John McCain in Iraq, Year 5

In Iraq:: Moktada al-Sadr threatened to end his cease fire, after being forced to call off demonstrations against the American siege of Sadr City. Since Saturday, 12 US soldiers and scores of Iraqis have been killed in renewed fighting. Seven more, including children, were killed this morning from a blast in Sadr City.

In Washington, Shorter General Petraeus
: We’ve made progress, but it’s so fragile and reversible that I’ve recommended we not withdraw more troops after July beyond those we’re forced to withdraw, and I don’t know when if ever we can bring any more home. No light at the end of the tunnel. (h/t MarieRoget) I’m still dodging Warner’s question: Is this making America safer? But in perhaps the most important exchange yesterday, Crocker admitted to Biden that the more serious al Qaeda threat is in Afghanistan/Pakistan, the place Admiral Mullen said we’re short changing because of Iraq.
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John McCain’s supporters are anxious to have the media report what McCain meant regarding his willingness to leave US troops in Iraq for 100 years. But the more McCain’s supporters interpret his words, the more muddle headed McCain appears.

McCain argued that once US forces defeat the extremists, the US can keep troops in Iraq indefinitely just as the US does in South Korea, because American soldiers would not continue to be killed. (He later added that Iraqis could go on killing each other; see extended context.) Is McCain’s scenario plausible?

McCain’s problem is not merely that his analogy to Korea falls apart when analyzed — see Juan Cole and Frank Rich and Bill Sher — but that he assumes an extended US occupation of Iraq after we’ve subdued it by force would not provoke a deep and continuing hostility by resentful Iraqis (and Muslims elsewhere). It’s simply not credible to believe that such hostility would not produce continuing attacks on US forces as long as they occupied Iraq and shielded its collaborating government. Even now, polls of Iraqi opinion have repeatedly found the Iraqis resent our occupation, are furious when we attack civilians, find attacking Americans acceptable and want a timetable for withdrawal (as do 60 percent of Americans ).

If Korea (or Germany or Japan) is not a helpful analogy, what is? Perhaps a more apt comparison is Israel’s decades long war with the Palestinians. Consider the parallels.

Like the Israelis, we are seen as an unwelcome occupation army. Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army/militia is the Hamas equivalent. Our siege of Sadr City and the Mahdi militia looks exactly like Israel’s siege of Gaza and Hamas, complete with armed forays and air strikes in response to rocket attacks directed at the occupiers. And just like Hamas elements, the most militant of al-Sadr’s militia seem unlikely to end their armed resistance against the foreign occupiers until the occupiers leave.

Like Israel and Gaza, the US has al-Sadr’s stronghold in Sadr City under siege. As in Gaza, the occupying army controls who enters or leaves, while everyone trapped inside confronts shortages of food, water, and electricity. Just like Gaza, we’re creating a humanitarian crisis, as hundreds try to flee the expected destruction. And just like Gaza, the siege breeds fear, anger and hatred, leading inevitably to further violence. Hundreds could be killed.

Just like Fatah’s Abbas, we portray Iraq’s al-Maliki as the "moderate." Our protection frees Al-Maliki to apply military pressure to al-Sadr, demanding that he disband his militia or be barred from the elections next fall that could diminish the power of al-Maliki and his Shia allies. Al-Maliki would disenfranchise al-Sadr’s entire political movement, a strategy the US likely supports because it avoids the "mistake" the US made in Gaza when it pushed for elections that brought Hamas to power.

Our support for Iraqi democracy has become this: If you’re going to allow elections, disenfranchise the opposition first and strangle its supporters. If they try to demonstrate against the occupation, force them to call it off.

Israel’s experience in Gaza and the West Bank give us an advance look at what 100 years of occupying Iraq could mean. It is the opposite of the peaceful scenario McCain imagines. It should be obvious that descending into similar endless violence would be a disaster for America and for Iraqis.

But John McCain cannot see the obvious, because he cannot imagine how people he wants to save would not welcome our interference. Are we not honorable? Did we not mean well even as tens of thousands of people died and millions became refugees?

Such stunning myopia to our own responsibility for perpetuating violence is McCain’s greatest danger; it is why the Democrats’ interpretation of McCain’s 100 years in Iraq is essentially correct, no matter how much the right wing media complains.