Commentary: Iraq surge has failed in its main purpose

Here we are in the final throes of the Bush administration and someone has foolishly let Darth Cheney off his leash again.

He immediately set off on a celebratory visit to Baghdad to praise the “huge accomplishment” of increased security wrought by the now-ending surge in the number of American troops. A large “BOOM” or two marked his pronouncements and another 40 Iraqi civilians died at the hands of a suicide bomber.

The vice president swiftly got down to repeating one of the old lies he loves so well, telling us how Iraq and the late dictator Saddam Hussein were connected to the events of 9/11.

Next door in Jordan the putative Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain, on his way home from his own personal tour of Baghdad, repeated for the second day in a row a charge that Iran was training al Qaida terrorists and then sending them back to Iraq. At the urging of fellow senator Joe Lieberman he quickly corrected that to say that Iran was training Iraqi insurgents.

But for the traveling politicians and this week’s fifth anniversary of our invasion and occupation of Iraq the war would have continued to be missing in action from network and cable television and the front pages of our newspapers, as well as from the attention of most Americans.

After all, who has time to think about our wars when we have the ongoing road show as the last two Democrats still standing in their party’s nomination process do personal battle, the state of New York struggles to find a governor who can keep his zipper closed and the nation’s economy is melting down quicker than Chernobyl’s reactors.

Everyone seems content to think about anything but Iraq until Gen. David Petraeus journeys back to Washington in April to give a report on the surge’s successes and how they must be guarded by keeping 130,000 U.S. troops on the ground indefinitely — an idea embraced by President George W. Bush, Cheney and McCain.

None of those worthies took note, in their praise of the surge, about the failure of its main purpose. The surge was intended as a short-term escalation of troop strength to buy a bubble of better security so the Iraqi government and parliament could make progress toward reconciliation among its own warring, revenge-minded communities.

They got their improvements in the Baghdad security environment thanks in part to the surge, but also thanks to the completion of ethnic cleansing in some of the worst neighborhoods in the capital and tactical decisions taken by Sunni tribal insurgents and Shiite cleric Moktada al Sadr and his murderous Mahdi militia.

The weak central government of Prime Minister Nour al Maliki has achieved little or nothing in reassuring the Sunni minority — newly and temporarily aligned with the American forces they once attacked and killed — that they will have a future and a fair shake in the new Iraq.

For the Shiite majority and their various factions running the government it’s been business as usual, siphoning off billions of dollars of domestic oil earnings and American aid intended to pay for rebuilding basic services like clean water and electricity for more than a few hours each day.

In the Shiite south of the country, with its vital oilfields and oil shipment facilities, an internecine struggle for control quietly rages and agents of the Iranian ayatollahs expand their influence and capacity for making real trouble.

In the north, where the country’s other oilfields and refinery are located, Kurds maneuver for control of the city of Mosul and those oil facilities while keeping a nervous eye on neighboring Turkey which recently mounted large cross-border raids against Kurdish guerrillas.

Meantime, some in our military worry that the Iraqi insurgents may use Gen. Petraeus’ high profile visit to Washington next month to launch coordinated attacks timed for maximum damage, maximum embarrassment and maximum impact on the American election campaign.

Some may find cause for celebration in the partial successes achieved in Iraq but I have a nervous feeling that those celebrating are the same people who are comforted by the knowledge that President Bush and his appointees are working overtime to contain the damage done by that little setback in our economy.