The Military Toll
July is shaping up to be the least deadly month of 2007 for the U.S. military in Iraq, reports Stephen Farrell for The New York Times. So far, only 74 troops have been killed, with the last being the death of Marine in Anbar province. The lowered death toll follows the deadliest period of the war -- 331 fatalities from April to June, when the U.S. conducted extensive military operations in Baghdad and Diyala province. Some fatalities might still be recorded in August, so the number might go up some, but it's still welcome news for a military that has had its share of bad news. Farrell includes other security news as well: an American aircrew was safely evacuated from its crashed helicopter in Baghdad and Iraqi politicians were in frantic talks to prevent the largest Sunni bloc from pulling out of the government.
Gordon Lubold writes on the drop in U.S. deaths for the Christian Science Monitor, giving a little more detail than Farrell. According to a Pentagon analysis, the number of deaths caused by IEDs is down by more than half and violence is down in the four most dangerous provinces of Anbar, Baghdad, Diayala and Salahaddin. Lubold notes that Iraqi violence seems to be decreasing as well, according to icasualties.org. Lubold turns to Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and who is described as critical of the war, for a little insight. "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq," O'Hanlon wrote on Monday in an New York Times op-ed. "At least in military terms."
The drop in casualties, if sustained, could also help kids at home in the states. And not a moment too soon. USA Today's Gregg Zoroya reports that the wives of husbands deployed in Iraq commit "markedly higher rates of child neglect and abuse than when their spouses are home," according to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Neglect is almost four times greater during deployment periods while child abuse is twice as common. "Having been through two deployments myself, I won't deny there have been nights where I have sat in agony because I snapped at my own two children for nothing," says Tera Brockway, whose husband is stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. Army wives say that more time at home for their husbands is the answer. "Many spouses are lonely, scared and/or tired," said Amy Lambert living at Fort Stewart, Ga.
The confirmation hearing for Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the president's nominee to replace Marine Gen. Peter Pace as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed that Mullen believes the war in Iraq is taking a heavy toll on the military and that drawdown plans are needed. William Branigin handles the Washington Post's coverage, and notes that Mullen sounded a grim tone on the political prospects for Iraq. Baghdad's politicians "need to view politics and democracy as more than just majority rule, winner-take-all, or a zero-sum game," he replied. He's committed to capping tours of duty at 15 months and that will place a limit on President George W. Bush's "surge" strategy. April 2008 is the end of the surge because keeping the troop levels would demand longer deployments, which Mullen seems to oppose. In all, he sounded levelheaded and competent, and senators from both parties are likely to support his confirmation.
Mark Mazzetti of the Times has the story, and adds that while Mullen said he would be involved in any contingency planning for a drawdown, a rapid exit of troops could turn Iraq into "a cauldron" for wider war in the region. Mullen sounds even gloomier in the Times story when it comes to discussing the political prospects in the Green Zone. Unless things change, "no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference." Such grim testimony is in sharp contrast to Pace's statements over the last two years; he was often criticized for giving too rosy a glow to Iraq events. Mazzetti notes that neither Mullen nor Gen. James E. Cartwright, who is up for the vice-chair position, faced particularly tough questioning because neither man had been central to Iraq war planning or decision-making in the last few years. Mullen seems to have a good grasp of what's possible with today's military. The twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would strain the services for years to come, he said, and even if the U.S. cut its force in Iraq in half by 2008, "it would still be another three to four years before it would be possible to guarantee that troops could spend two years at home between combat tours."
Tom Vanden Brook has the story for USA Today, and suggests the admiral would support a "strategic reassessment" if Iraq doesn't make progress toward political reconciliation by mid-September, seemingly placing himself at odds with Gen. David H. Petraeus in Baghdad. (Petraeus and others have said September should be seen as a snapshot and not indicative of trends in Iraq.)
On the Road with Rice and Gates
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert H. Gates find themselves cast adrift in a desert kingdom of sheikhs and palm trees, where they compete for the love of ... oh, wait. That's the plot of "Road to Morocco," one of those Bing Crosby-Bob Hope "On the Road" movies. In real life, Gates and Rice find themselves cast adrift in the Middle East, where they're hoping to persuade sheikhs, kings and modern-day pharaohs to compete for the love of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and pry him away from Iran's embrace. Helene Cooper and David S. Cloud write for the Times, however, that the diplomatic duo met with "only vague promises to deliver on earlier commitments of support for Iraq." So far, the trip hasn't measured up to expectations in the White House, with Saudi Arabia also not warming up to Israel as much as hoped and a less than robust public rejection of Iran from other governments. Looks like that $20 billion military aid package isn't buying as much compliance as intended.
The Times' Carl Hulse reports that Congress will not vote on any Iraq policy before its August recess.
The strategy reflects a calculation by Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate that the best approach politically is to deny Republicans the opportunity to put themselves on record against the current policy in Iraq, leaving them to explain to voters why they have steadfastly backed President Bush on the war.Um, OK. Republicans, with some justification frankly, said the Democratic strategy showed they were more interested in playing politics than ending the war.
Walter Pincus of the Post reports that the White House hasn't budgeted past Sept. 30 for its surge strategy, because it didn't know how long the increase in forces would last. This has frustrated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. "It's good practice to don't start building until you know what it costs," groused Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who supports the war. The White House will instead seek supplemental funding for fiscal 2008 to pay for the troops. As usual.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Wall Street Journal
No Iraq coverage today.
An unsigned editorial takes the Bush administration to task for the $20 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in order to promote "stability." The Post editorial board is miffed because the U.S. is back to supporting autocratic regimes through money and war toys.
The USA Today editorial board is even more pissed off at Iraq's parliament and leaders. Fuming at its decision to take a month-long break while American troops are dying, America's newspaper calls the break an "ill-timed recess" that underscores the paralysis of the Iraqi government.
Clifford May, a former Times foreign correspondent and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argues the Iraqi government's lackadaisical attitude toward crisis management is partly America's fault. "Watching the debates taking place in Washington -- hardly the most inspiring example of democracy in action -- Iraqis don't know whether we are going to stay to finish the job or abandon them to al-Qaeda terrorists and Iranian-backed death squads." So what's the solution? Ban all debate? It seems for May the answer is, sadly, yes. He implicitly urges the ending of all this talk of withdrawing since it only emboldens Iran and al Qaeda.
Mario M. Cuomo former New York governor and once-hyped Supreme Court possibility, writes that by abandoning its war powers as spelled out in Article I of the Constitution, Congress bears some complicity for the mess in Iraq. And since there will be no legal decision on sorting out the dispute between the commander in chief and the Congress, a political decision to end the war must made and a political compromise reached.