As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Escalation Must Be Stopped

General William Casey has such a history of buckling under and adopting the talking points of his civilian leaders, you'd think the White House has nasty photos of him with Ann Coulter, and he doesn't want to get thrown out of the military. (Don't ask, don't tell, remember?)

Today, after years of claiming we need to put an Iraqi face on the security situation, Casey suddenly reversed course and joined top commanders in Iraq in recommending a "surge" of American troops, for a mission they can't even define themselves. Maybe Casey didn't want to be put out to pasture like General Abizaid, so he had to remain a committed yes-man. In doing so, he ignores the advice of military leaders in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but what do they know, right?

Commanders have been skeptical of the value of increasing troops, and the decision represents a reversal for Casey, the highest-ranking officer in Iraq. Casey and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East who will step down in March, have long resisted adding troops in Iraq, arguing that it could delay the development of Iraqi security forces and increase anger at the United States in the Arab world [...]

Several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also have expressed reservations. Because the Joint Chiefs are not part of the military's formal chain of command, the recommendation to increase or decrease will go from commanders in Iraq to Gates and then to Bush. But the Joint Chiefs retain an important advisory role.

Gen. James T. Conway, the new commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs, emphasized the drawbacks of adding troops in public comments last week.

"We would fully support, I think, as the Joint Chiefs, the idea of putting more troops into Iraq if there is a solid military reason for doing that, if there is something to be gained," he said. "We do not believe that just adding numbers for the sake of adding numbers — just thickening the mix — is necessarily the way to go."

Like Conway, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, has said extra troops must be given a clearly defined mission.

"We would not surge without a purpose," Schoomaker said recently. "And that purpose should be measurable."

To respond to this criticism, like the fact that threre is no plan for these troops, the commanders on the ground, those with the ear of the President (not those meddling Joint Chiefs, you know, those liberal hippie chiefs of the armed forces), welll... we'll cross that bridge when they come to it.

Those skeptical about the efficacy of an increase argue that any new troops must be given clear instructions. However, defense officials say the U.S. commanders in Iraq have not settled on what that mission should be, although they are expected to decide before calling up new units.

Within the military, some officers favor using a buildup of forces to confront radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, perhaps by moving forces into Sadr City, the Shiite slum in Baghdad where he has his political base.

Other military leaders say a larger force should be used to improve the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy and take more effective measures to protect Iraqis. These officers favor a plan developed by retired Gen. Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, to use the extra troops to secure mixed Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods where most of the sectarian violence is taking place.

Which mission is selected could determine the size of the troop increase.

"If it is a surge to take on Sadr, that is one size. If it is to do something else, that is another size surge," said the military official.

There's no consensus on how to use them, but sure, we need the troops, yeah. Sounds like this White House to a T. We;ll implement the policy and then figure out why we're doing it. It's how we got into Iraq in the first place.

But the most bizarre thing in that LA Times article, which put me off my breakfast this morning, is this symbol of what we think of democracy in Iraq:

Iraqi politics would be a key factor in deciding how to use extra U.S. military force. American diplomats are trying to engineer an ouster of Sadr's political faction from the government and are trying to help set up a moderate coalition of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites that would be more willing to confront Sadr's militias.

The U.S. military now considers forces loyal to Sadr to be the top threat to the security of Iraq.

Sadr controls 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament and six cabinet seats in the current government, although the Sadr loyalists have been boycotting the government in protest of Maliki's meeting with Bush in Jordan in November.

Military officials were dismayed that one of the country's most influential clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, did not immediately back efforts to establish a new coalition government. If Sistani insists that Sadr remain within the Shiite coalition, it would represent a blow to the U.S. goal of marginalizing the radical cleric.

"The goals are tied to the palace intrigue," the military official said. "We are watching them carefully."

Remember this quote?

"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern." -George W. Bush.

Unless they self-govern the "wrong" way, one assumes.

Let's define our terms here. This is not a surge. This is an escalation, where the American presence will either do high-profile house-to-house searches and police work, which is not their training and which will inflame every Iraqi as sure as it inflamed every Vietnamese, or where the Americans will directly confront the Shia militia, which are a far better fighting force than the Sunni insurgency, which is already brazen and successful. Either strategy unites the whole country against us, but not with each other. While we're trying to shape a new government by meddling in Iraq's public affairs, the notion that we can somehow overcome 1,400 years of animosity in one fell swoop is arrogant and not borne out by recent history in the region.

Now, the White House wants a hundred billion for this war and Afghanistan. There are those who say we shouldn't give one more thin dime. And there are those who agree with him. But clearly, there's nobody on the Democratic side who favors escalation (within the Connecticut for Lieberman coalition, however, there's unanimous support). There are maybe 10 Senators who agree with this suicide mission. Here's Vali Nasr explaining what will happen:

Wrong-headed military and political steps provoked the Sunni insurgency in 2003-04, and then more mistakes helped fuel sectarian violence in 2005-06. Another set of mistakes can turn 2007 into the year that U.S. provoked a Shia insurgency. That may prove to be the mother of all mistakes. Hell in Iraq will come when the Shia south—accounting for 60% of the country’s population, largest urban areas, oil, supply lines to Kuwait, and only gateway to the Persian Gulf—rises up against the U.S. Then we either have to get out of Iraq altogether and very quickly, or we will have to commit to many more troop surges to deal with the problems created by the first one.

We're having record deaths in Iraq right now, I can't imagine how much worse it would get with an escalation. Given that the public has soured on this war, given that the Democrats are united in opposition to it, given that we're dealing with delusionals in the executive branch who say things like "the goal is victory" and "Iraq is worth the investment" as if US men and women on the front lines are stocks and bonds to be traded...

Given all this, I don't know how the Democratic leadership could ignore the need to pre-empt this march to more war by following Steve Soto's brilliant plan, which I reiterate here:

1. Democrats should convene early hearings at Ike Skelton’s House Armed Services Committee and Carl Levin’s Senate Armed Services Committee in mid-January to pin down the Joint Chiefs on what they told the White House about an escalation;

2. Then use those hearings to force the escalation votes ahead of his 2007 State of the Union speech as a way to kneecap him prior to the speech and undercut his influence for the remainder of the Congress.

This is a long post, because nothing else matters right now. Iraq policy must be the only priority of this incoming Congress. I know that ruins the 100-hour plans, I know that upsets the narrative, but we've got a crisis on our hands. We're about to send a lot of people to their deaths because we have a President who's too arrogant to admit what he's started and that he is powerless to stop it. We need to mobilize support for getting out of Iraq, even though it's not likely to work. The Decider will Decide, and that'll be that. But we need to stand with the country and say, "No." We need to make the policy radioactive. We need to do the right thing.