What A Surge Really Means

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
January 15, 2007
Can a couple more divisions in Iraq make a difference? Or is Bush's idea too little, too late?
By Michael Duffy
For years now, George W. Bush has told Americans that he would increase the number of troops in Iraq only if the commanders on the ground asked him to do so. It was not a throwaway line: Bush said it from the very first days of the war, when he and Pentagon boss Donald Rumsfeld were criticized for going to war with too few troops. He said it right up until last summer, stressing at a news conference in Chicago that Iraq commander General George Casey "will make the decisions as to how many troops we have there." Seasoned military people suspected that the line was a dodge--that the civilians who ran the Pentagon were testing their personal theory that war can be fought on the cheap and the brass simply knew better than to ask for more. In any case, the President repeated the mantra to dismiss any suggestion that the war was going badly. Who, after all, knew better than the generals on the ground?
Now, as the war nears the end of its fourth year and the number of Americans killed has surpassed 3,000, Bush has dropped the generals-know-best line. Sometime next week the President is expected to propose a surge in the number of U.S. forces in Iraq for a period of up to two years. A senior official said reinforcements numbering "about 20,000 troops," and maybe more, could be in place within months. The surge would be achieved by extending the stay of some forces already in Iraq and accelerating the deployment of others.
The irony is that while the generals would have liked more troops in the past, they are cool to the idea of sending more now. That's in part because the politicians and commanders have had trouble agreeing on what the goal of a surge would be. But it is also because they are worried that a surge would further erode the readiness of the U.S.'s already stressed ground forces. And even those who back a surge are under no illusions about what it would mean to the casualty rate. "If you put more American troops on the front line," said a White House official, "you're going to have more casualties."
Coming from Bush, a man known for bold strokes, the surge is a strange half-measure--too large for the political climate at home, too small to crush the insurgency in Iraq and surely three years too late. Bush has waved off a bipartisan rescue mission out of pride, stubbornness or ideology, or some combination of the three. Rather than reversing course, as all the wise elders of the Iraq Study Group advised, the Commander in Chief is betting that more troops will lead the way to what one White House official calls "victory."
Whose idea is this?
All kinds of military experts, both active duty and retired, have been calling for more troops since before the war began--former Army chief Eric Shinseki, former Centcom boss Anthony Zinni and, perhaps loudest of all, Senator John McCain. But seen in another light, the surge is the latest salvo in the 30-year tong war between the two big foreign policy factions in the Republican Party: the internationalists and the neoconservatives. The surge belongs to the neocons and in particular to Frederick Kagan, who taught military history at West Point for a decade and today works out of the American Enterprise Institute as a military analyst. Kagan argued for a surge last fall in the pages of the Weekly Standard, the neocons' house organ, after the military's previous surge, Operation Forward Together, failed in late October. Kagan turned to former Army Vice Chief of Staff Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who still has street cred at the Pentagon, to help flesh out the plan and then sell it to the White House. The neocons don't have the same juice they had at the start of the war, in part because so many of them have fled the government in shame. But they are a long way from dead.
It was no accident that the surge idea began gathering steam among the war's most ardent supporters at exactly the same moment the Baker-Hamilton group proposed, in early December, that the White House start executing a slow but steady withdrawal from Iraq. To the neocons, former Secretary of State James Baker is the archenemy, the epitome of those internationalists who have always been too willing to cut deals with shady players overseas. His commission's 79 recommendations struck the neocons as defeatist--and a condemnation of a war they had thought up in the first place. And so, re-energized by the return of Baker to prominence, they went on the offensive. "We were hearing all this talk of pulling back and pulling out and how not to lose," said a retired senior officer. "But we're looking for a way to win."
Although the Baker group allowed for a surge to stabilize Baghdad or speed up training of Iraqis, it conditioned that O.K. with the phrase "if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective." When it became clear to the internationalists that the Kagan-Keane surge was winning White House attention without any calls for more troops from generals on the ground, they counter-counterattacked. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former four-star, said a surge had been tried in Baghdad--and had failed last fall--and would only further delay Iraqis in taking control of their own security. Powell added, a little pointedly, that he had not heard any generals ask for more troops--an oblique way of hinting that the President was saying one thing about who was deciding troop levels but doing another.
Bush greeted the Baker-Hamilton proposals with the gratitude of someone who had just received a box of rotting cod. He never much liked the internationalists (although--or perhaps because--his father is a charter member). By Christmas, it was clear that he had not only rejected a staged withdrawal in the mold of Baker-Hamilton but was ready to up his bet and throw even more troops at the problem. He began executing his pivot quietly. First, after reassuring Americans that he would ask for more troops only when the generals requested them, Bush amended that promise and hinted that he would merely listen to what the generals were saying. Bush next sent his new Pentagon boss, Robert Gates, to Baghdad to see whether the Iraqi commanders needed more troops. Bush then turned to his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, to hack this new way out of the Iraqi jungle.
So far, the Hadley-run hunt for a new military and diplomatic approach has earned mediocre marks from inside and outside the White House. Wider-ranging alternatives were not explored in any depth, said several foreign policy experts who met with Hadley in December, and talks with Iran and Syria were ruled out of the question. A dismayed Administration official who has generally been an optimist about Iraq described the process as chaotic. "None of this," he predicted of the surge and its coming rollout, "is going to work."
What is the mission?
Not long ago, the goal of U.S. forces in Iraq sounded straightforward: liberate the country and turn it over to the Iraqi people. Now U.S. strategy is a vast, many-headed monster: disarm or kill the insurgents, hunt down al-Qaeda, rebuild the electrical and energy grids, establish civilian order, work with political parties to speed a stand-alone government, keep an eye out for Iranian influence--and try not to get killed in the process. According to Kagan, the newly enlarged forces would reorder those priorities and make protecting the Iraqi people Job One. How? With what retired Lieut. General David Barno, who helped Kagan and Keane write the plan, calls "classic counterinsurgency tactics: soldiers going house to house in every block, finding out who lives there, what they do, how many weapons they have, whom they are connected to and how they can help or hurt." Only by winning the trust of the people, the thinking goes, can the U.S. overcome the insurgents. There is a big debate about how many troops would be needed to execute that mission successfully. Some experts think 100,000 might be the right number; Keane and Kagan say it can be done with 35,000, which is about the limit that would be available. It does not appear that the White House will be sending that many.
How do the generals view the idea of a surge?
For months the generals opposed increasing troop strength, chiefly because they calculated that as long as the American footprint was growing, Iraqis would never take responsibility for their own security. This continues to concern them: a former military official told TIME that Defense Secretary Gates has spent a lot of time in his first three weeks on the job trying to wrest from his military planners clear benchmarks for putting the Iraqis in charge. The chiefs hinted they would back a surge only if the goals--and the goalposts--are explicit. "We would not surge without a purpose," said Army chief Peter Schoomaker. "And that purpose should be measurable."
The chiefs also complain that the surge seems to involve only guys with guns. There is a widespread feeling that the Pentagon has shouldered the entire load in Iraq while U.S. government agencies better suited for reorganizing political and economic systems have dropped the ball. Other agencies, most notably the State, Justice and Energy departments, lag in sending experts and advisers to help the Iraqis pull themselves together. Uniformed officers say they can pull off a surge, but it won't make any difference if there isn't a larger, government-wide strategy to mend the broken country.
But if the brass isn't keen on a surge, they also know a bargaining chip when they see one. While Rumsfeld was in charge, the Joint Chiefs were muffled, too scared to say boo in public if it meant crossing the civilian boss. But in early December, once Rumsfeld had resigned, the Army and Marine Corps chiefs increasingly went public with their long-standing gripes that Iraq has stretched their forces to the breaking point, damaging recruiting and diminishing readiness. Bush moved quickly to quell this startling revolt: within days he hinted that he might ask Congress to enlarge the overall size of the armed forces in the future. It will be years before the expanded forces are recruited, trained, equipped and in the field, so that change won't solve the problems a surge creates. But the generals seem to have prevailed on a demand that went nowhere while Rumsfeld was in charge.
How long could a surge be sustained?
To create "the surge," Kagan and Keane proposed extending combat tours in Iraq to produce an additional 30,000 troops in Iraq over the next 18 months. Army tours would be lengthened from 12 to 15 months, and Marine deployments would stretch from seven to 12 months. A few additional combat brigades would be shipped over early to round out the reinforcements. There is no question that some units could pick up the pace. The Marines, after all, still station almost 20,000 troops in Okinawa.
Outgoing Centcom boss John Abizaid told a Senate panel in November that the U.S. "can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect." But he added that "the ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps." Surge proponents quietly cheered the recent announcement that Abizaid is retiring. They believe that Abizaid and many of the Army's other top generals are locked in a post-Vietnam mentality that has them worrying more about the recruitment and retention required for an all-volunteer force than about fighting and winning wars.
What happens when the surge ends?
That depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist on the subject of Iraq. Kagan told TIME that U.S. troop force "should be down significantly" from what it is now--"enough to permit economic development, the recruiting and training of the Iraqi army, political development and reconciliation." Under this scenario, U.S. forces can turn to eradicating the insurgents full time once Baghdad is "stabilized." Not everyone buys this happy talk. "Are we assuming the insurgents don't get to vote on this?" asks a veteran of both the Iraqi and Vietnam wars. "I see more arrogance than ever, assuming once again that Western genius counts for more than Eastern resolve." Already the sectarian militias so eager to kill civilians across Baghdad have been careful not to confront U.S. forces. When U.S. troops appear, the Mahdi Army simply melts away and waits for another moment. Unless they are killed off, jailed or somehow turned into allies--unlikely outcomes all--Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite militia fighters will still be around because they have more patience than the U.S. has staying power.
So, is the surge Bush's last stand?
Probably yes, whether Bush intends it that way or not. There is always a chance that a surge might reduce the violence, if only for a while. But given that nothing in Iraq has gone according to plan, it seems more likely that it won't. That's why many in the military assume privately that a muscular-sounding surge now is chiefly designed to give Bush the political cover to execute a partial withdrawal on his terms later. "We think that by bringing the level of violence down and bringing the level of Iraqi support up, we will be able to begin to hand over the country," Kagan told TIME.
Asked what happens if the surge fails, he added, "If the situation collapses for some other reason--loss of will in the U.S., say, or an unexpected Iraqi political meltdown, then the reduced violence will permit a more orderly withdrawal, if that becomes necessary, mitigating the effect of defeat on the U.S. military and potentially on the region." A retired colonel who served in Baghdad put it more bluntly: "We don't know whether this is a plan for victory or just to signal to Americans that we did our damnedest before pulling out."
There is one other scenario to consider: it may be that Bush won't pull out of Iraq as long as he is President. Whether it works or not, a surge of 18 to 24 months would carry Bush to the virtual end of his term. After that, Iraq becomes someone else's problem. Bush's real exit strategy in Iraq may just be to exit the presidency first.
When he unveils his plan, Bush is likely to wrap the surge inside a handful of other proposals. There is a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative in the works for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's team and the outlines of an upgraded Iraqi jobs and infrastructure proposal on the table. Plus, Bush has indicated that he favors the expansion in the armed forces that both the Army and Marine Corps chiefs want. Most of those ideas will meet with broad support in Congress and at the Pentagon, and that's part of the design here: it will be harder to pick the surge apart, the thinking goes, if it's paired with other projects. Besides, Bush and lawmakers know there isn't much Congress can do to stop a surge, short of cutting off funds for military operations. And neither party has any appetite for that.
But that fact hides one other big political change since the November elections. Skepticism among Republicans about the President's thinking on Iraq has become reflexive. Over the past week, two Republican Senators, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, indicated they were far from sold on the surge, and Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran from Nebraska, called a surge "folly." A senior aide to a G.O.P. Senator told TIME that "requiring more troops without providing the goals or the message is a killer. It's a political killer."
And this is where the problem of the President's direction on Iraq only damages his cause in the long run. The White House imagines it is girding for battle against the Democrats and the naysayers who opposed the war in the first place. In fact, its fastest-growing problem is with Republicans who carried Bush's water on "stay the course" last fall. That gambit cost the party 36 seats in the House and Senate in November. One can only imagine what that number would have been--45? 55?--had Bush campaigned last fall for sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq instead.
With reporting by Mike Allen, Sally B. Donnelly, Massimo Calabresi/Washington, Mark Kukis/Baghdad
So what do you think TI?

I think the US is way too late on this one. You have just got to know when to "fold em" as the song goes, young fella.
Sounds like 20,000 more targets.

Iraq has well over 26 million indigenous people, most of whom do not like the United States of America and would like the US Troops to leave Iraq.
Thats exactly what should happen. Bush is hopeless. The Marine Corp is being badly used by this incompetent president.
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Do you mean the US Marine Corps or is there some maritime corporation you are referring to? You rail against POTUS but fail to hold congress responsible for relegating their authority? Interesting.
This is also called bit by bit what Sun Tzu scolded as a horrible mistake・・・・・
Ideally speaking,if president bush hoped to stabilize iraq immediately he shold sent about 800,000 troops and destroyed all iraq's weapons in the short term・・・・・・
But unfortunetelly he released rumsfeld's cheap plan.
Penny wise, pound foolish?