Friday, January 12, 2007

President Bush’s “new way forward”

After listening to President Bush’s speech the other night on his “new way forward” in Iraq I could not help but feel he believes he has access to a time machine that can go backwards in time and start all over again. The proposal to increase troop strength by the numbers he is proposing would have made sense years ago when it would have made a difference. However, because the troops weren’t there when they were needed a new dynamic in Iraq has developed. It is as if the last four years has made no difference in the President’s thinking.

He is now touring the country to use all the persuasive powers at his command he used a year or so ago in his campaign to privatize Social Security to convince the country of the wisdom of his plan. Unfortunately for him, two-thirds of the country is already opposed to him only days after the unveiling of his plan. Why so much opposition so soon? It’s because the plan’s faults are so easy to see. Suzanne Nossel, in Democracy Arsenal, points out a few she spotted right away :
1. That the strategy is "new" - Bush referred directly to the "clear, hold and build" strategy promulgated in October …. At best, this is a course-correction which has unaccountably taken more than 15 months to be put into effect.

2. That the strategy is any more likely to work now than in the past - Bush made two arguments as to why what failed previously will succeed now: 1) that troop levels will now be sufficient and 2) that crippling restrictions on troop movements and maneuvers will be lifted. But rather than citing evidence for either of these, Bush made only a stilted reference to military commanders having certified to their truth. This less than a week after replacing the leaders who refused to attest to same.

3. That the strategy is "Iraqi" in impetus or direction - While Bush clearly wants to claim that the escalation of US troops will happen in support of a renewed Iraqi effort to secure itself, this is bunk. Bush is under desperate pressure to do something - anything - about Iraq. This plan is as made-in-Washington as they come, right down to the predicate laid to avoid blame for the White House. Bush is setting himself up to be able to claim that the al-Maliki government failed to come
through in the crunch, even though such failure is painfully, unavoidably foreseeable from the outset.

4. That 20,000 troops will somehow change the game - The worst part of Bush's plan is that an additional 20,000 US soldiers will risk life and limb in furtherance of a "strategy" that is doomed to fail. Baghdad is a city of roughly 5 million people. The 20,000 figure is driven not by any assessment of what it would take to do the job, but by tight recruitment constraints and a straightforward political calculus of what the American public might ht possibly bear.

5. That the Iraqi government enjoys sufficient legitimacy and impartiality to curb sectarian violence - Central to Bush's plan is the ability of the Iraqi government to credibly assert itself against the militias. But the Iraqi armed services are themselves riddled with partisan militants. It is a Shia army with close links to the radical Sadr militia - the idea of their going "door to door" in Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad can only strike fear among residents.

6. That the al-Maliki government is a reliable US ally - While Bush has repeatedly affirmed his faith in AL-Milk, his advisers have grave doubts about the trustworthiness of the Prime Minister. Milk's links to Sadr, his mishandling of Saddam's execution, his failure to take control of errant ministries, his impetuous decisions affecting US military operations emblems the difficulties of forging the sort of partnership that Bush seems to be banking on.

7. That the Iraqi military has the competence to take the lead in securing Baghdad - For anyone who somehow harbors notions about the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, a quick read of the Iraq Study Group Report will dispel such notions in devastating terms. Army units are described as lacking personnel, equipment and leadership and as resistant to carrying out orders. The Iraqi police are described as "substantially worse."

8. That the terrorists and insurgents are wholly separable from the Iraqi population at large - The strategy refers repeatedly to clearing neighborhoods of insurgents. But what allows radical militias to survive is the support and protection they receive from ordinary citizens who are sympathetic to their aims. Until such backers buy into a political resolution of Iraq's strife, they will continue to support and breed the insurgency, making it impossible for US or Iraqi troops to root out.

9. That the US is in a position to "provide" a political alternative to the Middle East - It's astounding and distressing to hear Bush continue to talk in terms of the US "advancing liberty" in the Middle East through means like the Iraq war. While Bush references standing with regional actors pressing for their own freedoms, he stops well short of acknowledging the kind of broad shift of ambitions and tactics needed to guide a new US Middle East policy.

10. That disaster is still avoidable - Bush cited a series of reasons why failure in Iraq would be a disaster: because Islamic extremists would grow in strength; because Iran would be emboldened to pursue nukes; because Iraq could become a terrorist haven. But all those developments are underway right now.

No comments: