It’s not an "if." It’s a "when." Pentagon officials have indicated that they plan to send as many as 15,000 additional troops during the first four months of 2005, and the President George W. Bush continues to insist "we will stay the course" until Iraq is stabilized. (I do wish his advisers would provide a different vocabulary so that those of us steeped in the mistakes regarding Vietnam could be spared painful flashbacks.)
Where will the additional troops come from? The Bush administration insists there will be no draft, but its credibility has been badly tarnished. The "backdoor draft" that has kept so many from the Reserve and National Guard on active duty has backfired, as quotas for new enlistments have not been met. So plans are already advanced for fully mobilizing the Reserve and National Guard.
Senator John Kerry states the obvious in calling such steps "temporary measures" that have increased the burden on our troops and their families without addressing the basic reality that the active-duty Army is too small. He proposes adding 40,000 troops to the Army and offsetting the cost by reducing expenditures on highly expensive projects like national missile defense (NMD). (Kerry might have added that the NMD boondoggle, for which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and defense contractors have pushed so hard and so long, is now actually being deployed without having been adequately tested – not to mention its dubious utility in the priority struggle against terrorism.)
Let’s Be Honest, Finally
But how many troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq? The well respected International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, before which the president spoke last November, says 500,000. Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told Congress publicly before the war that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed. It turns out he was asking for 400,000, fully aware that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was planning to attack and occupy Iraq with just a fraction of that. Rumsfeld gave him the back of his hand.
At this point, to be unaware of the requirement for additional troops while watching the burgeoning chaos in Iraq requires a Ph.D. in denial and a childlike, faith-based trust in the administration’s PR rhetoric. Indeed, cracks can be seen within the president’s own camp regarding what is happening in Iraq and what to do about it. And some truth is now peeking through those cracks.
While the president promotes the bromide of "months of steady progress" in Iraq, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R, Neb.) calls this a "grand illusion." And on Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave tacit, but unambiguous, support to the gloomy conclusions reached in the recent National Intelligence Estimate.
President Bush says he will provide more troops if commanders ask for them. But it would mean early retirement for any general making such a request before the election. And, sadly, as was the case in Vietnam, the top military brass appear to be giving priority to their careers over their duty to support and protect the troops they send into battle.
Who’s the Enemy?
We also need honesty about whom we’re fighting in Iraq. Disingenuousness persists about the resistance to U.S. occupation. The president assured us last week that there are only "a handful of people who are willing to kill" in order to thwart U.S. aims. And those interested in learning more about these people are malnourished by "intelligence." Instead, they are forced to resort to Iraqi newspaper listings of the various groups who have claimed credit for hitting the invader.
The reality in Iraq was far better captured by retired Army Special Forces Col. W. Patrick Lang, former Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. In an informal e-mail, Col. Lang wrote:
"The sad thing is that US combat intelligence in Iraq does not seem to know who the insurgents are, where they are, how many they are, or what they plan to do. This in spite of all the happy campaign talk about how well things are going."
Another retired Army colonel, a well respected military strategist and educator, Sam Gardiner, writing recently for Salon.com, reacted bitterly to reports – now confirmed by Secretary Powell – that military operations into the "no-go" areas in Iraq have been postponed until after the election.
"There is certainly no commander in the field saying, ‘Let’s give the bad guys another 60 days to operate freely inside their sanctuaries before we attack.’ Such a decision would be particularly bizarre when attacks against coalition forces are more frequent than ever, attacks on oil pipelines are on the rise, and the U.S. is suffering increased casualties."
Needed: Patriotic Leaks
Daniel Ellsberg makes a poignant appeal to conscience in an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times, noting with great regret that he wished he had made unauthorized disclosures 40 years ago as he worked on plans to expand the war in Vietnam even as President Lyndon Johnson campaigned for president on a platform of "no wider war."
Ellsberg neglects to mention a key juncture four years later when he, with the help of another patriotic leaker, was able to prevent a disastrous widening of the war that threatened to bring in China as an active combatant.
In the election year of 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, was proving a master at playing the political game. He put an artificial limit on the count of armed Vietnamese Communists. As a result, U.S. Army Intelligence carried on its books less than half the actual number of 500,000. The countrywide Tet offensive in early 1968 gave the lie to Westmoreland’s fictitious figures – at great cost to our troops.
Still, Westmoreland and President Lyndon Johnson dissembled, as the general secretly asked for 206,000 more troops to widen the war into Cambodia, Laos, and up to the Chinese border – perhaps even beyond. They then ran into the troubled conscience of Ellsberg, who leaked the 500,000 figure to the New York Times after another patriot had leaked the 206,000 request.
On March 25, 1968, Johnson complained to a small gathering:
"The leaks to the New York Times hurt us. . . . We have no support for the war . . . I would have given Westy the 206,000 men."
The moral of the story? Leaking can be patriotic; can prevent a wider, longer war.
The Next Four Years
Some say that perhaps the administration’s plan, if it gets four more years, is to "clean out" Fallujah and other resistance strongholds, despite the heavy casualties that would result, and then turn the fight over to Iraqi forces and withdraw.
Not a chance. If, as I believe to be the case, the actual objectives of the war on Iraq have mostly to do with achieving military dominance over that oil-rich region and eliminating any conceivable threat to the security of Israel, four more years will mean a still larger U.S. military force there for the duration. Among other things, to leave sooner would leave Israel less safe than it was before the war, something the president’s advisers are very loath to do.
President Bush insists, "You can understand how hard it is, and still believe we’ll succeed." No you can’t – not if you really understand how hard it is and are honest about what would be required.
No matter how much the president may try to disparage as "just guessing" the more accurate intelligence estimates he is now getting, this time the experts have got it right. Even Colin Powell acknowledged on Sunday "we have seen an increase in anti-Americanism in the Muslim world" since the war began, and the insurgency in Iraq is "getting worse."
It is high time the administration explained how it is going to "win" this war with a troop force widely recognized as inadequate to the task.