withdrawal is the only option at this point.
The "War", however, has really barely begun as such. No one in their right mind would advocate actually starting to conduct such a war, of course: the loss of life on both sides, the loss of treasure, and the horrific political backlash would be beyond contemplation. Further, the popular support for such a war just isn't there. But that doesn't mean that the Bushies aren't crazy enough to push the attempt.
And nothing less than a momentous decision between War and Occupation is currently being made right now. Bush and McCain, seeing their Occupation flounder, now wants a War. The Pentagon, tired of losing men and treasure to a botched Occupation, wants a withdrawal.
Either way, though, the bluff has finally been called. Whichever way the decision goes, though, we'll finally be able to end the rhetorical disconnect and call this conflict what it really is.
Let's pray they're sane enough to make the right choice.