Feature

Bush’s Troop Increase Hits a Headwind

More turbulence is in the president's sight.

What happened
President Bush's new plan to pacify Iraq with 21,500 additional troops ran into stiff opposition this week both at home and in Iraq. Nearly all congressional Democrats came out against the president's proposal, as did several prominent Republicans, including Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Hagel called the troop increase 'œthe most dangerous foreign policy blunder for this country since Vietnam' and joined Democrats in introducing a nonbinding resolution against it. Bush challenged Democrats to offer their own plan and said, 'œI've made my decision, and we're going forward.'

In Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki'”who had been pressuring Washington for more Iraqi control of security efforts'”boycotted a Baghdad news conference about the U.S. troop increase. He also immediately engaged in a power struggle with U.S. military officials over the new Baghdad security operation, The New York Times reported. Al-Maliki, a Shiite, insisted on naming a hard-line Shiite to share command of the additional U.S. and Iraqi forces, raising fears among U.S. military commanders that the Iraqis would resist confronting rampaging Shiite militias. 'œWe are being played like a pawn,' one military official said.

What the editorials said
There's a weak link in the Bush plan, said the New York Daily News, and his name is Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi prime minister's deal with the White House requires him to crack down on both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias, 'œbut there is no indication that he intends to do so.' Al-Maliki is getting critical political support from Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite fanatic who commands the 60,000-man Mahdi Army that roves the streets of Baghdad, killing Sunnis. If al-Maliki isn't willing to confront al-Sadr to bring stability to Iraq, why should America continue to sacrifice its soldiers?

Al-Maliki's days as Iraq's leader may be numbered, said the Los Angeles Times. White House officials are whispering that if al-Maliki fails to meet the benchmarks set down by Bush, he will be forced out of power. But 'œif his government collapses, the only central authority remaining will be the one most resented'”America's 150,000-strong fighting force'”and prospects for a unity government will be grim.' That would trap the U.S. in a bloody civil war for many years to come.

What the columnists said
It's no wonder Bush has gotten so little support for his new Iraq strategy, said Frank Rich in The New York Times. It's clear to all that 'œBush doesn't even have the courage of his own disastrous convictions.' The authors of the surge plan, military historian Frederick Kagan and retired Gen. Jack Keane, said it would take at least 30,000 additional troops to subdue Baghdad, and as many as 80,000. Bush is sending only 17,500 to Baghdad, with 4,000 headed off to Anbar province, which has already been lost to Sunni insurgents. If Bush's speeches on behalf of the war have sounded 'œlike bargain-basement Churchill, his actions have been cheaper still.'

At least Bush is still trying to win the war, said Jonah Goldberg in National Review. A U.S. surrender would lead to genocide in Iraq, and 'œa geostrategic calamity for America.' If that's what the Democrats want, why don't they just admit it? 'œWhat the Democrats believe is anybody's guess.'

The passions we've unleashed in Iraq cannot be subdued by military force, said Middle East analyst Gregory Aftandilian in the Orlando Sentinel. Although we claim we want to bring freedom to Iraq, most Iraqis see us only as a colonizing power'”the latest of many. 'œThe more insurgents we kill, the more recruits the insurgents will gather from the dead insurgents' brothers, cousins, and uncles.' It doesn't matter if Bush sends 20,000 more troops, or 100,000. 'œNo specific number of U.S. troops is going to change this situation.'

What next?

The Boston Globe

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