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Possible troop surge triggers lots of questions

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted January 1, 2007

President George W. Bush has a heck-of-a job on his hands as he examines contradictory advice and complicated issues in deciding the new Iraq strategy, often referred to as "the way forward". Certainly, halting the profound violence in Baghdad, "the center of gravity", is key. Bush and his new Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently returned from Iraq on his fact finding trip, are vetting a number of options including one known as the Keane-Kagan plan: It proffers a temporary troop increase of approximately fifty thousand for the purpose of securing and stabilizing Baghdad, which is a necessary condition so that a diplomatic solution can be negotiated and take-hold among the warring factions. Whether the fifty thousand troop increase is really do-able is debatable, and one hears that the actual number in play is about thirty thousand. Noteworthy, the Keane-Kagan plan was developed by retired Army General Jack Keane and think-tank scholar Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute.

To be sure, there are plenty of naysayers among the upper echelon of the military – including General John Abizaid (CENTCOM Commander) - that reject Keane-Kagan. However, it can't be denied that the current approach being implemented has been somewhat of a failure, as evidenced by the ongoing mayhem in Baghdad. Since losing in Iraq is "not an option", then, clearly, a strategy for victory must be developed. And I'm utilizing President Bush's definition of victory in Iraq, which is "a stable government that can defend, govern and sustain itself".

That being said, myriad questions will have to be addressed before moving ahead with the Keane-Kagan approach to determine if it's viable. For now, all I have are a bunch of hard questions and some comments:

Troop surge in Iraq? What's the strategy for victory? Are the goals specific, achievable and measurable? In the past, we've cleared Baghdad neighborhoods only for areas to revert to form as soon as we pulled out.  So, we win ground, but fail to hold ground. Then how do we tamp-down violence for any length of time? According to the executive summary of Keane-Kagan: "After the neighborhoods have been cleared, U.S. soldiers and Marines, again partnered with Iraqis, will remain behind to maintain security."  Are we staking our success on the hope that sufficient Iraqi security forces will be up-and-running in short order and operating at fairly dependable levels? But, apparently, these security forces are compromised by allegiance to factions, rather than exhibiting much needed loyalty to a centralized government. That's got to have an impact on their performance, whether we care to admit it or not.

And what about Iran, which is funding and aiding both sides of the insurgency? What do we intend to do about the 800-lb. gorilla in the room – Iran – and its lesser side-kick Syria, and their joint efforts to foment mayhem in Iraq?  Yet, without effectively reining in Iran, how can we expect a solid solution to the Iraqi terror and violence? That being said, the Bush administration will have to explain to the American public how we can implement Keane-Kagan – our "winning plan" in Iraq – which essentially side-steps the subjects of Iran and Syria.  Or is something else happening? Are substantive plans to deal with Iran and Syria in the works?  Frankly, people are very skeptical regarding the success of any UN sanctions against lawless Iran, given our past experiences with sanctions.

The difficulties don't stop there. Clearly, there are more considerations that must be factored into the Iraqi equation, including both American and Iraqi internal politics.  Concerned with his power base, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has been preventing us from taking down cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, his Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed Shia militias. That being said, our troops have been largely stymied from doing what needs to be done, and that's to disarm the perpetrators of violence on all sides. Worse yet, Iranian surrogates in Iraq are targeting American soldiers, most notably by sniping and setting roadside bombs, as recently underscored by Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly, who just returned from Iraq.  

Can we anticipate any change in "battle rules" that will free-up our troops to properly do their jobs, protect themselves, and secure Bagdad? That's pivotal. Or can Mr. Maliki, or other top level Iraqi officials, be replaced by those who better demonstrate vision and leadership? If not, what else can the US do to facilitate an improved political atmosphere in Iraq? Reportedly, the US was maneuvering behind the scenes, hoping to position a multi-sectarian alliance of moderates in the mix to "isolate" Moqtada al-Sadr; It now appears that creation of that bloc is stalled.

However, good news is emerging on the Iraq front that demonstrates a morphing modus operandi on our part.  There's now reason to believe that US authorities are fed-up and refuse to stand idly by while top Iraqi officials play footsies with Iran. In recent days, our forces conducted raids for the purpose of apprehending Iranian-backed Shi'ites involved in acts of carnage in Iraq. And lo and behold, two Iranian diplomats were among those taken into custody. According to the New York Times, an American senior official indicated, "It's our position that the Iraqis have to seize this opportunity to sort out with the Iranians just what kind of behavior they are going to tolerate...They are going to have to confront the evidence that the Iranians are deeply involved in some of the acts of violence."  

Moreover, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani protested the fact that the Iranian diplomats were initially detained. According to Reuters, which also produced a piece on this story, Talabani's media advisor, Hiwa Othman, stated: "The president is unhappy. He is talking to the Americans about it as we speak. The diplomats came to Iraq at the invitation of the president."  Oh, invited by the Iraqi government? How rich! But not surprisingly, the Iranian envoys were subsequently turned over to Iraqi authorities and released.

What's wrong with this picture?  Americans are sacrificing blood and treasure so that we can stabilize Iraq, which, to a notable degree, is in chaos due to the pot-stirring of Iran. Simultaneously, top elected officials of Iraq are royally back-stabbing us, and their own people for that matter, by aiding and abetting the slimy gang in Tehran. Thankfully, American authorities are beginning to intervene in this mess.  But the truth is that we're really in a quandary because we're going to great lengths to support a duly elected Iraqi government that's cooperating with our averred enemies, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Mad Mullahs.    

As to our own political landscape, increasing troop numbers will translate into more casualties and that's not going to sit well with most Americans. Clearly, public support for the ongoing struggle in Iraq is vital. Moreover, will the Democrats that now hold both houses in Congress approve of the troop surge? Conceivably, they could prevent the needed funding, which would be another political lose for the president. Or the Democrats could fund the increased troop levels, and rile up the public when casualties inevitably occur. The latter is more in line with Leftist tactics.

In any event, negotiating the profoundly complicated issues associated with Iraq – no matter how President Bush chooses to move forward – will be extremely onerous for the president and the GOP. To reiterate, there are no good options. Moreover, when it comes to Iraq, the political atmosphere in Washington DC is positively toxic. ESR

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.

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