Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stay the course +

I read Bob Woodward’s State of Denial this week, and it is hard to dispute the book's basic premise when we are faced with Our Dear Leader’s growing belligerence as seen in the January 10th call for escalation in Iraq.

The President got several things right in his speech: 1) “the situation in Iraq is unacceptable”, 2) “there is no magic formula for success in Iraq”, and 3) “America’s commitment is not open ended”.

Bush listed several clear “consequences of failure” which are already a reality, including: 1) “radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits”, 2) “they would be in a better position to…create chaos in the region”, and 3) “Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons”.

It is against this backdrop that Bush proposes to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq with 80%+ going to help secure Baghdad and the balance going to Anbar province to fight Al Qaeda types. At least 4,000 out of 160,000 of our forces will be “pressuring terrorists”, 30,000 will be holding Baghdad…I wonder where the other 125,000 are?

Bush also provides a laundry list of actions and political commitments to be undertaken by the Iraqi government: like taking responsibility for security in all its provinces, passing legislation to share oil revenue among all Iraqis (how to do this is the crux of all the sectarian violence), the Iraqis will spend $10B of their own money to rebuild and perhaps most controversially re-Bathification (or un-deBathification) which means allowing the former Saddam cronies back into power. Even if I shared Bush’s vision (or is it a hallucination?) of a free, democratic, secure and America-loving Iraq, I would think it was a huge mistake to rely on a weak foreign government to implement policy that is as fundamental as Bush says this struggle is to this nation’s future welfare.

If this “new” strategy is so clearly correct, why has it taken us 45 months to come up with it? Just 6 months ago Bush was telling us that sending more troops would send the wrong signal (to the Iraqi government) about our intentions to stay indefinitely.

A troop surge would have made some sense 3 years ago before the “insurgency” became entrenched. Now we have such a mix of violence from Al Qaeda, insurgents, anti-occupation and sectarian forces that I don’t think a simple counter-insurgency strategy will suffice. It is not clear to me that one can truly counter an insurgency, but two essential preconditions to doing so are having the support of the local populace and good intelligence. The US has neither in Iraq.

And finally, despite all his rhetoric about how much the Iraqis (indeed all people) yearn to live in freedom, Bush seems to think that a decrease in US troops will lead to the “collapse of the Iraq government, tear the country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale”.

Jeepers that is almost as bad as his “mushroom cloud” comments during the rush to war.

Never mind that Iraq was the cradle of civilization and survived for thousands of years before the US was created. After 45 months is this all we have to show for $500 billion and 25,000 US troop casualties? A country so fragile it will cease to function if we remove any of our 140,000 combat troops?

Considering how completely Bush and Co. have bungled Iraq, I don’t believe that anyone needs to justify how another path would be more likely to succeed. Nevertheless, the talking head media has latched on to the idea that democrats have to provide an alternative plan. While I would push to bring our troops home as quickly as their safety permits, I would also understand it if the democrats and republicans opposed to the surge, simply endorsed the Baker-Hamilton report’s plan.


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