Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Surge

So all the talk now is about this plan that President Bush is supposedly entertaining, to surge (their word not mine, and yes I'm already sick of it) 20-30k more troops into Baghdad and help bring an end to the sectarian violence that has plagued the capital city. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are apparently united against this plan, as they seem to think this is just another way of not quite admitting to defeat in Iraq. Apparently, this idea was formulated originally in a PowerPoint presentation put together by Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute. And as you can imagine, this plan has come under quite a bit of fire. Here's another Fred-Kaplan, of Slate-with some of his thoughts:
It's being taken very seriously in White House and congressional quarters. I don't understand why, because it's not really a serious study. Numbers are grabbed out of thin air. Crucial points are asserted, not argued. Assumptions are based on crossed fingers, not evidence or analysis. The upshot is that Kagan's surge involves more troops than the United States can readily mobilize and fewer troops than it needs for the kind of victory he has in mind.

That's the best Kaplan has to say about it. Here are two retired Army officers, W. Patrick Lang and Ray McGovern, who are somewhat less kind:
A “surge” of the size possible under current constraints on U.S. forces will not turn the tide in the guerrilla war. Reinforcement of Bagdad several thousand U.S. troops last summer simply brought on more violence. Those who believe still more troops will bring “victory” are living in a dangerous dream world and need to wake up.

Moreover, major reinforcement would commit the US Army and Marine Corps to decisive combat in which there are no more strategic reserves to be sent to the front. It will be a matter of win or die in the attempt. In that situation, everyone in uniform on the ground will commit every ounce of their being to a hope of “victory,” and few measures will be shrunk from.

Analogies come to mind: the Bulge, Stalingrad, the Battle of Algiers. It will be total war with all the likelihood of excesses and mass casualties that come with total war.

To take up such a strategy and force our armed forces into it would be an immoral course of action, both for our troops and for the thousands more Iraqis bound to die.

I don't know if such a plan will produce such horrible results, but even President Bush-in what I'm sure he considers to be a moment of blunt honesty-concedes that this approach will produce more casualties in Iraq. At the same time he insists more soldiers will not be sent unless they have some "specific mission" to accomplish. However, any plan more specific than "pacify Baghdad" is really not a plan worth sending tens of thousands more troops to Iraq for, is it?

In all likelihood however, the JCS are right. This "plan" is no plan at all, but merely an unwillingness by the Bush administration to face the fact that there is no number of troops that we are capable of sending to Iraq that will do anything to move Iraq closer to stability. I read Kagan's document above, and though I possess neither the expertise nor the experience of Kaplan, Lang or McGovern, I can tell you that the plan is riddled with assumptions, conclusory predictions, and hyperbolic assertions regarding the need for "victory." It's not a plan, so much as it's a hope and a prayer for something, anything, to stop the unceasing violence in Iraq.

Any long-time reader of this blog knows that I have only reluctantly come to the conclusion that we must withdraw from Iraq (or at the very least, drastically draw-down our mission and our forces) in short order, in a year, or less if possible. If I could be persuaded that there was something, anything, we could to to fulfill our moral obligation to not leave Iraq a festering wound in the side of the Middle East when we did so, I would advocate whole-heartedly that we do it. But this plan isn't it. It is at best a prescription for getting more of soldiers killed in Iraq to no good purpose, because we cannot hope to bring peace even to Baghdad with "only" thirty-thousand more soldiers. The only thing this plan accomplishes now is the illusion of giving us one last option in Iraq, an illusion that will be punctured by reality in short order, as all our other illusions of progress in Iraq have been since 2003. And as Lang and McGovern say, it is immoral to send soldiers to die for an illusion that serves only to comfort politicians who refuse to admit to reality.

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