Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fueling the Fire

The report from the Iraq Study Group had a short shelf life. It commanded public scrutiny for about a week. Then it disappeared. Of its seventy-nine recommendations, the only one to live on after the report's debut was that of a "surge" of troops as a prelude to withdrawal. Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, and retired General Jack Keene picked that one up; and, in an article in the Washington Post, later reprinted in the Weekly Standard, they suggested that an additional thirty thousand troops could secure Baghdad and give the present government time to solidify its position. "The key to success is to change the military mission," they wrote. "[I]nstead of preparing for transition to Iraqi control, the mission should be to bring security to the Iraqi population."

Sounds like an excellent idea. And it was an excellent idea three years ago. If Mr. Rumsfeld and company had bought it then, the conflagration in Iraq would probably not have occurred. After all, there was historical precedent. When the British went into Mesoptamia back in 1917, they did so with four hundred and eleven thousand troops. At that time, the population of the region was one third what it is today; and, even then, the British encountered considerable resistance. During the first Gulf War, the first President Bush assembled a coalition of over five hundred thousand troops and those troops did not march on Baghdad.

The problem is that the situation has changed. American soldiers now find themselves in the middle of a Civil War -- something Mr. Bush and his advisers still refuse to recognize -- and, to make matters worse, the people of the Middle East are staring into the abyss of a much wider regional war. The mission is no longer bringing security to the Iraqi population.

Moreover, the surge proposal ignores the logistical and personnel problems associated with adding an additional thirty thousand troops. In an article in The American Prospect, Lawrence Korb, a former Undersecretary of Defence in the Reagan administration and Max Bergmann, of the Center for American Progress, argue that Kagan and Keene's plan is "unrealistic and dangerous" for a number of reasons. To begin with, they say, "there are no active or reserve army combat units outside Iraq and Afghanistan that are rated as combat ready." They do not have the equipment needed to train for such a mission because all of that equipment is already in Iraq. Other equipment could be scrounged from places like Korea and National Guard units in the United States; but,"this would leave the country dangerously exposed, without sufficient force strength to deter adversaries from possible aggressive action."

Finally, say Korb and Bergmann, the surge proposal ignores the reality on the ground. They point out that when the British entered Northern Ireland in 1972, to put an end to sectarian violence there, their troop to population ratio was equivalent to having 750,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. To those who claim that people like Korb and Bergmann don't understand the consequences of failure in Iraq, they say, "they have it backwards. Those who opposed the war from the outset understood the difficulty and scope of the task at hand, while the war's architects are the ones only now coming to grips with the catastrophic implications of a possible civil and regional war." Adding thirty thousand troops at this point will only add fuel to a growing fire.

The Iraq Study Group pointed to a rather messy way out of Iraq. But it requires looking at a much larger canvas. It requires diplomacy. It requires dealing with one's enemies; and it requires building large and diverse coalitions -- all things which the present occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has difficulty with. He has refused to build coalitions at home, insisting that only legislation which has the support of "a majority of the majority" come to the floor. He has won elections by finding enough votes in strategic states to tip the balance in his favour -- like targeting areas in Iraq with more troops. He claims that dealing with the nation's enemies would be tantamount to abandoning his principles. But he forgets that Ronald Reagan, for all his talk about "the evil empire," dealt with Gorbochov; Roosevelt and Churchill formed an alliance with Stalin; and Nixon went to China.

The recent death of President Ford has reminded us that there was a time when differences of opinion did not call forth the response that "they know what they have to do before we deal with them." The simple truth is that the most powerful man in the world does not play well with others. Things will only change when Mr. Bush grows up -- or when another grown up sits in his chair.

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