As official Washington breaks for the two-week
Christmas-New Year's hiatus, it knows that the number one issue it will face
on its return in early January is the White House's apparent "urge to surge"
as many as 50,000 new troops into Iraq for up to two years in a last-ditch effort
to claim what President George W. Bush insists on calling "victory."
The plan, which was presented to Bush last week in a meeting with five national
defense specialists, two associates of the neoconservative American Enterprise
Institute (AEI), is designed to focus U.S. military efforts on providing "security"
for average Iraqi citizens against both the Sunni insurgency and Shia militias
that have, in the report's words, made Baghdad the "center of gravity of
Drafted hastily it currently exists only as a Power Point presentation
by its two main authors, AEI fellow Frederick Kagan and the former vice chief
of staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Jack Keane, as an alternative to the bipartisan
Iraq Study Group (ISG) headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, it is
called "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq."
The title apparently chosen deliberately to counter one of the ISG's core messages:
that there is "no magic bullet" least of all a military one
that can save what most analysts here believe is the biggest U.S. foreign policy
debacle since at least the Vietnam War.
"Alone among proposals for Iraq, the new Keane-Kagan strategy has a chance
to succeed," declared this week's Weekly Standard, which, like the
AEI fellows involved in the "Victory" project, was a major champion
for going to war in Iraq.
Indeed, the provenance of the plan aside from Keane and two other senior
retired military officers, a majority its 17 contributors are AEI fellows
has fed suspicions that it represents one final effort by neoconservatives to
persuade the president that, by "doubling down" on his gamble on Iraq,
he can still leave the table a winner and "transform" the entire Middle
While Bush has not explicitly endorsed the concept, he noted at his year-end
White House press conference Wednesday that he was open to the idea. Vice President
Dick Cheney's office, which is closely tied to AEI, is known to support it strongly.
"According to all the talk in Washington, the 'plan' whipped up by AEI's
Fred Kagan is likely to be mostly implemented by President Bush when he stops
stalling about his policy in Iraq," according to Pat Lang, the former chief
Middle East analyst at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, who has warned
that, if implemented, it would likely lead to "Stalingrad on the Tigris."
"A 'surge' of the size possible under current constraints on U.S. forces
will not turn the tide in the guerrilla war," warned Lang, who noted, along
with many other experts in the past month, that the reinforcement of thousands
of U.S. troops in Baghdad since last summer had actually increased the violence
"Those who believe still more troops will bring 'victory' are living in
a dangerous dream world and need to wake up," he added, conceding, however,
that it may appeal to Bush for that very reason. "He wants to redeem his
'freedom agenda,' restore momentum to his plans and in his mind this might 'clear
up' Iraq so that he could move on to Iran."
Even if Bush supports the plan, however, his much-weakened political position
in the wake of last month's elections in which Democrats won control of both
houses of Congress makes it highly unlikely that he could muster the kind of
support - both among lawmakers and the uniformed military he would need to
deploy the number of troops the plans calls for.
While the current front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination,
John McCain, supports the plan as does the Democrats' most prominent neoconservative,
Sen. Joseph Lieberman some key Republicans, including Senator Gordon Smith
and Norm Coleman who until now have strongly backed Bush's Iraq policy, have
come out in opposition.
They are certain to be bolstered by doubts expressed Sunday by former Secretary
of State Colin Powell who, since his retirement two years ago, has been extremely
reluctant to voice any criticism of Bush.
A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell told CBS News that he
was "not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes
of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work."
The current theater commanders, including the outgoing head of the U.S. Central
Command, Gen. John Abizaid, and the senior officer in Iraq, Gen. George Casey,
have also argued that more troops are likely to increase, rather than reduce,
Abizaid, an Arab-speaker with an advanced degree in Middle East studies from
Harvard University, has all but explicitly endorsed the main recommendations
of the ISG, particularly its emphasis on gaining the cooperation of all of Iraq's
neighbors in stabilizing the country.
The Joint Chiefs are also reportedly skeptical of the plan, with the Army Chief
of Staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, warning Congress earlier this month that, even
at the current rate of deployment not to mention increased troops levels,
let alone those recommended by the "Victory" plan "we
will break the [Army's] active component."
In addition to conveying their views directly to Bush's new Pentagon chief
Robert Gates, those same skeptics among the active-duty and retired military
officers will almost certainly be among the first witnesses called to testify
before key Congressional panels beginning next month as the newly-empowered
Democrats take control of the legislative agenda for the first time in 12 years.
While the incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last weekend that
he could abide a modest increase in U.S. troop strength in Baghdad for a few
months to see if they could reduce the violence, other key senators, including
the front-runner for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton,
said this week she would not support even a short-term deployment. Meanwhile,
the top Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives issued statements
here Wednesday opposing any "surge."
Still, neoconservatives remain confident. "Because this plan offers a
credible prospect of winning in Iraq," according to this week's Standard,
"moderate Democrats and queasy Republicans, the White House thinks, will
be inclined to stand back and let Bush give it a shot."
(Inter Press Service)