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FDL's Scarecrow: " A Surge Or An Open-Ended Occupation?"

Thanks to Scarecrow from Firedoglake for this great cross-post - THANKS!

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." — Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride

Almost everything President Bush and his supporters told us in January about his new way forward in Iraq is already inoperative. First, he told us that his plan called for the introduction of only 21,500 additional troops. But within a week or so it became clear that was just "combat" troops; there would also be another 7,000 to 20,000 or so more US soldiers required to support the "combat" troops. Now, just two months later, the Generals are hinting that even that may not be enough.

From yesterday's New York Times article, US Commander In Iraq Sees Long Commitment, updated here:

The new American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, warned today that American troops here face a long road ahead, and left open the possibility that even more soldiers would be called to serve here, as he described the difficult task of bringing peace to the country.

The President also told the American people that 17,500 of the added troops would be sent to pacify Baghdad, with the remaining sent to reinforce the Marines in Anbar Province. This carefully thought out plan, the President and his "experts" from AEI assured us, would focus on Baghdad because securing the captial city was critical and, more important, the military warned us there were not enough troops to simultaneously pacify Baghdad and areas outside of Baghdad. But that constraint, though still valid, is now forgotten:

Among the most vexing problems he described were how to deal with rising violence outside the capital. . . . He also underscored how important it is to prevent the insurgents and death-squad members who are believed to have temporarily fled Baghdad from exporting their violence to nearby areas like Hilla, where attacks on Shiite religious pilgrims on Tuesday killed more than 100 people.

“Anyone who knows about securing Baghdad knows that you must also secure the Baghdad belts — in other words, the areas that surround Baghdad,” General Petraeus said.

The President's plan was described as a "surge," a sudden and substantial increase in troops. But when Generals and skeptics warned that the Army and Marines were too depleted, overstretched and underequipped to support this notion, their warnings were swept aside. Two months later, they have been proven correct. There is no "surge." At most, there is an unsteady trickle of added troops as rotations in are accelerated and rotations out are delayed — a strategy that is simply unsustainable.

With barely one-third of the promised additional American and Iraqi “surge” troops now available on the ground, the new security plan for Baghdad is only beginning to take effect.

The Administration also encouraged the impression that the increase in US forces would be temporary. Joe Lieberman explained that this plan would work where others had failed because . . . well, this plan was different, and then our troops could come home. He and his fellow neocons from the National Review essentially told skeptics to shut up, demanding that they give the plan a chance to work. Well, that has happened. Administration supporters repeatedly talked in January about the importance of achieving substantial progress within six to nine months. Republican Senator Warner told us, back in November and December, that the next six months were critical. It is now March, and all expectations about these milestones are already disappearing.

General Petraeus repeatedly stressed the long-term nature of the “surge,” as the current buildup of troops and operations has come to be called, and he was careful not to put a ceiling on the number of troops that may eventually be needed or how long they may need to stay in Iraq.

He said there were no “looming” requests for additional troops, and that he had not yet endorsed an assessment by the second-ranking commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, that the greatly enlarged American force should remain undiminished for at least one full year.

But General Petraeus added, “If you’re going to achieve the kinds of effects that we probably need, that it would need to be sustained certainly for some time well beyond the summer.”

The president promised the Iraqi people that his plan would help protect them. Last year at this time, sectarian militias helped provide security for the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the February-March Shia holidays; this year, the militias went into hiding to avoid confrontations with the US/Iraqi security forces, while hundreds of people were killed by bombs. Despite repeated calls for reconciliation, we still won't allow the Iraqis to use the people they most trust to provide their own security.

But he emphasized that successes had come with devastating setbacks. “Schools, health clinics and marketplaces have all been attacked,” he said. “Car bombs have targeted hundreds of innocent Iraqis,” including worshipers in Habbaniya and college students in Baghdad. . . .

Similarly, General Petraeus appeared to take a softer line on the Mahdi militia led by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, saying that many coalition countries had a “variety of auxiliary police” but that Iraqi leaders must ultimately decide the Mahdi militia’s fate.

The challenge, he said, “has been to determine how do you incorporate those who want to serve in a positive way, as neighborhood watches, let’s say, but unarmed in our own communities, but without turning into something much more than that.”

The President also told the American people that our commitment to Iraq was not "open ended," but Petraeus talked as though it was open ended.

General Petraeus’s open-ended strategy appeared to be an effort to avoid a repeat of the pattern that has doomed past American efforts to halt the insurgency. In hot spots including Tal Afar and Diyala, United States soldiers have cracked down on insurgents and then reduced the American presence only to see insurgents retake old ground.

The President emphasized the need for political progress from the Iraqis in movings toward reconcilation. He assured us that he told the Iraqi leaders that the American people were losing patience and would not continue their support without substantial progress by the Iraqis. But polls suggest the American people are already there. And yesterday, when the Democrats in the House and Senate proposed to set timetables and condition continued US troop commitments to progress by the Iraqis in meeting certain political milestones, the President threatened to veto any legislation that made such a connection.

Here is what is becoming clear:

– There is no "surge." A "surge" is not possible, because the US military is no longer capable of any meaningful "surge" — not in Iraq, not anywhere.

– The US military acknowledges that it is not capable of achieving a military victory in Iraq. It is not clear that any number of US or foreign troops could achieve that, but it is likely that whatever that large number is, the US does not have even a significant fraction of that number to send.

– There is no longer any meaningful "coalition of the willing" to continue the occupation of Iraq. Whatever happens in Iraq, we are mostly on our own.

– It is probably not possible for the US military to achieve even the military objectives the President's plan promised, yet those objectives are already expanding to larger areas. The Generals are also telling us that broader US objectives cannot be achieved by military means alone but instead require substantial political reconciliation among the Iraqis. It is doubtful that the continued presence of US troops contributes to that reconciliation.

– We do not know whether violence in Iraq would be subtantially worse or less if we began to withdraw. However, polls there indicate that a substantial majority of Iraqis, including the Sunnis who presumably have the most to fear from majority Shia retribution if we left, want us to leave. The greatest threat to these people is that we apparently have no plans for protecting the most vulnerable, or for handling the surge of refugees under any scenario, even though "about 3.8 million Iraqis have [already] fled their homes and at least 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing each month."

– There is no reason to believe that the US and Iraqi governments share the same objectives, even though US objectives rely heavily on cooperation from the Iraqis.

– The President has no viable plan to achieve "success," whatever that means, but he will oppose any plan that calls for withdrawal of US troops. Taken together, this is equivalent to an open-ended commitment to continuing the occupation and participation in Iraq's civil/sectarian wars.

– The President's plan is not a plan for "victory." Rather, it is a plan for continued occupation of Iraq. We appear to have enough troops there to keep from being driven out, and to continue attacks in selected parts of Iraq, but not all of it, and not enough to achieve much more that is positive.

– Because it is unwilling to withhold funding in any meaningful way, the Congress does not have a viable strategy for getting the nation out of this stalemate. We are stuck in Iraq and the war will continue through the end of the Bush/Cheney regime.

– Only the Bush/Cheney regime's removal from office can change this fundamental stalemate.

– If the above is correct, then responsibility for the stalemate in Iraq will be the dominant issue in the 2008 elections, and the American people will be furious. Many incumbents will not be safe, and the Republican party could be savaged. With their political survival at stake, and with national security and responsibility for losing a war — and at least 30,000 US casualties — at issue, the 2008 elections could be very mean indeed.

I hope I'm wrong. UPDATE: Juan Cole assesses the “surge” at Salon.

- posted by FDL's Scarecrow

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