At this time last year, the Pentagon was hinting that troop levels in Iraq would be reduced. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that two combat brigades scheduled for combat tours would not be deployed to Iraq. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, proclaimed, "If things go the way we expect them to, as more Iraqi units stand up, we’ll be able to bring our troops down and turn over that territory to the Iraqis." But that was then and this is now.
Claiming that he is "not going to be rushed into making a difficult decision," President Bush will not announce what his "new way forward" in Iraq will be until January. More than likely that’s because the White House knows that they don’t have any holiday happy talk about bringing troops home to spread good cheer among soldiers and their families. In fact, it’s likely to be just the opposite: a surge in U.S. troops. President Bush has announced that he intends to increase the size of the U.S. military to fight the war on terrorism, which is presumably a prelude to announcing a troop increase in Iraq. Although President Bush insists that no decisions have yet been made, unnamed U.S. officials are saying that he will likely approve pouring 30,000 or more additional troops into Iraq, which is in line with the "go long" option recommended by a military study commissioned by Gen. Pace. One indication that the plan is to beef up the force is that according to an unnamed Defense Department official the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, comprised of about 3,500 troops, will be deployed in Iraq early next year.
(For the record, nearly a year ago, I wrote:
"I hate to be a cynic and will gladly be proven wrong (indeed, I actually hope to be), but don’t be surprised if in a feat of legerdemain (or perhaps more appropriately, bait and switch) there are 100,000 or more U.S. troops still in Iraq a year from now."
Currently, there are something like 140,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and the odds are that the number will go even higher in the very near future. The wonder isn’t that I was right, but that those who have been so disastrously wrong have been so richly rewarded. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who was the Pentagon’s biggest cheerleader for taking the country to war in Iraq, is now the president of the World Bank. Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who was a champion for Iraqi con artist Ahmed Chalabi, is visiting professor and "distinguished practitioner in national security policy" at Georgetown University. Bill Kristol, the don of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, has been named a columnist for Time magazine. And Thomas Friedman who led the liberal hawk charge into Iraq, often alongside Bill Kristol is still a fixture on the pages of the New York Times. If any of these people were your stockbroker who told you to bet the ranch on Enron in late 2001, would you still be letting them give you financial advice?)
Piling onto the bad news that the administration is likely to throw more troops into the fray is the Pentagon’s most recent "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq" quarterly report to Congress. According to the report, weekly attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces and Iraqi civilians are averaging nearly 1,000 per week. Civilian casualties are averaging more than 90 a day. And Shi’ite militias are now deemed more dangerous than al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Despite the grim reality of increased violence and all the post-midterm elections talk of changing course in Iraq, the administration seems intent on staying the course (which should be more than apparent when the president says he is "committed to a strategic goal of a free Iraq that is democratic, that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself"). And rather than providing a roadmap for the way out of Iraq, the Iraq Study Group Report is an enabler for doing more of the same. The so-called "internal approach" recommended by the Iraq Study Group is for the Iraqis to
"accelerate assuming responsibility for Iraqi security by increasing the number and quality of Iraqi Army brigades. While this process is under way, and to facilitate it, the United States should significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops, imbedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units. As these actions proceed, U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq."
But this is essentially no different than the current policy of training the Iraqis (which is clearly not working, so it’s hard to see how accelerating the process will lead to success) so that, as President Bush has said, "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."
And the Iraq Study Group’s "external approach" recommendation "Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively" is even more baffling. Even if one were willing to suspend disbelief that the administration would be willing to talk to the Iranians and Syrians and that they would be willing to help, their version of helping would likely be quite different from how we would like them to help. While the United States is interested in putting an end to the violence in Iraq, Syria and Iran may be more interested in ensuring that the violence does not spill over Iraq’s borders into their respective countries (which would be entirely consistent with how countries in the Middle East have tended to view and deal with instability).
The Iraq Study Group also echoed the Bush administration’s concerns of Iran and Syria fueling the insurgency: "Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq," and "Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq." But even though the report acknowledged that the Saudis were also part of the problem "funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia" there was no recommendation to pressure the ruling monarchy in Riyadh (which vehemently denies that any money is being sent to fund the Iraqi insurgency) as there was for the regimes in Tehran and Damascus. Since it’s likely that at least a few of the "private individuals" are some of the 6,000 members of the Saudi royal family, what’s wrong with that picture? When are we going to understand that the primary Saudi interest is to preserve the royal family, even if it comes at the expense of U.S. interests?
Ultimately, the real problem with the Iraq Study Group and with much of the foreign policy and national security establishment is that it was looking for a way to achieve success in Iraq: "There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved." However, the real issue isn’t success, but avoiding catastrophic failure. So instead of 150 pages and 79 recommendations, just one would have done: Get out, now.