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January 10, 2007

10 Fallacies of Bush's New Strategy
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Here are 10 fallacies I heard from the White House library tonight:

1.  That the strategy is "new" - Bush referred directly to the "clear, hold and build" strategy promulgated in October 1995.   At best, this is a course-correction which has unaccountably taken more than 15 months to be put into effect.

2.   That the strategy is any more likely to work now than in the past - Bush made two arguments as to why what failed previously will succeed now: 1) that troop levels will now be sufficient and 2) that crippling restrictions on troop movements and maneuvers will be lifted.  But rather than citing evidence for either of these, Bush made only a stilted reference to military commanders having certified to their truth.  This less than a week after replacing the leaders who refused to attest to same.

3.  That the strategy is "Iraqi" in impetus or direction - While Bush clearly wants to claim that the escalation of US troops will happen in support of a renewed Iraqi effort to secure itself, this is bunk.   Bush is under desperate pressure to do something - anything - about Iraq.  This plan is as made-in-Washington as they come, right down to the predicate laid to avoid blame for the White House.  Bush is setting himself up to be able to claim that the al-Maliki government failed to come through in the crunch, even though such failure is painfully, unavoidably foreseeable from the outset.

4.  That 20,000 troops will somehow change the game - The worst part of Bush's plan is that an additional 20,000 US soldiers will risk life and limb in furtherance of a "strategy" that is doomed to fail.  Baghdad is a city of roughly 5 million people.  The 20,000 figure is driven not by any assessment of what it would take to do the job, but by tight recruitment constraints and a straightforward political calculus of what the American public might ht possibly bear.

5.  That the Iraqi government enjoys sufficient legitimacy and impartiality to curb sectarian violence - Central to Bush's plan is the ability of the Iraqi government to credibly assert itself against the militias.  But the Iraqi armed services are themselves riddled with partisan militants.  It is a Shia army with close links to the radical Sadr militia - the idea of their going "door to door" in Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad can only strike fear among residents.

6.  That the al-Maliki government is a reliable US ally - While Bush has repeatedly affirmed his faith in AL-Milk, his advisers have grave doubts about the trustworthiness of the Prime Minister.  Milk's links to Sadr, his mishandling of Saddam's execution, his failure to take control of errant ministries, his impetuous decisions affecting US military operations emblems the difficulties of forging the sort of partnership that Bush seems to be banking on.

7.  That the Iraqi military has the competence to take the lead in securing Baghdad - For anyone who somehow harbors notions about the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, a quick read of the Iraq Study Group Report will dispel such notions in devastating terms.  Army units are described as lacking personnel, equipment and leadership and as resistant to carrying out orders.  The Iraqi police are described as "substantially worse."

8.  That the terrorists and insurgents are wholly separable from the Iraqi population at large - The strategy refers repeatedly to clearing neighborhoods of insurgents.  But what allows radical militias to survive is the support and protection they receive from ordinary citizens who are sympathetic to their aims.  Until such backers buy into a political resolution of Iraq's strife, they will continue to support and breed the insurgency, making it impossible for US or Iraqi troops to root out.

9.  That the US is in a position to "provide" a political alternative to the Middle East - It's astounding and distressing to hear Bush continue to talk in terms of the US "advancing liberty" in the Middle East through means like the Iraq war.  While Bush references standing with regional actors pressing for their own freedoms, he stops well short of acknowledging the kind of broad shift of ambitions and tactics needed to guide a new US Middle East policy.

10. That disaster is still avoidable - Bush cited a series of reasons why failure in Iraq would be a disaster: because Islamic extremists would grow in strength; because Iran would be emboldened to pursue nukes; because Iraq could become a terrorist haven.  But all those developments are underway right now.


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Hi Suzanne,

Great discussion. The right wing's vision here, and perhaps the fundamental contradiction in today's neo coservatism, is characterized by a big scope but a limited toolbox. Confronted with the debacle of Iraq, all Bush and the right can offer is "more guns and more soldiers" because that's all they know how to offer. And that's why this latest iteration is no less flawed than the plan we took to war three years ago, which thought military victory synonymous with political stabilization.

Bush shows his hand in the line about easing the restrictions on the armed forces. A frequent refrain on the right has been that the U.S. could win this occupation if only we were allowed the same ruthlessness that yesterday's occupiers enjoyed. Certainly a valid, if callous, historical question, but it also shows just how little the right wing is invested in Bush's stated project: the new humanitarian democratization.

With the line about easing the restrictions on the armed forces, Bush throws a bone to the shoot-em-up crowd yet leaves the real question, how to forge political stability in a critical state, unanswered. Obviously the generals are not enthusiastic about this policy, so why should we assume it has any validity beyond the emotional urge to "hit them harder"?

A couple of points, while I agree with most of the arguments in this post,

8. The purpose of clearing neighborhoods of insurgents does not mean to find the people and remove them, the real goal is to remove all of the weapons. Once that happens, the insurgents are forced to bring new weapons into the city, and that is when they are vulnerable to checkpoints. It is an effective strategy but is totally dependent on effective checkpoints (by the Iraqis).

The reason this has not worked in the past was due to interference by the Maliki government who did not allow US or Iraqi forces to clear the Shia neighborhoods, where all the Shia militia weapons were. Or Maliki would force the US to take down checkpoints that were in place to prevent the rearming or cleared areas (October 2006).

While there is no military solution to this problem, there is much the military can do to enhance stability and buy time while the Iraqi government figures out what it is doing.

Is it possible that Bush is setting himself up for a "graceful exit." The points in this post are well taken, there will not likely be much change, I think the most important point is the reliability of Maliki. Is it possible that Bush is setting up conditions in such a way so he can say, "Well, damn it, we tried, but the Iraqis won't live up to their end of the bargain, so we are taking our ball and going home."

BG, it's only natural that we don't trust the democratic elected government of iraq to go along with our counterinsurgency.

I expect it isn't just they like the insurgency by their own supporters. Also, they want to get their country working again.

Imagine the US army was disbanded and the chinese were assisting our new socialist government in counterinsurgency. And they put checkpoints at various chokepoints in major cities. Like, all the bridges and tunnels of NYC. So you'd expect to take 3 to 6 hours to get across. Plus random checkpoints that move around, you can expect to wait 3 hours waiting in line at one, and they'll shoot you if they think you're trying to avoid it. Sure, it's a drag on commerce but worth it to end the insurgency, right? Would the NYC mayor think so? The prime administrator of New York province? The Chairman of the US government?

The chinese army would figure that nothing else mattered until they handled security. Get everybody disarmed who might be a terrorist and the problem is solved. Strict gun control. But americans wouldn't have quite the same perspective....

JT, you comments are well taken in that fictional scenario. However, my point was not just roadblocks, which are a serious inconvenience (to say the least) to everyday Iraqis. But it is not opposition to the roadblocks that has led to PM Maliki ordering the checkpoints removed from Sadr City, or ordering the release of specific individuals.

The checkpoints surrounding Sadr City in the fall of 2006 were taken down not because of the reasons you state, but because the Sadrists were convinced the checkpoints were a launching point of the invasion of Sadr City (which was false but seemed true due to increased raids in Sadr City as a result of the kidnapped American soldier). The complaints about slowing down traffic, etc, were greatly exaggerated considering the checkpoints were only fully manned at night when there was a vehicle curfew anyway.

I offer this situation as an example of the political barriers that President Bush and PM Maliki claim will be removed, thus the new strategy. (Although it is more a change in tactics, not strategy). I am not convinced that we will see better results, but I am trying to play devil's advocate and not just jump on the Bush bashing band wagon otherwise there would be no discussion, just a bunch of posts reinforcing their own ideas.

Bg, it sounds like the iraqis haven't gotten a compelling explanation why the roadblocks are necessary.

I haven't either. I was a kid in 1970 (or was it 1971) when I got to talk to an army general about vietnam. He said the air force promised they could stop the NVA supplies from getting through, and they failed. It was the air force's fault. Later I looked more at that. If the NVA had needed to get 100% of their supplies through on schedule, the air force could have said they stopped them. When I looked at it, it looked like considerably less than 50% of supplies got through on schedule. But it wasn't the kind of hot war where they needed tremendous amounts of supplies on schedule. They could wait until they had sufficient stockpiles to do something, and do it, and then wait until they had another stockpile build up. Slowing 80% of the supplies wasn't enough.

Similarly, if the goal is to remove the weapons caches in an area and then maintain checkpoints to keep the weapons out, what good is it to have holes? Any place there's a hole, is a place the arms will get through.It isn't enough to block 90% of the places that an unwarned supplier would come through and hope that they'll be scared of a 90% chance they'll get caught. Anything less than 100% is useless.

But still crippling for civilians who hope to get to work on time.

Iraqis need a compelling explanation why it's both vitally necessary and effective.

JT, I agree with you on the point of communicating the purpose of the checkpoints, we are very bad at that. For obvious reasons, we have credibility issues (for things we have actually done, and for things we've been accused of doing that we did not respond effectively to).

However, we would not need a perfect 100% solution. That is not possible, to use some military terminology, we can not "destroy" the insurgency, we can simply "disrupt", meaning, we will never wipe it out, our goal would be to simply lessen the effectiveness.

But your points are well taken, this is of course not a new plan, it is more of the same and is not likely to be much more successful then previous plans.

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