January 10, 2007
Most of us didn't have very high hopes for President Bush's speech on Iraq tonight, so at least he didn't disappoint us. He says he will send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, mostly to Baghdad, explaining that this time it will yield victory because we will have enough troops to keep patrolling hostile neighborhoods after they have been pacified. Thus far, the campaign against the terrorist-insurgents has been like a game of Whack-a-mole, where the bad guys keep popping up in a different location every time. There will be only about one extra U.S. soldier for every 500 residents of Baghdad, however. Will anyone notice the difference? I would expect at least some military progress in the next few months, but what about after that? This "surge" is by its very nature temporary, and the enemy can easily outlast us.
On the PBS post-speech analysis, Generals William Odom and Bernard Trainor both expressed dismay at the lack of any meaningful strategic readjustment. They noted that Bush did make a reference to Iran as the main source of the insurgency, but he didn't offer any way to counter that threat. Nor did he make much of an effort to specify who the enemy is. We are left to conclude that Bush is hoping against hope, putting the rest of his chips on the table to back up his original decision to stake his presidency on the outcome of the war in Iraq. Since we are committing what little is left of the U.S. reserve forces to Iraq, we had better hope like hell that North Korea or China don't challenge us with a precipitous military action. We wouldn't be able to do much about it, short of a nuclear retaliation.
On a political level, the President's strategy is puzzling. He knows that he lacks support in Congress and in the American public for escalating the conflict, so why is he going out on a limb? If the whole point of the war is to demonstrate America's resolve to take the battle to the enemy heartland, why would he risk national unity in this way? If things go awry, domestic divisions might become almost as bad as during the Vietnam War, even though casualties are much lower. As for as relations with the Iraqi government, telling Prime Minister Maliki at this late date that our military commitment is not unlimited is almost beside the point. That should have been made explicit at least a year or two ago. For the record, I support a continued military effort in Iraq, but I doubt that sending more troops at this time will encourage the Iraqi government to pick up the slack.
Speaking of the Vietnam War, in The Nation, Marc Cooper depicts what he sees as a burgeoning movement of dissident soldiers opposed to the war in Iraq. Lt. Cmdr. Mark Dearden is leading an "Appeal for Redress," a petition for prompt withdrawal from Iraq that will be submitted to Congress later this month. There is also a Web site with a similar theme that was established by Sgt. Ronn Cantu: soldiervoices.net. There is one big difference between Iraq and Vietnam, of course: this time around, there is no draft!