No Comment — August 20, 2007, 11:44 am

A Change in the Offing on Iraq?

Over the weekend, I’ve heard from several different sources very close to the Bush Administration about the high-level discussions over the September 15 report on Iraq (usually referred to in the media as the “Petraeus Report,” though, as we’ve detailed here, General Petraeus actually has preciously little to do with it. The report will be a White House product.) Most of these discussions have focused on the way forward.

Up until about a week ago the expectation was that Bush would stick stubbornly to a straight continuation of the “Surge.” There was even some speculation that there might be a further ramp-up of forces over the 200,000 threshold, particularly in order to take into account the accelerated draw-down that Gordon Brown is expected to begin in the south.

However, I’m hearing that for a number of reasons, Bush is ready to move off this position and instead to move to a draw-down strategy of his own. It will not be anything like the British draw-down, of course. The plan I expect to see emerge on September 15 will be a very slow approach, most likely something like the plan that Senators Warner and Lugar put forward.

What’s driving the shift? This is what I’m hearing:

• Continued erosion of the political position in Iraq. Instead of consolidating its position with the greater stability afforded with an increased troop presence, the al-Maliki Government has actually disintegrated steadily on a week-on-week basis. Sunnis have left the Government. And even within the Shiia population, a curiously centrifugal process has been underway for some time. Each of the three major Shiia powerbrokers has lost influence over the last two months. Instead, there has been a steady move to support local, more precisely, tribal leaders. This makes the political position even more amorphous and difficult to manage than it was before. Bush apparently weighed a coup d’état several times which would have installed a more “manageable” leader in Baghdad. His analysts concluded that such a step would produce a more predictable downside than an upside, so it seems to have been rejected. There have been positive developments in the Sunni community, which has grown more engaged in efforts to root out extremist groups (the White House spin is to call all such groups “al Qaeda,” but this is delusional, even as most U.S. media swallows it hook, line and sinker. However, the groups represent a great array of Salafi orientations, are militant and use terrorist techniques, so they are very much like al Qaeda.)

• Military leaders remain optimistic about their ability to score in the Sunni areas, but they don’t really see tactics which would make much difference in Baghdad and other Shiia areas. They have argued that there would be no benefit from a further ramp-up of forces.

• Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates have been given a go-ahead to begin preparations for a major draw down. The objective will be to dramatically reduce the 150,000 U.S. civilians in Iraq by the time the 2008 elections roll around. There will be a similar, but far slower draw-down of uniformed forces.

• A major open issue revolves around what to do with Iraqi civilians who have been employed by the U.S. Many of them would be vulnerable in the event of a U.S. withdrawal. The total number is in the vicinity of 200,000; though perhaps no more than a quarter of those face real vulnerability in a post-U.S. occupation Iraq. Jordan has closed its borders to Iraqi refugees. State Department leaders and contractors are looking for a system under which they can bring a portion of the total out of Iraq and some back to the United States. No guidelines have yet been drawn on this point which is thought to be highly contentious within the administration.

• The time frame for preparation of a draw-down plan: at least four months.

• Security in the Green Zone is a point of increasing worry. Attacks on the Green Zone have escalated, and the situation is expected to deteriorate significantly in the near term.

• A major point driving the move has been the Congressional G.O.P. Bush was told that if he pushed a straight continuation of the Surge strategy after this fall, he would lose most of the Congressional G.O.P. One senior Republican Congressional figure is said to have told him that the G.O.P. would be “committing suicide” if it went into the 2008 elections with the Iraq War as the lead issue and no draw-down in sight. Bush has been assured that he can hold the G.O.P. in Congress together with an extended, slow paced draw-down.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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