Commentary: The Iraq Troop Surge

Beth Wellington is a Roanoke, Virginia based poet and journalist. She is a contributing editor to the New River Free Press, a book reviewer for the Roanoke Times and a member of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (SAWC) and the Appalachian Studies Association. From 1980 to 1997, she was the founding Executive Director of New River Community Sentencing, Inc. in Christiansburg, Virginia and its predecessor, New River Community Action’s Community Sentencing Program. She contributes to both and Beth’s blog on culture and politics is The Writing Corner. [Editor’s Note: on January 17, 2007 AP reported on a “Senate resolution opposing President Bush’s war plan on Iraq,” that has the support of two Republicans, Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe. See also Sens. Biden, Hagel and Levin to Introduce Bipartisan Resolution Expressing Opposition to Iraq War Escalation, January 17, 2007]

On January 9, 2007 Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S. 233 to prevent a troop surge without prior permission from Congress (see Stopping the Surge, Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe, January 9, 2007).

January 10, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) introduced H. Con Res. 23 expressing the sense of Congress that there should not escalate the number of troops in Iraq. Co-sponsors include Rush Holt (D-NJ), John Conyers (D-MI) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), the only House member to vote against the use of military force after the September 11th attacks.

In his address to the nation on the evening of January 10, President Bush announced a surge of more than 21,500 U.S. troops in Iraq, primarily in Baghdad. The White House posted, along with the text of the address, the National Security Council’s Highlights of the Iraq Security Review and a fact sheet, the New Way Forward in Iraq.

The day before Congress reconvened on January 3, Arianna Huffington reported in DC Notes: Murtha Again Taking the Lead on Iraq that Rep, John Murtha (D-PA), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense, was already talking about using the power of the purse to limit a surge:

The only way you can have a troop surge, is to extend the tours of people whose tours have already been extended, or to send back people who have just gotten back home….Money is the only way we can stop it for sure.

Huffington added,

To this end, Murtha, the incoming Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, is planning to hold wide-ranging hearings, starting January 17th, that will focus on the depleted state of our military readiness , as well as contractor corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal is to turn the spotlight on how drained the military has become, and on how any talk of a troop surge is utterly irresponsible (as well as strategically misguided). “The public,” he said repeatedly, “is already ahead of us on all this.”

He says he wants to “fence the funding,” denying the president the resources to escalate the war, instead using the money to take care of the soldiers as we bring them home from Iraq “as soon as we can.”

Rep. Murtha, who has a blog on Huffington Post, added his own post January 11 and started talking to the mainstream press about his plans January 12: McClatchy, CNN and Bloomberg were among the first to report the news. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted during the days of January 8 to 10, 2007, before the President’s address, and released on January 14, showed 62% of those polled believe the United States made a mistake going into Iraq, as compared with 64% who thought it was the right decision when polled in mid-December of 2004. While at that time those judging it likely that Iraq would form a stable government were evenly split with those saying it was not likely. This poll indicates those thinking it likely has fallen to 38%. On specific questions of a troop surge, 70% oppose it, with an equivalent percentage saying it would not help stabilize the situation. [Editor’s Note: The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Survey released on January 16, 2007 – Broad Opposition to Bush’s Iraq Plan But More Republicans Now Say Troop Increase Is Needed.] Editor and Publisher’s Dave Astor in his January 12 analysis, Columnists Fail to Offer ‘Surge’ of Support for New Iraq Plan, noted that most conservative columnists also failed to support Bush, as did formerly supportive, more liberal columnists, such as Tom Friedman (Make Them Fight All of Us, New York Times, January 12, 2006). Amid fading support in Congress, not only from Democrats, but from his own party, President Bush addressed his critics in his weekly radio address on January 13:

Members of Congress have a right to express their views, and express them forcefully. But those who refuse to give this plan a chance to work have an obligation to offer an alternative that has a better chance for success. To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible.

But is his characterization of proposing nothing accurate? In fact, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, now chaired by Joe Biden (D-DE), is holding a series of hearings, “Securing America’s Interest in Iraq: The Remaining Options on Iraq. After a closed intelligence briefing on January 9 , the Committee heard about the current situation on January 10 from:

On January 11, 2007 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified on the administration’s plan in the morning, followed by a hearing on alternative plans:

  • Ambassador Peter Galbraith, Senior Diplomatic Fellow with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and a former staff member of this Committee argued that we should: “Accept the partition of Iraq that has already taken place, withdraw from Arab Iraq, and redeploy a small force to Kurdistan that can strike at al-Qaeda if necessary.”
  • Dr. Frederick Kagan, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who authored a recent study that: “calls for a sustained surge of American combat forces into Iraq in order to restore and maintain stability and security in Baghdad, reduce sectarian violence, protect the Iraqi population, and help establish a normal life for the Iraqi people.”
  • Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute who argued that: “the president should begin the process of removing American troops immediately, and that process needs to be complete in no more than six months.”

Originally, Dr. Daniel P. Serwer, Vice President, Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations and Centers of Innovation, United States Institute of Peace, was to have testified on “strengthening the center.” The Center issued a special report on the insurgency in Iraq in November 2006, calling for decreased expectations. There are two hearings scheduled for January 17 and 18, 2007:

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, (formerly the International Relations Committee for the past 12 years), chaired by Tom Lantos, (D-CA) also heard from Rice on January 11. Lantos has scheduled testimony from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and from Lee Hamilton, of the Iraq Study Group, next week. Lantos’ rejection of the efficacy of the troop surge is expressed in his press release of January 10, 2007. Some questions how Bush can ask his critics to propose a successful option for a doomed cause, other than to minimize the damage. More often the situation is being compared to Vietnam. As Henry Allen said in Therapy for Nationbuilder in the Washington Post, January 10, 2007:

After Vietnam, one hoped that we could salvage pride in the courage with which our soldiers fought, and in the knowledge that we had learned our lesson well enough that we would never again send them to die in such a doomed cause.

Chuck Hagel (R-NE) (statement on Iraq) was on Charlie Rose, January 11, using every word but quagmire. In one sentence alone, he used the words “bog” and “swamp.” Another sign of growing criticism from within his own party came anuary 9 the day prior to his address, when eight Republican Representatives wrote President Bush and sent out a press release, trying to forestall a surge. January 10, they sent out a second release, with the text of their letter. Walter B. Jones (R-NC), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Ron Paul (R-TX), John Duncan (R-TN), Howard Coble (R-NC), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Phil English (R-PA) and Steven LaTourette (R-OH) wrote:

Dear Mr. President: We fully support your consideration of alternatives to the current U.S. policy in Iraq and eagerly await your announcement of a new U.S. strategy. We respectively urge you not to include an escalation or “surge” of U.S. military forces as part of that new strategy. As members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have indicated in published reports, even a short-term escalation of the number of U.S. troops in Iraq could create larger problems in the long-term. It would increase Iraqi dependence on our forces, deplete our strategic reserve and force extended tours of duty for soldiers and Marines who are scheduled to return to their families. Hostile militias could respond by simply melting back into society until the surge is ended. The Pentagon has warned that an escalation of our troop levels in Iraq could lead to an increase in al-Qaeda attacks, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeals for foreign fighters to attack U.S. soldiers. Former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, recently characterized our Army as “about broken”, warning against an escalation of the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. According to a recent Military Times poll, nearly three-quarters of our servicemen and women think that our military is stretched too thin to be effective. We have already seen the results of a surge of U.S. forces in Baghdad. Last August we increased the number of troops there by 12,000 as part of “Operation Together Forward”. Since then the level of violence and the loss of American and Iraqi lives has increased significantly. According to the Pentagon, there were an average of almost 960 attacks per month against Americans and Iraqis since the surge began. This is the highest level of attacks recorded by the Pentagon since it began issuing quarterly assessment reports in 2005. Clearly, the escalation of U.S. troops in Baghdad failed to meet its mission. There is no evidence that expanding this approach even further would lead to a different result. Mr. President, we applaud your re-assessment of U.S. strategy in Iraq. However, we urge you to reject any recommendation for either a short or long term increase in the number of U.S. troops. We are persuaded by all available evidence that an escalation of U.S. troop levels is not the way forward in Iraq.

Gilchrest had supported the now-abandoned Iraq Study Group Report, saying on December 7, 2006, that dialogue was “long overdue”. Paul had gone so far as to make a statement on the floor of the House on January 11, that

A military victory in Iraq is unattainable, just as it was in the Vietnam war.

Duncan had voted against the war in 2002 and wrote a column for the Tennessean January 12, “Even the Soldiers Will Tell You, ‘Nothing is Going to Help.'” English sent out a press release after the address saying,

Nothing in his speech tonight has caused me to reconsider my position. As I noted earlier today, the proposed surge in U.S. troops does not by itself present a clear and convincing plan to achieve U.S. goals in Iraq and, in my view, would only further complicate the current problems. I’ve long advocated that our country reduce its footprint in Iraq. We must move to establish a benchmark based plan for systematically withdrawing troops while encouraging the Iraqi government to rebuild their economy and take full responsibility.

LaTourette said in a release,

Like many Americans, I desperately want America to succeed in Iraq and I would welcome a fresh approach,” LaTourette said. “This isn’t a fresh approach. This is more of the same.” responsibility for their own national security.

On January 12, Jones also submitted H. J. Res. 14 (Congressional Record H515) concerning the use of military force by the United States against Iran. According to a news release, the resolution requires that:

absent a national emergency created by an attack, or a demonstrably imminent attack, by Iran upon the United States or its armed forces – the President must consult with Congress and receive specific authorization prior to initiating any use of military force against Iran.

In the release, Jones said,

Today, there is a growing concern – justified or not – that some U.S. officials are contemplating military action against Iran. This resolution makes it crystal clear that no previous resolution passed by Congress authorizes such use of force. The Constitution of the United States declares that, while the Commander in Chief has the power to conduct wars, only Congress has the power to authorize them. One of the many lessons from our involvement in Iraq is that Congress needs to ask the right questions prior to exercising its Constitutional authority to approve the use of military force…. If the President is contemplating committing our blood and treasure in another war, then he and his administration must make the case to Congress and the American people why it would be in the national security interests of the United States to engage militarily in Iran.

Jill Zuckman (email) of the Chicago Tribune’s Washington Bureau filed her Janaury 11 story about similar sentiments in the Senate: Bush faces GOP doubters: Republicans not quiet about war plan worries. Sen. Norm Coleman R-MN) told Zuckerman,

I don’t want to embarrass the president, but my position is clear. I do not believe that a surge in troops is going to solve the fundamental problem we have….Iraqis have to decide they’re going to stop killing themselves.

Coleman went further in a January 10 news release,

I disagree with the President’s decision to provide a troop surge in Baghdad. My concern about a troop surge is compounded by the impact it will have on Minnesota National Guard troops in Iraq and their families here at home. I am extremely disappointed by the news that our National Guard soldiers in Iraq will have their tour of duty extended. When I visited them a few weeks ago in Iraq, they were excited about coming home in March. At a time when our National Guard troops and families are making the ultimate commitment to serve our country and defend our freedom, they deserve better than to be told only a short time before their scheduled return that their service is being extended.

Baghdad is ground zero for a sectarian civil war. The Iraqi government must demonstrate the resolve and ability to quell the sectarian violence if they expect continued American commitment. Failure in Iraq would unleash destructive ethnic cleansing and regional instability. Success in Iraq requires reconciliation between Shiites and Sunni. I do not believe a troop surge is the answer.

What is clear to me is that we are fighting two different wars within Iraq. The first is the war we intended to fight, a war against al-Qaeda forces and insurgent extremists. …I This is an entirely different kind of battle than the second war, the sectarian violence raging on the streets of Baghdad.

Coleman also made a speech on the floor of the Senate calling for Iraqis to make a commitment to end sectarian hatred. My question, is this sounds good, but how do you mandate such a thing? Look at Israel and Palestine, look at Ireland. Look at the race hatred within the United States.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told Zuckerman:

Based on the trip I took to Iraq last month, I concluded it would be a mistake to increase the overall level of troops in Iraq.

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), delivered a lengthy speech on the Senate floor in December, outlining his increasing frustration with the war.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) describes her view as: “deep skepticism.”

Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

At this point I am skeptical that a surge in troops alone will bring an end to sectarian violence and the insurgency that is fomenting instability in Iraq. The generals who have served there do not believe additional troops alone will help. And my faith in Prime Minister [Nouri] al-Maliki’s political will to make the hard choices necessary to bring about a political solution is fragile at best.

Even David Vitter (R-LA) expressed reservations prior to the speech:

I’m open to the president’s plan, but I need to learn a whole lot more of the details.

Stating his constituents have grown weary of the war, he said,

I don’t know anyone who’s not. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t or can’t go forward, but it makes it a lot more difficult.

Vitter just joined the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, along with Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and newly elected Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bob Corker (R-TN) (who campaigned on a platform favoring completing the mission in Iraq), and Jim Webb, (D-VA). Even Richard Lugar, ranking member on the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, has withheld support to date. As Maureen Groppe of the Indianapolis Star noted in her story, Lugar Stays on Sidelines in Debate Over Troops, on January 13, “If Lugar were to come out against sending more troops, it would be a big blow for the administration because he is viewed as someone who acts on principle, not politics.”
* With election of a Democratic Party majority in both chambers for the 110th Contress, Ike Skelton (D-MO) now chairs the House Armed Services Committee and Carl Levin (D-MI) chairs the Senate Committee on Armed Services. The committee roster as of January 16, had not yet been updated to show the change in leadership, nor the addition of the new Democratic Party Senators Pryor (AR), Webb (VA), McCaskill (MO) and Republican Martinez (FL). At an organizational meeting held January 10, according to his news release, Skelton said,

As our agenda moves forward, we will restore the House Armed Services Committee’s historic commitment to robust oversight of the Pentagon and of the Administration’s military policies. Other priorities include, but are not limited to: taking care of the troops and their families; rebuilding military readiness, particularly for the Army and the Marine Corps; a comprehensive examination of our current policy in Iraq and identifying options for the future; refocusing attention on the war in Afghanistan; and placing greater emphasis on preventing nuclear proliferation.

Skelton responded in a news release,

The proposed increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq is three and a half years late and several hundred thousand troops short. The Administration had the opportunity before we invaded Iraq to heed General Eric Shinseki’s advice on the troop levels required to stabilize a country in crisis. Sadly, the General’s recommendations were dismissed out of hand. This proposed troop increase is not a new strategy; it is a change in tactics. The President’s announcement simply repackages a military plan that has been tried before – admittedly without today’s hype – but our experience has shown that a limited infusion of troops will not necessarily produce the improvement to Iraqi security that we hoped…. Our force is under tremendous strain and this troop increase will only make the strain worse. While we will take a careful look at the President’s plan in a series of hearings, I remain convinced that a gradual and responsible redeployment of U.S. forces is the best way to help the Iraqis take responsibility for their security and to restore the full strength of our military.

Ranking member and former Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was more supportive of the president in his remarks at a committee hearing next day on the way forward in Iraq (no transcript available yet, check here later) calling the proposed 3-1 ratio of Iraqi units to U.S. units

a template to transition security operations from the American military to the Iraqi government.

Senator Levin, was adamant in his criticism of Bush’s plan in his opening statement of the Senate’s own hearing on Iraq, January 12.

Deepening our involvement in Iraq would be a mistake. Deepening our involvement in Iraq on the assumption that the Iraqis will meet future benchmarks and commitments given their track record would compound the mistake.

He added,

Just two months General Abizaid testified before this Committee against increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. He told us: “I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. And the reason is, because we want the Iraqis to do more. It’s easy for the Iraqis to rely upon to us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.” General Casey made that same point on January 2 when he said that “The longer we in the U.S. forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq’s security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias. And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq’s problems, which are at base their problems.”

Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, a consultant to the Oxford Research Group, and serves as openDemocracy’s International Security Editor. In a January 11 essay for the latter, Bush’s Surge, Iraq’s Insurgency, Rogers calls the increased troops in Iraq, combined with the potential of radicalization of civilians after a January 7 U.S. bombing in Somalia a gift to al-Qaida:

Iraq is already providing a first-rate jihadi combat training-zone and, from an al-Qaida perspective, this is without any risk of changing. They (and many western analysts) simply do not believe that the United States can win in Iraq. Therefore, the longer it loses the better. In light of the fact that al-Qaida deals in decades, it has the prospect of decades of training for jihadi cohorts.

Interestingly, according to the Financial Times’ Daniel Dombey and Ben Hall article today, “Blair set to announce Iraq troop pull-out:”

British official said Mr. Blair was set to make an announcement to the Commons on a draw-down by the end of next month, after the conclusion of the UK’s current operation around the city of Basra. Officials say the goal is to reduce British troops in Iraq from the current 7,100 to 4,500.

University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole’s posting on his blog, Informed Comment, Bush Sends GI’s to his Private Fantasyland:

To clear and hold you need a sympathetic or potentially sympathetic civilian population that is being held hostage by militants, and which you can turn by offering them protection from the militants. I don’t believe there are very many Iraqi Sunnis who can any longer be turned in that way. The opinion polling suggests that they overwhelmingly support violence against the US.

This strategy may have some successes here and there. It won’t win the day, and I’d be surprised if it did not collapse by the end of the summer.

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