George Bush, a.k.a. the Decider, seems to be struggling with what to do with in Iraq. He can't decide. He was supposed to announce his decision on a "new way forward" last week. But, he put it off. Late last week the indications were that he was going to increase the troops in Iraq -- a surge of 20,000 to 30,000 additional troops -- in an effort to get control of Baghdad and then move on to other areas of Iraq. But then The Washington Post reported that the Joint Chief of Staff unanimously opposes additional troops.
What is the decider to do?
Things began to unravel in Washington, DC when the Baker-Hamilton Study Group put forward an honest assessment of the failure on the ground in Iraq. What had been obvious from reports from Iraq now was being said openly in Washington, DC -- things are bad and they are getting worse, "grave and deteriorating" in the language of the Study Group -- radical change was needed.
Bush prepared to dilute the Baker-Hamilton report before their conclusions were announced by seeking reports from the Pentagon and State Department. Now a debate is raging. The president seems to have rejected the advice of Baker-Hamilton for more diplomacy and a reduction in troops -- advice that did not go far enough because it still promised tens of thousands of U.S. troops on the ground for many more years in Iraq.
With regard to the raging debate different views are being leaked to push the debate in the media. Last week it was reported: "an advisor involved in White House discussions said of Mr. Bush: 'his is the direction he's moving in. He understands we have to win and to do that requires more troops.'
"Mr. Bush is debating with his aides and outside advisors how many extra troops there should be and for what period. His options range from a temporary 'surge' of 20,000 troops to a 'big push' involving more than 50,000."
This is consistent with the view of the leading Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, who has been urging more troops at every opportunity he can find. The neo-con base of Bush's foreign policy is also pushing for more troops. The American Enterprise Institute put out a report "Choosing Victory" urging an increase in troops. And, at his swearing in as Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates said "we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come." Gates who has a history of telling those in power what they want to hear seems to have a hard choice -- does he tell the president what he wants, more troops, or does he listen to the Joint Chiefs who oppose that view? What is a tell-them-what-they-want to hear guy supposed to do!
A leak regarding the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in The Washington Post describes an "intense" debate in the White House: "The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate." The Joint Chiefs have a number of problems with the strategy:
* The White House has no defined mission and is latching onto the surge idea because they don't know what to do.
* Any short-term mission may only set up the United States for bigger problems when it ends.
* A short-term mission could give an enormous edge to virtually all the armed factions in Iraq -- including al-Qaeda's foreign fighters, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias -- without giving an enduring boost to the US military mission or to the Iraqi army.
* A surge could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to go to Iraq to attack U.S. troops.
* Shiite militias may simply melt back into society during a U.S. surge and wait until the troops are withdrawn -- then reemerge and retake the streets of Baghdad and other cities.
* The announcement of a time frame for the mission could play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy.
According to The Post, "the idea of a much larger military deployment for a longer mission is virtually off the table, at least so far, mainly for logistics reasons, say officials familiar with the debate. Any deployment of 40,000 to 50,000 would force the Pentagon to redeploy troops who were scheduled to go home."
Then, the Democratic Party leader in the Senate stepped into the debate on the side of increasing troops. On the ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, on December 17, Sen. Reid said that a temporary surge in troops in Baghdad to secure the city would be acceptable to him. And, the Democratic leadership -- Pelosi, Reid, Emanuel, Biden -- are all urging the Democrats in Congress to approve the supplemental budget appropriation for Iraq of $160 billion, expected to be voted on in February. And, the Democratic leadership is also lining up to expand the military by 20,000 to 200,000 soldiers! Hey, didn't the Democrats just get elected to end the war?
On the same day that Reid came out for more troops, former Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell told CBS's Face the Nation the U.S. was losing the war and more troops would not make any difference noting "I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work."
And, while the Democrats were sounding hawkish, a Republican hawk became dovish as his 2008 re-election approached. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) a proud past supporter of the war said he was "at the end of his rope" and described the war as "criminal." He urged getting out if we could not figure out how to win. How many more of the 20 republican senators up for re-election in 2008 will be distancing themselves from the debacle in Iraq for fear of the Santorum effect, i.e. the end of their political career?
What we are seeing play out in Washington is a government that has spent as much as the whole world combined on its military now being unable to face reality -- the U.S. has been defeated and there is nothing the most expensive military in the world can do to change that reality. The ill fated and illegal invasion of Iraq has failed. Now, we just have to get President Bush and the leadership of the Democratic Party to face the facts, and bring the troops home.
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