As sad and grim as it is, it looks very much like Cheney and Bush have decided to "double-down" on Iraq: send in more US troops, tilt overtly to the Shi'a in the civil war, and at the same time back the SCIRI/Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim faction in the intra-Shi'a conflict against Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr heads the Mahdi Army militia, generally thought to be the largest and most powerful in Iraq at them moment. SCIRI's military wing is known as the Badr Brigades or the Badr Organization. It also largely controls the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which makes the Iraqi police to a large extent Shi'a militia and death squads.
"Double down" is what the generals are apparently calling it. As one of Josh Marshall's commenters pointed out, though, it's probably the wrong gambling metaphor. He suggests "double or nothing" would be closer. I guess "bet the farm" or "playing va banc" would work, too.
It was just a week ago that the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report was issued. The ISG report offered some proposals that at best would have allowed the Cheney-Bush administration to kick the Iraqi can down the road for another two years, with a distant possibility that they might have mitigated some of the violence. I was surprised to find that Bob Dreyfuss was one of the most hopeful commentors I saw on the potential of the Baker-Hamilton report to lead to a rapid American withdrawal.
Dreyfuss has rethought his position. In Bush v. The Two Majorities TomPaine.com 12/13/06, he writes about the liklihood that Bush will defy both the American and Iraqi majorities who want US troops to leave Iraq:
If, indeed, President Bush is determined to flout both of those majorities in pursuit of a phantasmagorical notion of “victory” in Iraq, then the future is grim beyond all measure. The latest news from Iraq - namely, that Bush and Ambassador Khalilzad are trying to micromanage the creation of yet another pro-American coalition government to replace the current regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki - is a sign that the presidentis truly lost in a fantasy land. The president is making policy for an Iraq that exists only in his imagination, even as conditions in the real Iraq, the one here on this planet, deteriorate ever faster.
That's pretty much where we are, it seems. Dreyfuss' term "phantasmagorical" is a very appropriate one.
His article is also notable for saying what most Democrats are still very hesitant to say:
But it is the second majority, the one in Iraq, that will unravel Bush’s plans for that country much faster than Congress will.
This is why superficial analogies to the Vietnam War and Vietnamization can be so misleading about the current situation. One immediate possibility is that the Shi'a parties will form a common front and turn on the Americans. Dreyfuss notes:
And although, at this moment, a coalition between Sadr and the Sunni-led resistance in Iraq is unlikely, things are moving fast. What seems impossible today could take the United States by surprise tomorrow. As Sadr said on Sunday, in a fiery speech demanding that the United States withdraw its troops: “Yesterday’s friends are today's enemies, and yesterday's enemies are today's friends.”
I want to also give the PBS Newshour credit for putting Phil Carter on TV last week to say what most people think but even Democratic politicians are still too timid to say: that the Iraq War has become a lost cause.
From Military Analysts Debate Proposed Shifts in Iraq Strategy 12/08/06:
PHILLIP CARTER: Well, I think there's a lot of bad blood in Iraq that we can't simply paper over or work over. You know, if we pulled every play out of the counterinsurgency playbook, if we delivered security, and water, and electricity, and the rule of law, I still don't think that will be enough not to win hearts and minds and not to create the kind of stability that we need for victory there. ...
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Phillip Carter, Senator McCain yesterday said that the study group's decision not to put in more troops was a - and this is a quote - "recipe that will lead to, sooner or later, our defeat in Iraq." Would you go that far?
PHILLIP CARTER: I think Senator McCain may be shooting the messenger here. The panel is trying to describe what it saw and come up with some recommendations. I don't know that the panel's recommendations themselves would lead to defeat, and I don't know that putting more troops in isnecessarily the right answer, either.
If we're not willing - and I think the panel says this - if we're not willing to put a lot more troops in, something on the order of 100,000 to 200,000, then I think we do need to start thinking seriously about what the outcome will be.
And whether we call it a defeat or we just call it the end is really up to historians, but we shouldn't shoot the messenger for telling us that things are going badly.
... No one wants to tell the American people or to tell Congress or to tell the president that we've lost the war, and no one wants to wrestle with the implications of that.
So, instead, I think they've kicked that can down the road by arguing for a strategy that merely substitutes Iraqi police and army units for American ones. And that's a good withdrawal strategy, but it's not a victory strategy, and it doesn't necessarily lead to any sort of definitive outcome. It really just stalls that decision another year or two. (my emphasis)