From a Saturday New York Times article titled "White House to Offer Iraq Plan of Gradual Cuts" we learn that administration and military officials are planning a "new strategy" of troop reductions in Iraq to quell concerns of congressional Republicans whose constituents are fed up with the war. Scratching the surface of this new strategy, however, reveals it to be little more than Son of Stay the Course.
Steven Lee Meyers and Thom Shanker of the Times tell us that "Many Republicans have urged Mr. Bush to unveil a new strategy, and even to propose a gradual reduction of American troops to the levels before this year’s troop increase--about 130,000--or even lower to head off Democratic-led efforts to force the withdrawal of all combat forces by early next year."
Let's get serious here. Reducing troop levels back to about 130,000 wouldn't be a new strategy. It would better be described as Return of the Status Quo. As for reducing the force size in Iraq below 130,000, don't bet a big tub of popcorn on it. General David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Iraq, is making an assessment of the situation and is expected to present a "wide range" of force size options, but we've already seen enough of the Petraeus production to have a pretty good idea what kind of "option" he'll come up with. Last week he told reporters "…everyone understands that, by about a year or so from now, we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now. The question is how do you do that . . . so that you can retain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep going."
Petraeus will want to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as the force can sustain. Even with the surge fully in place, he doesn't have enough troops to hold everything he's supposedly gained. We're already playing Whack Another Mole as it is, and now we're seeing coming attraction trailers for The Bride of Stand Up/Stand Down. Petraeus says that the post-surge U.S troop levels will depend in part on " the capability of the Iraqi security forces," which means we'll need to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as we possibly can because the Iraqi forces are no more capable or trustworthy today than they were when Petraeus was in charge of training and arming them in 2004 and 2005.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Surge
The "new strategy" of "gradual cuts" is little more than a low budget comedy, the same tired gags we've been hearing for four years plus. The strategy isn't new and the troop levels aren't being cut. Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, Petraeus's second in command, has been saying from the outset that the surge couldn't be sustained beyond April 2008, which is, coincidentally enough, when the gradual cuts of the new strategy will begin.
Amazingly, the Bush administration isn't even bothering to make a pretense of what it's up to any more. An administration official told Myers and Shanker that the goal of announcing a new strategy is "to try to win support for a plan that could keep American involvement in Iraq on 'a sustainable footing' at least through the end of the Bush presidency."
Hence, the new strategy is part of a two-pronged scheme to keep the war in Iraq going long enough that it will be "not won" on someone else's watch. From one direction, the administration scares the American population with boo noise about all the evildoers we'll be fighting in the streets of Saint Louis, Missouri if we pull out of Iraq. From the other direction, it dangles a fairy plum vision of victory, that elusive, impossible to define thing that just might make all the trouble and all the deaths and casualties and all the national treasure and credibility expended on this God-forsaken excursion seem worthwhile.
Administration officials involved with drafting the new strategy say the White House will argue that the surge has succeeded on "…several levels in providing more security [and has] established the conditions for a new approach that would begin troop cuts in the first half of next year."
Keep in mind, please, that those troop cuts the surge supposedly enabled had to begin in the first half of next year regardless of how the surge went. Also note that not everyone agrees that the surge has provided "more security."
Sunday's Times contained an op-ed piece authored by seven non-commissioned officers of the 82nd Airborne Division who are near the end of a 15 month tour of duty in Iraq. Of the numerous cogent points they make in the editorial, these are perhaps the most pertinent:
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere…
…we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear…
…The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
Our military superiority gains us nothing in a conflict like the one we face in Iraq. Our enemies are inextinguishable and, in large part, indistinguishable from our friends. The perception of increased security in Iraq is one primarily manufactured by publicity stunts featuring pro-war members of Congress, reporters and other media personalities, and local men's league soccer teams. The Iraqi people see us as the cause of their security problems, not the solution to them. The longer we stay on our present course, which the Bush administration is bound and determined to have us do, the surer it becomes that Iraq will erupt into a Hobbesian nightmare, a civil war of annihilation that has more sides than the Pentagon, all of which we have armed to the teeth.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.