Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On troop (let's not kid ourselves here) escalation

I'm not buying it.

Okay, so tonight, President George W. Bush stands before America to announce a significant strategy change or, more accurately, to use new words to describe doing the same thing that hasn't been working for the past four years. The White House has protested the use of the word "escalation" to describe the process of sending five more battalions to Iraq for an indeterminate length of time, saying that it would only be a few thousand troops and it would be for a short period of time, which is more of a "surge" than an escalation.

Point the first: Rather than having a specific deadline for troop withdrawal, guaranteeing that the escalation would, in fact, be for a short (specific) period of time, he has assigned benchmarks to the Iraqi army. Iraqi troops must, among other thing, actually show up for work, perform their duties regardless of sectarian interests, and follow a clear chain of command with Prime Minister Maliki at the top before the "surged" troops can return home. It could, in fact, be a mere six months before our guys would be back with a great tan and a few great drinking stories to show for it, or it could be a year, or it could be two years; swearing that this wouldn't be an open-ended deployment, our president nonetheless doesn't do timelines.

Point the second: Bush wants 21,500 troops. I want a rich Clive Owen lookalike who thinks my football addiction is cute. At least I'm used to disappointment; Bush may be shattered to learn that the military has, in fact, somewhere around 9,000 troops capable of "surging" into Iraq at this point. Not to mention the fact that we can barely afford to arm and armor the troops already there.

Point the third: Bush's plan for the troops (or, at least, as much of the plan as has been leaked) call for rules of engagement that would make it easier for Iraqi troops to strike back at militias. Follow this up the aforementioned clear chain of command and decide whether or not Prime Minister Maliki is really that interested in picking a fight with Muqtada al Sadr and/or stop Shiite death squads from torturing and killing people, and if he is, why he hasn't done it sooner.

Dan Bartlett has said that the president will also admit that American and Iraqi forces were ill-equipped to keep the peace in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. He cites "rules of engagement" that prevented this; most members of the military and, for that matter, most Americans would agree that "halfassing the invasion" and "not giving the generals as many troops as they explicitly said they needed" could be added to the Why-Why chart.

Resolving such a stunning lack of self-awarness might be a priority for a president in his position, but apparently, ours is too busy. While acknowledging the importance of input from his generals - "It's important to trust the judgment of the military when they're making military plans ... I'm a strict adherer [sic] to the command structure" - he simultaneously decides... not to.
Pentagon insiders say members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have long opposed the increase in troops and are only grudgingly going along with the plan because they have been promised that the military escalation will be matched by renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the outgoing head of Central Command, said less than two months ago that adding U.S. troops was not the answer for Iraq.

Here's why he doesn't care: Bush's legacy trumps winning the war. He doesn't know how to win it. He doesn't know if it can be won. He doesn't really know what winning would look like. Bush wants to put $5 in the gas tank in the hope that he can limp this war along for two more years until it's no longer his problem. He realizes that the glorious Ridley Scott victory on which he still vehemently insists may be - probably is - impossible, but that if he can just make it to the handoff in 2008, the responsibility of being a true leader, cutting losses, and bringing the troops home will be out of his hands. He will forever be the President Who Wouldn't Say Die, and his successor will be the quitter who lost us the war.

If it takes 1,604 troop deaths to get him to that point, so be it.

The generals don't want more troops. The Iraqi government doesn't want more troops. The troops don't want more troops. The American people don't want to send any more troops, and our allies don't intend to send any more troops. President Bush has said that he'll stubbornly push forward with his ill-conceived plans even if Laura and Barney are the only ones who support him; that point is rapidly approaching. And he doesn't care.

(H/T Kevin Drum and ThinkProgress.)

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