Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Iraq: The “post-surge” strategy

Senate Democrats are backing down on their demand for deadlines as part of the Iraq war-spending package. In the meantime, David Ignatius reports in the Washington Post that the Bush administration may be backing off the “surge” strategy as not workable in the near future with the resources at hand and are devising a “post-surge” strategy:
President Bush and his senior military and oreign policy advisers are beginning to discuss a "post-surge" strategy for Iraq that they hope could gain bipartisan political support. The new policy would focus on training and advising Iraqi troops rather than the broader goal of achieving a political reconciliation in Iraq, which senior officials recognize may be unachievable within the time available.
According to Fred Kaplan in Slate this sounds a lot like what the Democrats had in mind:
This sounds a lot like the pre-surge strategy. The main elements of the plan, according to the Post: train Iraqi security forces to be self-sustaining; continue Special Forces operations against al-Qaida and other terrorists; maintain Iraq's territorial integrity; keep supporting efforts at reconciliation among the ethnic-political factions.

That sounds like not only the pre-surge strategy but the congressional Democrats' withdrawal proposal (which never envisioned a complete U.S. pullout).

It's unclear how real this development is. Ignatius notes that Bush's advisers are "beginning to discuss" these ideas, not that they've reached a conclusion, much less made a decision. The exercise, he further writes, may be "a trial balloon" aimed at testing the bipartisan support for the proposals of the Baker-Hamilton report, which Bush once dismissed but which "senior administration officials" say he "now supports."

Either way, it appears that at least some high-level factions within this desperate, fractured administration are scrambling to piece together the long-elusive "Plan B," in case the surge comes to naught.

And how is the surge doing? Critics say not so well; supporters say it's too soon to tell; both claims amount to pretty much the same thing.

The surge got under way in February. Data compiled by the U.S.-led military command in Iraq (summarized in a chart here) indicate that the number of attacks went up slightly in March, then down slightly in April. There is yet no clear pattern.

Of the five combat brigades ordered to surge into Baghdad, only three are on the ground now (owing to the low readiness rates of the war-worn Army); all five will be on the ground by July. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has said that he and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will assess the situation—and report on the likelihood of the surge's success—in early September.
You can read the entire Kaplan article here and the Ignatius piece here.

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