The Iraq War is coming up on its fourth anniversary.
Increasingly embattled, even desperate, President Bush has decided to send another
21,500 American troops into the fight. They will join over 150,000
U.S. soldiers already deployed in Iraq.
In the speech on Jan. 10 explaining
his decision, President Bush argued in almost apocalyptic terms that "failure
in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States." The echoes of America's
war in Vietnam are hard to miss. In March 1967, President Lyndon Johnson declared,
"As our commitment in Vietnam required more men and more equipment, some
voices were raised in opposition. The administration was urged to disengage,
to find an excuse to abandon the effort. … But if we faltered, the forces of
chaos would scent victory and decades of strife and aggression would stretch
endlessly before us. The choice was clear. We would stay the course. And we
shall stay the course."
American forces in Iraq are still far short of the military deployment the
United States had in Vietnam. U.S. troop numbers in Vietnam increased from less
than 20,000 in early 1964 to more than half a million by 1969. But the difference
between the force levels – and the two situations -- is a lot less than most
people think. There is, after all, not just one U.S. Army in Iraq.
U.S. Army #2
In December 2006, according
to the Washington Post, "There are about 100,000 government
contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is
approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's
first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield."
These contractors, many founded and staffed by former American soldiers, provide
essential services for the U.S. military, including interpreters who go out
with military patrols, intelligence analysis, security guards, interrogating
prisoners (including during the torture at Abu Ghraib), maintaining and even
operating military equipment, constructing military bases, and cooking and cleaning
for soldiers. Soldiers would ordinarily perform these jobs. Many contractor
employees live with U.S. troops on military bases. At least 650 have been killed.
These numbers suggest that the effective U.S. military commitment to Iraq is
already about 250,000 strong and may be significantly larger.
While private military contractors are paid for by the U.S. government, and
are an increasingly important part of the U.S. occupation in Iraq (and its military
activities elsewhere), they have been subject neither to local law nor U.S.
military law. To take but one example, a U.S. military court tried and sentenced
some of the American soldiers involved in torture at Abu Ghraib, but the civilian
interrogators involved, employed by U.S. contractors, faced no punishment.
According to Peter
Singer, an expert on U.S. private military contractors, "Not one contractor
of the entire military industry in Iraq has been charged with any crime over
the last three and a half years, let alone prosecuted or punished. Given the
raw numbers of contractors, let alone the incidents we know about, it boggles
This may be about to change. A little noted clause in the 2007 Defense Bill,
enacted last October, placed contractors under the Uniform Code of Military
Justice, the military laws that govern the U.S. armed forces.
U.S. Army #3
The third American army in Iraq is an invisible
army, driven not by duty or greed, but by need. An investigation
by the Chicago Tribune revealed some of the ugly truth about the
subcontractors that are paid to do the menial work for the bigger U.S. and other
military contractors. An international network of such companies has apparently
brought thousands of laborers to Iraq. The Tribune reporters found that
"subcontractors and brokers routinely seized workers' passports, deceived
them about their safety or contract terms, and, in at least one case, allegedly
tried to force terrified men into Iraq under the threat of cutting off their
food and water." The U.S. military has confirmed that laws banning human
trafficking have been violated and has ordered contractors "to return passports
that have been illegally confiscated from laborers on U.S. bases."
It is hard to see how adding a few tens of thousands of soldiers will make
much difference to an American force of at least a quarter of million already
in Iraq. It is likely only to make things worse, and many people see that.
Recent polls show that a clear majority of Americans oppose Bush's decision
to send yet more troops to Iraq – a CNN
poll found 66 percent of American opposed. About half (53 percent) of Americans
think the new Congress should block the Bush plan. It should come as no surprise.
More than half of Americans (57 percent) now think that the United States is
losing the war in Iraq (up from 34 percent in December 2005).
The Bush decision has also attracted a lot of opposition and criticism from
insiders. The highest levels of the U.S. military, the officers who make up
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, representing the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force,
were opposed. The Washington Post reported
that "White House officials [are] aggressively promoting the concept
over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Colin Powell, who served as national security adviser and earlier as chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before serving as Bush's secretary of state from
2001-2005, said that "I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into
Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil
war, will work."
Another former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski passed an even
harsher verdict. Writing
in the Washington Post, Brzezinski described the Bush plan for a
military "surge" in Iraq as "a political gimmick of limited tactical
significance and of no strategic benefit. It is insufficient to win the war
militarily. It will engage U.S. forces in bloody street fighting that will not
resolve with finality the ongoing turmoil and the sectarian and ethnic strife,
not to mention the anti-American insurgency."
For Brzezinski, the war in Iraq was always doomed. He has argued that "America
is acting like a colonial power in Iraq. But the age of colonialism is over.
Waging a colonial war in the post-colonial age is self-defeating. That is the
fatal flaw of Bush's policy."
America's three armies in Iraq exceed a quarter of a million. It is a commitment
of people and money that is comparable to the Vietnam war. But it has not proved
to be enough. The experience of Vietnam showed that adding more troops (or changing
the local leadership, which may be the next U.S. policy initiative in Iraq)
cannot rescue a doomed mission. America's imperial adventure in Iraq has failed.
The choice is now whether the United States will accept defeat and withdraw
quickly or, as in Vietnam, become more ruthless, turn against the very people
it once claimed to protect, and seek to widen the war. As the violence grows,
politics will fall silent and hasten an end that is becoming more pitiless,
bloody, and bitter.
Reprinted with the permission of Foreign
Policy in Focus.