Thursday, December 21, 2006
A risky throw of the dice for Bush
By Jim Lobe
"WASHINGTON - As official Washington breaks for the two-week Christmas-New Year's hiatus, it knows that the No 1 issue it will face on its return in early January is the White House's apparent "urge to surge" as many as 50,000 new troops into Iraq for up to two years in a last-ditch effort to claim what President George W Bush insists on calling "victory".
The plan, which was presented to Bush last week in a meeting with five national-defense specialists, including two associates of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is designed to focus US military efforts on providing "security" for average Iraqi citizens against both the Sunni insurgency and Shi'ite militias that have, in the report's words, made Baghdad the "center of gravity of this conflict".
Drafted hastily - it currently exists only as a PowerPoint presentation - by its two main authors, AEI fellow Frederick Kagan and the former vice chief of staff of the US Army, General Jack Keane, as an alternative to the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) headed by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton, it is called "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq". Here is the link
The title is apparently chosen deliberately to counter one of the ISG's core messages: that there is "no magic bullet" - least of all a military one - that can save what most analysts in Washington believe is the biggest US foreign-policy debacle since at least the Vietnam War.
"Alone among proposals for Iraq, the new Keane-Kagan strategy has a chance to succeed," declared this week's Weekly Standard, which, like the AEI fellows involved in the "Victory" project, was a major champion for going to war in Iraq.
Indeed, the provenance of the plan - aside from Keane and two other senior retired military officers, a majority its 17 contributors are AEI fellows - has fed suspicions that it represents one final effort by neo-conservatives to convince the president that, by "doubling down" on his gamble on Iraq, he can still leave the table a winner and "transform" the entire Middle East.
While Bush has not explicitly endorsed the concept, he noted at his year-end White House press conference on Wednesday that he was open to the idea. Vice President Dick Cheney's office, which is closely tied to AEI, is known to support it strongly.
"According to all the talk in Washington, the 'plan' whipped up by AEI's Fred Kagan is likely to be mostly implemented by President Bush when he stops stalling about his policy in Iraq," said Pat Lang, the former chief Middle East analyst at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, who has warned that, if implemented, it would likely lead to "Stalingrad on the Tigris".
"A 'surge' of the size possible under current constraints on US forces will not turn the tide in the guerrilla war," warned Lang, who noted, along with many other experts in the past month, that the reinforcement of thousands of US troops in Baghdad since last summer had actually increased the violence there.
"Those who believe still more troops will bring 'victory' are living in a dangerous dream world and need to wake up," he added, conceding, however, that it may appeal to Bush for that very reason. "He wants to redeem his 'freedom agenda', restore momentum to his plans, and in his mind this might 'clear up' Iraq so that he could move on to Iran." .......
........Still, neo-conservatives remain confident. "Because this plan offers a credible prospect of winning in Iraq," said this week's Standard, "moderate Democrats and queasy Republicans, the White House thinks, will be inclined to stand back and let Bush give it a shot." "