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The latest round of Sunday political gabfests reinforced my belief that the Iraq escalation plan is a very bad idea. The folks who support Mr. Bush's policy continue to echo the same pocketful of talking points, and those points don't make sense. In all, the essence of the pro-escalation rhetoric now boils down to five basic arguments.
1) We should give the new strategy a chance to succeed.
A parallel and perhaps more honest argument would be that we should give a bad strategy a chance to fail, and just about everybody can see the insanity of that position.
The only thing certain in war is uncertainty, or what Carl von Clausewitz referred to as "fog and friction." No plan, even a superior one, survives first contact with the enemy, and least not in total. No one, including its most ardent proponents, asserts that there's anything "sure fire" about the escalation plan, or even that it has a better than 50-50 chance of succeeding. Heck, they still can't give a cogent definition of what "success" in Iraq might be.
Figuring the odds of success or failure of any given war plan is a dicey proposition (pun intended), but the escalation strategy contains so many inherent flaws that it seems doomed to flop like a grounded trout.
To begin with, the 20 something thousand U.S. troop infusion is, by oncoming U.S. Iraq commander David Petraeus's own estimate, too small to restore order to Baghdad and the al-Anbar province. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Petraeus said that he'll make up the difference with Iraqi troops and American civilian contractor security forces. But wait a minute. Iraqi troops have a significant track record of being unreliable, and American contractor security forces have a reputation for being a battery of loose cannons.
Unity of command will be lacking. The Iraqi forces will fall under a separate chain of command, outside of Petraeus's direct control, and the contracted mercenaries seem to answer to no one. That's a sure-fire recipe for disaster. You can't have unity of effort without unity of command, and without unity of effort, any war plan is toast before it goes into the mixing bowl.
Ultimately, the escalation strategy relies on the Iraqi government meeting certain benchmarks and getting its act together, and that government has shown no ability or inclination to do either of those things.
2) We should support the Commander in Chief.
We did support the Commander in Chief, time and time and time again. He's been wrong every time, and there's no reason to think he's gained any wisdom over the years because he's still listening to the same advisers. The architects of the escalation strategy are the same group of neoconservative's who talked young Mr. Bush into his Iraq misadventure in the first place.
The Constitution makes Bush the Commander in Chief of the military, not the country. It divides war-making powers between the executive and legislative branches. In fact, it places the power to decide to go to war, as well as regulation of the military, in the hands of Congress. The Constitution makes no distinction between the Commander in Chief's "powers" in wartime or peacetime. The only "war powers" law on the books presently applicable is the War Powers Resolution of 1973, and that law was intended to limit presidential power to conduct war, not to expand it.
This Commander in Chief has led us around corners into one blind alley after the next. He's lost all claim to authority to lead us anywhere anymore.
3) Criticism of the policy emboldens the enemy.
The enemy is about as emboldened as it can get. "Shock and Awe" tactics from the mightiest nation in human history didn't defeat them, and there's no indication that it ever will.
As Jim Webb said on Face the Nation, "Who is the enemy?" The conflict in Iraq had more sides than the Pentagon, if not more. To say that open debate on policy and strategy in a supposedly free society will "embolden" a nameless, faceless enemy is to concede that that enemy--who or whatever it is--has already won.
4) Any anti-escalation resolution passed by Congress will send a negative signal to our troops.
This argument is the latest variation of the "support the troops" canard. Hopefully, you've notice that with the exception of John McCain, opponents of the escalation strategy actually served in the military and or have experienced war up close and personally, and proponents of it had "other priorities" when it was their time to serve in a bad American war.
More importantly, though, regardless of who does or doesn't support the escalation, we don't decide policy and strategy based on what the troops like or don't like.
5) If General David Petraeus supports the escalation policy, and the Senate confirmed General David Petraeus to be U.S. commander in Iraq, the Senate must support the escalation policy.
Generals give orders to the troops, not to Congress. Whether Petraeus really supports escalation or is simply marching to his boss's tune, the ultimate policy decision isn't his to make. Whatever orders he eventually receives from Mr. Bush will be the result of the contest of wills between Mr. Bush and Congress.
My overwhelming impression is that pro-escalation types don't really believe the escalation will accomplish anything, and what I hear between the lines is, "It's our last chance, so we have to try it."
That's not a good reason to try something you don't think will succeed, especially something that involves considerable cost and risk.
I've been on the fence about the wisdom of passing non-binding resolutions, but have come around to favoring one. That will give Mr. Bush one last chance to come to his senses before Congress has to pull the money plug.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.