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Winning in Iraq: Overcoming the urge to surge


President Bush announced plans to add over 20,000 troops to U.S. forces in Iraq, in order to control the growing violence there. This will almost bring troop levels back to their peak post-war levels, when the violence was presumably at a dull, tolerable roar.

Nobody could really believe that this strategy will bring peace and stability to Iraq, though it might succeed in making order in Baghdad if the troops are concentrated there, and if they are actually willing to engage the enemy, and if they can find the enemy, and if they aren't too busy raping Iraqi women.

Bush is not going to let the Iraq thing come apart on his watch. The Democratic controlled congress is going to resist the surge, in order to go on record as opposed to a policy that will obviously fail. However, they will not oppose it enough to stop it, and to allow Republicans to blame failure on the Democrats in 2008. In 2008, the US will elect a new president, either one who promises to "finish the job" or one who promises to "end the nightmare."

Either way, they will have elected a President who may soon find that he (or she) doesn't want the Iraq thing to come apart on their watch. If the Iraq thing comes apart, the US will lose any stature it still has in the Middle East. Friends will flee, foes will frolic, and oil may cost $200 a barrel.

In Iraq, as in Vietnam, the US is is losing because it is fighting a limited war. Does anyone doubt that if the US instituted conscription and sent two million troops to Iraq, it would be "stabilized?" Of course, being very numerous, and just as clueless about local conditions as US troops are today, this large force would be subject to constant ambushes and would initially sustain a steady stream of casualties in much larger numbers than the current figures. Does anyone doubt that such a move is politically unfeasible?

One lesson of Iraq is that it is very difficult to win a "limited war," because a "limited war" is only limited for one side. The other side may have far fewer resources, but it won't hesitate to use all of them. All they have to do is hang in there, and sooner or later, the uncommitted side is going to give up.

Sooner or later, someone will have to find a solution or get out of Iraq, at whatever cost. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a solution, because Iraq is not like Vietnam (yet) in one very important way. In Vietnam, there was an organized government pouring resources and men into the field, supported openly by world powers. These troops would advance and take Saigon as soon as American forces left. In Iraq, there is no Ho Chi Minh, and no USSR to support him. As long as the US maintains some force in Iraq, it is unlikely that insurgents could claim a victory. If that time is utilized properly, to train cadres of intelligence personnel and American administrators and liaison persons who understand their environment, then it might just be possible to win, assuming we can define what "winning" means. Intelligence personnel could infiltrate the enemy. Officers would train Iraqi army units. Administrators and liaison people could help Iraqis adminster development programs. Auditors could figure out where all the money is going.

The almost four years that elapsed since the war should have been sufficient to get a godod start on such a program, but the US didn't even try. They put their trust in the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people, and Mr. Bush's surge program is still based on the vague hope that the Iraqis will overcome their sectarian differences, stop their corruption and get with the program. In the eyes of Washington, any other course would be unthinkable, since it is their patriotic duty. The Iraqis, at least those currently in charge, manifestly have different priorities and different loyalties. Without any effective local knowlege, there is no way the US could change the nature of the Iraqi government. The Iraqis are "with the program" but their programs are different from those of the US.

The message of the ISG report was reasonably clear: Shit is happening, and US officials are clueless about why it happens, who is responsible or how to stop it from happening.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000554.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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