Saddam Hussein is dead. Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. And Al Qaeda in Iraq is much weakened. Does the United States still need to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq to prevent an Al Qaeda comeback and to wage a proxy war against Iran?
The Bush administration’s top guns in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, told two Senate committees Tuesday that the answer is yes. Their argument was the same used to defend President Bush’s “surge” strategy in September: Whether it’s going well or badly, the Iraq project is too important to risk failure by withdrawing U.S. forces “prematurely.” But in nine hours of testimony, Petraeus and Crocker avoided offering any benchmarks that, if met, would permit most U.S. soldiers to leave at last.
On the contrary, they cited the very problems that Bush created by his decision to invade Iraq -- an Al Qaeda presence and enhanced Iranian influence -- as requiring an indefinite U.S. military effort. And they seemed more, not less, worried about Iranian attempts to destabilize Iraq. Crocker asserted that Iran is pursuing a “Lebanonization” strategy by using the Quds unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to arm and train to attack U.S. and Iraqi government forces. Petraeus said Iran is the source of the 107-millimeter rockets that have recently been fired from Sadr City into the Green Zone.
The U.S. has offered to join Iraq in another round of talks with Iran, but Tehran has so far declined. Of course, the U.S. and Iran have been waging a not-always-cold war since 1979. What’s new is the relative military, political and economic weakness of the U.S. after five years in Iraq -- and the wealth and assertiveness of Iran. Why should the Iranians negotiate with the Great Satan when they can sit back and let their proxies bleed him white?
While Republicans fret about Iran (a good election-year rallying cry for the GOP), Democrats have apparently concluded that the only way to end the war is to win the presidency. Instead of trying to cut off funding to wage further conflict, they focused Tuesday on spotlighting its economic, human and strategic costs. Democratic senators faulted Iraq’s failure to pay more for its own defense, asked why Americans should borrow from China and their grandchildren to rebuild a country that’s exporting oil at $110 a barrel and suggested that U.S. aid to Iraq should be given as loans instead of grants.
Meanwhile, the bloodshed in Iraq -- with Americans among its victims -- will continue as long as it suits Iran and Al Qaeda’s interests.