In following the political debate over the Iraq debacle, it helps to take a step back from time to time and to re-focus on Iraq from a strategic vantage point. Our President isn't able to do that, and for the most part neither is the media nor the Congress. As Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) has repeatedly pointed out, the President's surge is not a new strategy but a new tactic. All the goings-on in Congress over which resolution best expresses disapproval of the surge miss the larger picture. Even congressional defunding of the surge is tinkering at the tactical level.
So go read the written testimony of Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.) given last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the .pdf if here). It is, as you would expect, a sobering read. But rather than a thundering denunciation of the President and his Administration, it is a quiet--though blistering--indictment of our political and military establishment that makes most of the debate about the war and how to move forward from here seem like self-serving, short-sighted exercises in chest-thumping by one side and throat-clearing by the other:
Several critics of the administration show an appreciation of the requirement to regain our allies and others' support, but they do not recognize that withdrawal of US forces from Iraq is the sine qua non for achieving their cooperation. It will be forthcoming once that withdrawal begins and looks irreversible. They will then realize that they can no longer sit on the sidelines. The aftermath will be worse for them than for the United States, and they know that without US participation and leadership, they alone cannot restore regional stability. Until we understand this critical point, we cannot design a strategy that can achieve what we can legitimately call a victory.
Any new strategy that does realistically promise to achieve regional stability at a cost we can prudently bear, and does not regain the confidence and support of our allies, is doomed to failure. To date, I have seen no awareness that any political leader in this country has gone beyond tactical proposals to offer a different strategic approach to limiting the damage in a war that is turning out to be the greatest strategic disaster in our history.
When the political debate over Iraq is viewed at the strategic level, it becomes much clearer. Silly diversions are revealed for what they are, like the demands from the President and Vice President that opponents of the surge present their own tactical plans for "success" or the defense secretary's claim that the debate itself emboldens the "enemy." (Gates has candidly said that four wars are currently underway in Iraq, so which enemy is emboldened? All of them?)
The Democrats in Congress want to "send a message" with a resolution opposing the surge. That's fine, as far as it goes. But as Odom's testimony makes clear (go read the whole thing), the President has committed strategic errors of monumental proportions. Getting bogged down in a debate with the President over tactics, lets him off the hook for the most egregious of his sins, which are strategic, and makes it more difficult to chart a way out of this strategic disaster.
Late Update: Here's a link to the video of the hearing that included Odom's testimony.