The Return of Shock and Awe?

In the State of the Union address Bush said that failure in Iraq was not an option (not the first time the president has sounded the tocsin). "Many in this chamber," he stated, "understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching." Among the possible consequences mentioned was an ever increasing escalation of sectarian violence culminating in the "nightmare scenario" of the entire region "being drawn into the conflict."

"To allow this to happen," the president went on, "would be to ignore the lessons of September 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq, and to spare the American people from this danger."

The president’s logic is deeply flawed. If victory is all-important, why were so few troops committed to the fight four years ago? Why, with so much at stake, are we again being exhorted to go shopping instead of beating our credit cards into swords? And why, when "our own security is at risk," as the president put it in the same speech, has the commander in chief ordered a paltry 21,000 fresh troops into the fray?

Why these half-measures when our very survival hangs in the balance?

For one, it makes little sense to sacrifice on the altar of a lie. By now the majority of Americans know that the reasons for the invasion were bogus, the intelligence cooked. Going in, Bush was convinced, given the sorry state of the enemy’s capacity to fight back, that victory could be achieved on the cheap. With Iraq’s oil supplies, the world’s second largest, nailed down and our strategic interests in the Middle East served, the mission seemed indeed accomplished. Hail to the chief.

But the script failed to make it past the first act. Four years of miserable failure later, our "war president" has run out of options. At this point one would expect the president to cut his losses and to start implementing some of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, including talks with Syria and Iran. But this president only listens to his gut, and his gut tells him that victory can yet be achieved, despite everything, as long as there is the will to make it happen. Triumph of the will redux.

It is folly to believe that Bush will accept failure in Iraq. Our commander in chief will stop at nothing to achieve the victory that has so far eluded his grasp. But the options are few or nonexistent. In Bush’s world, there may not be room for anything other than one last swing for the fences: "victory" through mass destruction. The return of shock and awe. This, then, will be the Bush face of victory.

Seen in this light, 21,000 troops, fleshed out by thousands of mercenaries supplied by private security firms, are more than enough. In truth, the 21,000 extras are a red herring. They are not really needed. The "augmentation," as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dubbed the "surge," is mere window-dressing, designed to enhance the president’s image as a strong leader prepared to go it alone. For this president cares nothing about the loss of life and limb, be it of our own soldiers or of Iraqis, the destruction of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, or the generations to come that will have to pay the piper. Thus he flouts the will of the people (last November’s election results were nothing if not a referendum on the war); spits in the eyes of his critics; rejects the recommendations of Iraq Study Group; dismisses the commanders in the field who questioned the needs for more troops, replacing them with a commander with an eye for the main chance, and defies congressional resolutions opposed to sending more troops. His final word: "I am the decision-maker." The "surge" is Bush’s last stand. Get ready for an even greater bloodbath.