US President Bush’s call for a troop surge in Iraq

Jan 12, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

January 12, 2007
Number 01/07 #05

As readers are probably aware, US President Bush yesterday gave an important speech Wednesday night Washington time, setting out a new strategy for Iraq, one that has been anticipated for a number of weeks by Washington watchers. And as those watchers also predicted, among his most important announcement was a “surge” of 21,500 new US troops, mostly going to Baghdad and attempting to create basic order there. This Update is devoted to analysis of President Bush’s announcements, and their prospects for improving the situation in Iraq.

First up is former Coalition Provisional Authority head in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer. Bremer sees Bush’s proposals as a big but necessary gamble, and one whose success depends primarily on the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki. He says the plan will only work if Iraq’s leaders realise this is the last throw of the dice and refrain from the past policy of political interference, and meet their troop commitments in a way they have not in past efforts. He also discusses past mistakes in Iraq by himself and the Bush Administration. For all of this, CLICK HERE.

Next up is military historian Victor Davis Hanson. Like all our other analysts in this Update, he characterises the move as a huge gamble, and argues that the additional troops will be less key than a change in counter-insurgency tactics to hold and control Baghdad and Sadr City, especially with the appointment to command of top specialist on counter-insurgency Gen. David Petraeus. He also points out that the Iraqi government must realise this will be their last chance. For all of his arguments, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Lawrence Kaplan, the perceptive foreign affairs analyst at the New Republic who has excellent contacts in Iraq, agrees with Hanson, the key question is not, “How many troops is enough”, but “What will they do?” He says Bush appears to have realised the correct strategy in this regard, but points to possible problems maintaining any successes given the state of the Iraqi government. Moreover, he says the battle may already be lost in terms of American domestic opinion. For this cogent and knowledgeable argument, CLICK HERE.

The Iraqis Must Step Up To the Plate


Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2007; Page A15

“Looking back, I think that if we had then realized the confusion and chaos which existed we would indeed have thought ours a hopeless task. Certainly the authorities in Washington who had prepared (the occupation policy) did not visualize these conditions.” — Gen. Lucius Clay (1950).

* * *

As in Germany a half-century ago, the American experience in Iraq has proven more difficult than anticipated. Mistakes were made — including my own. Denying government positions to officials in the top 1% of Saddam’s Baath party was correct. But it was a mistake to turn implementation over to Iraqi politicians rather than to judges. And in requesting American money to help rebuild Iraq’s economy, I put too much emphasis on large-scale projects when smaller ones would have shown quicker results to the average Iraqi.

The president has frankly acknowledged the need for a new approach. He has assessed the various options and has courageously, and in my view wisely, rejected the politically popular course of withdrawing. Over the past four years, progress in Iraq has always depended on the interplay among the political, economic and security sectors. Clearly only Iraqis can design the necessary means to bridge their sectarian and ethnic divisions. The Shiites need to show they understand that democracy involves the proper respect for minority rights. The Sunnis must be brought to understand that while there is a place for them in liberated Iraq, their centuries-old domination of the country is over. The Kurds, with longer experience in elected government, must show patience as their Arab brothers wrestle with these and other issues.

Iraqis cannot make the necessary political compromises in an atmosphere of sustained violence. And although Iraq’s economy has done well since the liberation, reconstruction, too, has been severely hampered by the lack of security. So security for Iraq’s population is the sine qua non for success. By committing additional American forces, the president’s new approach recognizes this fundamental reality. It is no secret that I would have preferred that we would have sent in more forces much sooner. But we are where we are today.

Now the Iraqis must step up to the plate. For months, they have promised additional Iraqi forces for Baghdad, forces which until now have never arrived. And Iraqi and Coalition forces operating in the capital have been subjected to constant political interference, hampering the effectiveness of those operations. An early test of the new approach will be whether Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki now makes good on the promised Iraqi reinforcements, and on his commitment to allow them to deal with the militia, especially those of the radical Moqtada al-Sadr.

Even a successful campaign in Baghdad will not end violence there. But a significant reduction in attacks in the capital would give the Iraqi government the political latitude needed to broaden its political base. The prime minister will also be watched carefully in Washington and in Iraq, to ensure that he delivers on his promises to move on the sensitive issues of oil policy and provincial elections, both important to encouraging an atmosphere of reconciliation. If he does not, then surely the Iraqi people will hold his government accountable, as is provided in the Iraqi constitution.

* * *

The president’s new approach is bold, unpopular and risky. But he is right to reject calls for American withdrawal. Those who advocate such a course need to be frank about the drastic consequences of such a course.

First, it would abandon 27 million Iraqis to broader and much bloodier violence. Some Americans seem prepared to accept this outcome, arguing, “It’s their country. Let them sort it out.” This is shortsighted and uninformed. Broader sectarian violence between Iraq’s Arabs would certainly provoke the Kurds to declare their independence from Iraq. Over the past four years, I have often spoken about this issue with the Kurdish leaders. They have made clear that their decision to join a liberated Iraq depends on a government which can provide security for all its people and which is not dominated by sectarianism. An independent Iraqi Kurdistan would have an irresistible attraction for the millions of Kurds living in Syria, Turkey and Iran, and would surely lead to a wider regional war. Such a war would threaten American interests and allies throughout the region and lead to American military re-engagement, probably on a very large scale.

Most importantly, an American defeat in Iraq would immediately endanger Americans. By confirming Osama bin Laden’s analysis that America is a “weak horse” driven out of Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia a decade later, defeat would be a major recruiting poster for Islamic extremists everywhere. If force again rules Mesopotamia, there is a real risk that extremists will establish themselves there as they had done in Afghanistan, but this time with major economic resources and an operating base not on the periphery of the Middle East, but at its heart.

These, then, are the stakes in Iraq. The president has acknowledged the need for new leadership and a new strategy. He is to be commended for rejecting the easy popular course.

Mr Bremer was head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003-04.


The Surge Gamble

All eyes now turn to Baghdad and Sadr City.

By Victor Davis Hanson

This was not Churchill, not FDR, and not JFK Wednesday night, and there was not quite enough about winning and victory — but the content was still good enough.

Many of us were skeptical of a surge/bump/increase for an obvious reason: Our military problems in Iraq have been tactical and strategic (too-slow training too few Iraqis, arrest/release of terrorists, too many targets off limits, patrolling in lieu of attacking, worry over our own force protection rather than securing the safety of Iraqi citizens, open borders with Syria and Iran, etc.) — and not a shortage of manpower.

So the increase — no one knows whether the 20,000 number is adequate — could make things far worse by offering more targets and creating more Iraqi dependency if we don’t change our operations. But if the surge ups the ante by bringing a radical new approach on the battlefield as the president promises, then it is worth his gamble.

All the requisite points were made by the president, almost as if were quoting verbatim Gen. David Petraeus’s insightful summaries of counterinsurgency warfare — an Iraqi face on operations, economic stimuli, clear mission of clearing terrorists out of Baghdad, political reform, a “green-light” to go after killers — while addressing the necessary regional concerns with Syria and Iran.

Will these “benchmarks” work? Only if the Maliki government is honest when he promises that there will be no sanctuaries for the militias and terrorists. So when the killing of terrorists causes hysteria — and it will, both in Iraq and back here at home — the Iraqi-American units must escalate their operations rather than stand down.

The American people will support success and an effort to win, whatever the risks, but not stasis. We saw that with the silent approval of Ethiopia’s brutal rout of the Islamists in Somalia, and our own attack on al Qaeda there.

The subtext of the president’s speech was that our sacrifices to offer freedom and constitutional government are the only solution for the Middle East — but that our commitments are not open-ended if the Iraqis themselves don’t want success as much as we do.

But why believe that this latest gamble will work? One, things are by agreement coming to a head: this new strategy will work, or, given the current politics, nothing will. Two, the Iraqis in government know this time Sadr City and Baghdad are to be secured, or it is to be “see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya,”  and they will be on planes to Dearborn.

Finally note the pathetic Democratic reply by Sen. Durbin, last in the public eye for his libel of American troops (as analogous to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others”). There was no response.

Durbin simply assumed credit for the Bush policy of deposing Saddam, fostering democracy, and then blamed the Iraqis and said enough was enough. Not a word followed about the effects of a rapid withdrawal. In other words, the Democratic policy is that anything good in Iraq they supported, anything bad they opposed. And they will now harp yet do nothing — except whine in fear the surge might actually work.

So where does that leave us? All eyes now turn to Baghdad and Sadr City and our courageous Americans fighting in them. If they are allowed to rout the terrorists, all will trumpet their victory; if we fail, President Bush alone will take the blame.

In other words, as in all wars, the pulse of the battlefield will determine the ensuing politics. So let’s win in pursuit of victory, and everything else will sort itself out.

 — Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.


Surge Purge

Can more troops beat the insurgents?

by Lawrence F. Kaplan  
Only at The New Republic Online | Post date 01.11.07           

Whatever happened to political expediency? That, as much as the questions raised by the speech itself, was what tonight’s presidential address surely left many pundits wondering. In nothing Bush said, after all, was there even the slightest trace of partisan calculation. Save for a few throw-away lines about handing over all provinces to Iraqi forces by November and getting Iraq’s prime minister to behave like a prime minister, it was all bitter medicine. Bush supporters will adduce from this yet more evidence of his resolve. Detractors will say he’s immune to the will of the people. Depending on your view of Iraq, Bush is either FDR dragging a petulant nation deeper into a necessary war, or he’s Nixon sheltered behind buses while students protest the invasion of Cambodia. But this much at least was evident tonight: Bush’s certitude–which the press hailed as resolve after September 11 but which it now labels obstinacy–remains his signature.

So will the president’s stubbornness–or, if you’re inclined, pig-headedness–further America’s cause in Iraq? That depends first on whether one believes the war to be winnable or not. Where Bush comes down on the question is clear. According to The New York Times, Bush recently instructed Marine commandant General James T. Conway, “What I want to hear from you is how we’re going to win, not how we’re going to leave.” Fair enough. But did anything Bush say tonight point to a “win”? Actually, it did. Or, more exactly, it established some necessary, though hardly sufficient, preconditions for success.
First, the surge. A popular fiction circulating in the press has the nation’s military commanders all but unanimous in their opposition to sending more troops to Iraq–Exhibit’s A, B, and C being General John Abizaid, General George Casey, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the generals themselves are divided, with Lt. General David Petraeus and Lt. General Raymond Odierno on the other side. Further, none of these men are, strictly speaking, serving as ground commanders in Iraq. It is the rare field officer who will say, “I don’t want any reinforcements,” and, in fact, American brigade commanders in Iraq have been the chief behind-the-scenes authors of the surge. But the logic of the surge extends beyond the numbers game. The relevant question here is not the Vietnam-era cliché, “How much is enough?” It is, “What will they do?”

In that regard, and after nearly four years of stumbling in the dark, the president seems finally to have grasped what junior officers in Iraq grasped in 2003. There was, to begin with, the president’s emphasis on deploying American forces to “protect the local population”–something that, as banal as it sounds, hasn’t been a theater-wide mission. Traditionally understood, the path to defeating an insurgency runs through the population, without whose support insurgents can be forced to fight in the open. Securing control of the population depends, in turn, on guaranteeing its physical security and–through social programs, civic assistance, and the like–winning its allegiance. Even now, however, there are still brigades in Iraq that routinely launch big-unit sweeps, rely heavily on firepower, and otherwise employ conventional tactics against an unconventional foe. Then, too, the president finally put to rest the myth of the “light footprint”–the canonical belief that U.S. forces should be visible only when chasing insurgents back and forth through the same towns, but otherwise hunker down on their forward operating bases. In his assertion that Americans–and not just Iraqis–will “hold areas that have been cleared,” Bush drew on the indisputable fact that, where Americans do not operate in Iraq, nothing else does.

But then comes the hard part: What happens when the newly-surged Americans stop holding and start clearing again, which they eventually must? Here, Bush had no satisfactory answer–and, frankly, it’s not so clear there is one. He mentioned working hand in hand with “National Police brigades” to tamp down sectarian violence. But the National Police are among the worst perpetrators of this violence. Indeed, American commanders now largely confine their “cooperation” with these police brigades to ensuring they don’t leave their barracks. Similarly, the president, alluding to the Iraqi decision to shut down a U.S. operation in Sadr City, said Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki vowed he would not let this happen again. But Maliki himself was the one who blocked the operation.

There is, finally, the broader question of allocating U.S. resources in Iraq. Bush, for example, promised to double the number of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs). But this amounts to doubling nothing. The PRTs, designed to marshal the expertise of U.S. civilian government agencies like the Justice Department, barely exist over a year after they were unveiled. With just over 100 civilians from U.S. government agencies (excluding the CIA) working outside bases and the Green Zone–compared with over 2,000 fanned out across South Vietnam’s provinces–the job of reconstructing, pacifying, organizing, and doing everything else in Iraq has fallen to young Army captains. Further, it’s far from obvious that sending five brigades to Baghdad and 4,000 troops to Anbar makes sense. The president rightly pointed out that 80 percent of Iraq’s sectarian violence occurs in and around Baghdad. But the chances that U.S. forces will succeed at pacifying the sectarian rage there seem awfully slight. By contrast, nearly half of all insurgent violence–which is to say violence directed at U.S. forces–occurs in the Al Qaeda stronghold of Anbar. Not only are America’s interests more immediately threatened there; America’s prospects for success are much greater.

But these are quibbles. What the president did not mention was that, on the only battlefield that matters–the living rooms into which his speech was televised–it’s probably too little and too late. An effective counterinsurgency strategy requires time and patience. Americans have run out of both.

Lawrence F. Kaplan is a senior editor at The New Republic.


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