On the surface, President Bush's Wednesday night
speech adds up to precisely nothing. The president said, "It is clear that we
need to change our strategy in Iraq," but the heart of his proposal, adding
more than 20,000 U.S. troops, represents no change in strategy. It is merely
another "big push," of the sort we have seen too often in the past from mindless
national and military leadership. Instead of Dave Petraeus, why didn't Bush
Douglas Haig to take command?
Relying on more promises from Iraq's nominal government and requiring more
performance from the Iraqi army and police are equally empty policies. Both
that government and its armed forces are mere fronts for Shi'ite networks and
their militias. If the new troops we send to Baghdad work with Iraqi forces
against the Sunni insurgents, we will be helping the Shi'ites ethnically cleanse
Baghdad of Sunnis. If, as Bush suggested, our troops go after the Shi'ite militias
in Baghdad and elsewhere, we will find ourselves in a two-front war, fighting
Sunnis and Shi'ites both. We faced that situation briefly in 2004, and we did
not enjoy it.
All this, again, adds up to nothing. But if we look at the president's proposal
more carefully, we find it actually amounts to less than zero. It hints at actions
that may turn a mere debacle into disaster on a truly historic scale.
First, Mr. Bush said that previous efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two
reasons, the second of which is that "there were too many restrictions on the
troops we did have." This suggests the new "big push" will be even more kinetic
that what we have done in the past, calling in more firepower – airstrikes,
tanks, artillery, etc. – in Baghdad itself. Chuck
Spinney has already warned that we may soon begin to reduce Baghdad to rubble.
If we do, and the president's words suggest we will, we will hasten our defeat.
In this kind of war, unless you are going to take the "Hama
model" and kill everyone, success comes from de-escalation, not from escalation.
Second, the president not only upped the ante with Syria and Iran, he announced
two actions that only make sense if we plan to attack Iran, Syria or both. He
said he has ordered Patriot missile batteries and another U.S. Navy aircraft
carrier be sent to the region. Neither has any conceivable role in the fighting
in Iraq. However, a carrier would provide additional aircraft for airstrikes
on Iran, and Patriot batteries would in theory provide some defense against
Iranian air and missile attacks launched at Gulf State oil facilities in retaliation.
To top it off, in questioning yesterday on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State
Rice refused to promise the administration would consult with Congress before
attacking Iran or Syria.
As I have said before and will say again, the price of an attack on Iran could
easily be the loss of the army we have in Iraq. No conceivable action would
be more foolish than adding war with Iran to the war we have already lost in
Iraq. Regrettably, it is impossible to read Mr. Bush's dispatch of a carrier
and Patriot batteries any other way than as harbingers of just such an action.
The final hidden message in Mr. Bush's speech confirms that the American ship
of state remains headed for the rocks. His peroration, devoted once more to
promises of "freedom" and democracy in the Middle East and throughout the world,
could have been written by the most rabid of the neocons. For that matter, perhaps
it was. So long as our grand strategy remains that which the neocons represent
and demand, namely remaking the whole world in our own image, by force where
necessary, we will continue to fail. Not even the greatest military in all of
history, which ours claims to be but isn't, could bring success to a strategy
so divorced from reality. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush's words give the lie to those
who have hoped the neocons' influence over the White House had ebbed. From Hell,
or the World Bank which is much the same place, Wolfie
had to be smiling.
No, Incurious George has offered no new strategy, nor new course, nor even
a plateau on the downward course of our two lost wars and failed grand strategy.
He has chosen instead to escalate failure, speed our decline and expand the
scope of our defeat. Headed toward the cliff, his course correction is to stomp
on the gas.