THE TIMING OF BASRA….Did Nouri al-Maliki really launch the Basra offensive without telling us beforehand? Several observers doubt this, suggesting that, in fact, there was a direct quid pro quo: in return for Maliki allowing the Iraqi election law to pass (a sop to the Sunni Awakening councils we’ve been working with), Bush and Cheney agreed to green-light the Basra project (designed to solidify Maliki’s control of the Shiite south). Ilan Goldenberg isn’t convinced:
The reason I don’t buy this theory is that the timing makes no sense whatsoever from a domestic political perspective. If there was a quid pro quo, the Bush Administration would have asked for a waiting period until after the Petraeus Crocker testimony. Why go with such a high risk operation a week before the progress report to Congress? Makes no sense. This Administration is pretty incompetent about a lot of things, but for the most part they seem to understand political timing.
I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I can think of several reasons why the White House and the military might have believed the timing of the Basra operation was just fine:
Maybe Maliki and his generals convinced everyone that this would be a quick mopping-up operation lasting only a few days. Bush, in particular, adores bold action and seems eager to believe in every light at the end of every tunnel, so he might well have bought into this. Far from the timing being a problem, then, it held out the hope of providing Petraeus with a huge success story leading up to his congressional testimony.
Violence and fatalities have been up this month in Iraq, so Petraeus was going to have trouble selling his usual rosy surge scenario anyway. Given that, why not get all the bad news out of the way at once? In fact, in a way the Basra offensive actually helps Petraeus out by providing him with a ready-made excuse for why the fatality numbers are on the upswing.
Bush and Petraeus are both eager to pause the drawdown of surge troops, and Basra provides them with a perfect pretext. After all, you can’t very well withdraw troops at the very moment when our brave allies are finally making a stand to restore law and order in preparation for upcoming elections, can you?
I have no idea if any of these speculations are true. Probably not. As with most things in Iraq, the Basra offensive is probably a fairly straightforward clusterfuck with no particular rhyme or reason in its timing. Still, there are plausible explanations for why we might have been OK with it despite Petraeus’s upcoming testimony. Maybe you can come up with others.