Surfing the Big Surge
When Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff became rich and famous did his friends start calling him Big Serge? Maybe so.
Be that as it may, we're in for the Big Surge. Tuesday, December 19, that became clear. As it was in Vietnam when things didn't go well, so it will be in Iraq. We will throw more troops at the problem. That seems certain in spite of the news that morning from the Washington Post. It seems the leadership of the military isn't okay with that -
The Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military.
... The Pentagon has cautioned that a modest surge could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops, the officials said.
Even the announcement of a time frame and mission - such as for six months to try to secure volatile Baghdad - could play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs have warned the White House.
So the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously say don't do that. The idea of "surging" fifteen to thirty thousand additional troops into Iraq in a last ditch effort to stabilize the country just makes no sense. Kevin Drum here says the Joint Chiefs know that the White House is "just casting around for plausible-sounding ideas and has no real plan for how to use the additional soldiers." But that's wrong. There is a plan for how to use these soldiers. Their mission is saving face.
The Post item indicates the military's caution on shipping thousands of additional troops "temporarily" to Iraq is based on the obvious case that such a move could be useless without new political and economic steps - basically they question whether sending more troops to Iraq would feed a perception that the mess in Iraq is mainly a military problem. It isn't. They seem to be saying that in their view the mess in Iraq is largely political, fed by economic distress, among other issues. Fixing that sort of thing is not what they do. The president must have them confused with State, or economic development people.
But that's not the point. The war is a disaster - sold to a reluctant public on claims that to some were dubious and in the end turned out to be completely bogus. Then it stretched on, and Iraq seemed to skip the civil war thing and go straight to general anarchy - one almost expects one of the many militias there to be led by a blustering, mustachioed General Anarchy. This year, in a joint report, all nineteen of our intelligence agencies concluded the war had fueled terrorism around the world, not tamped it down, and rather than making us safer had done the opposite. Training the new Iraqi army and police to rise above sectarian and religious concerns and work together - Shi'a, Sunni and Kurd, side by side and smiling, building a new and inclusive and tolerant Iraq - might never really have been possible. Now it is just laughable. And we were told that happening was the only way we would ever leave - when they stand up, we stand down. That's clearly not going to happen, in the real world. Then the midterm elections seemed to be a slap in the face to the president and the administration on the whole matter. Both houses of congress changed hands - and those who control the fund and chair the committees are now going to ask a whole lot of questions. The Iraq Study Group said things are "dire" and things must change. Approval for the president's handing of the war is at twenty-one percent. The percent who think sending more troops is a good idea? That would be eleven percent.
The real point here is the president proving he was not wrong, and he'll show everyone he was not. He'll send tens of thousands more of our guys into the fight to show us all we can win this thing, and we're all dead wrong. He will not be told he's wrong. Of course there was the effort, announced with great fanfare last summer, Operation Together Forward II, to pour more troops into Baghdad, to stop all the nonsense there. That worked for a few weeks - then things got even worse. But it will work this time. He will not be told he's wrong. So he'll try again.
See Tariq Ali - the old lefty who tried to get John Lennon to fund his bookstore way back when - in the Guardian (UK) with The War is Already Lost -
Once a war goes badly wrong and its justifications are shown to be lies, to insist that a "democratic" Iraq is visible on the horizon and that "we must stay the course" becomes a total fantasy. What is to be done?
In the US a group of Foggy Bottom elders was wheeled in to prepare a report. This admitted what the whole world (Downing Street excepted) already knew: the occupation is a disaster and the situation gets more hellish every day. After US citizens voted accordingly in the mid-term elections, the White House sacrificed the Pentagon warlord, Donald Rumsfeld.
the old men in Washington recognize the scale of the disaster. Their descriptions are strong, their prescriptions weak and pathetic: "We agree with the goal of US policy in Iraq, as stated by the president: an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." Elsewhere they recommend a deal with Tehran and Damascus to preserve post-withdrawal stability, implying that Baghdad can never be independent again. It was left to a military realist, Lieutenant-General William Odom, to demand a complete withdrawal in the next few months, a view backed by Iraqis (Shi'a and Sunni) in successive polls. The occupation, Kofi Annan informs us, has created a much worse situation than under Saddam.
None of the scenarios being canvassed in Washington, including by the Democrats, envisage a total US withdrawal. That is a defeat too unbearable to contemplate, but the war has already been lost, together with half a million Iraqi lives. Trying to delay the defeat (as in Vietnam) by sending in a "surge" of troops is unlikely to work.
But we're going that route. As for the views of the Joint Chiefs, Drum points out the obvious -
If the Chiefs stand their ground, it will be very difficult for Bush to buck them. But if he gives up on the surge, what possible alternative can he offer that even remotely seems like a serious change of direction? Rock, meet hard place.
But then reader DK at Talking Points Memo has it all figured out -
It hit me the other day that what the surge is going to accomplish for Bush and Cheney is to take them through these next two years. By the time they can claim to have the extra troops in Baghdad it's gonna be May or June. They'll be there a few months till everyone has to admit that it isn't working (though in the interim I would predict the first really horrendous event in which our troops suffer a big loss, like 200 men in one blast), then it will be the end of 2007 and the argument will be about whether we should remove some of the surge troops. That will take a few months, at least, and we'll be in the throes of a presidential election. Bush won't want to do anything too "political" at that point, of course, so he'll happily leave it to the new prez to make shitcakes out of shit. And Bush and Cheney will spin it for all it's worth for the rest of their lives...
Maybe so, and if so, what do the Joints Chief matter here?
The president's press secretary, Tony Snow, late of Fox News, later in the day said there really was no disagreement with the Joint Chiefs anyway - "The president has not made a decision on the way forward, and he has asked military commanders to consider a range of options and they are doing so." So everyone should relax.
And someone had been watching Fox News -
Fred Barnes just said that it's not true that the joint chiefs unanimously oppose an escalation of the war - it's that they are afraid Bush won't send enough troops to get the job done and that if it's a temporary escalation, the whole place will fall apart after we pull those troops back out.
He didn't think those were important differences of opinion, naturally, because he has once again cast his lot with Junior, but really, these are huge and serious concerns.
It's clear that Bush is listening to these armchair Napoleons because they are saying that he can "win" if he just sends in a few more troops for a few months and claps louder. And his generals are all saying that the only way he can "win" is with a massive new army that stays in Iraq forever. That is the reality based choice for "winning." Period. And it isn't going to happen because 70% of the country have wised up to the fact that this pony hunt is making the country less safe and it's costing us our future.
Well, it actually is -
The Defense Department has requested $99.7 billion more in emergency funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism that, if approved, would bring war spending in fiscal 2007 to a record $170 billion.
The request is in a 17-page memo approved Dec. 7 by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England that is under review at the White House. About half the new money - $48 billion - would go to the Army, which says its costs have risen sharply as fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan drags on and more equipment is destroyed or damaged.
The request, added to the $70 billion that Congress approved in September, is 45 percent higher than the $117 billion in supplemental funding approved last year. It reflects an earlier England memo telling the services they could include expenses they considered related to the global war on terror even if not strictly to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Saving face is expensive. Lots of other things won't get funded - and big tax cuts for the wealthy don't help much either. But it's what we signed up for. The message to us is pretty much screw the Joints Chiefs, and screw public opinion, and screw the new congress that actually thinks they matter - the vote in 2004 was what it was. If you want change you'll have another shot at that in a few years. Until then the decider will decide - and you'll like it and shut up.
And at the end of the same day the Washington Post posted an item on their exclusive interview with the president - "President Bush said today that he plans to expand the size of the U.S. military to meet the challenges of a long-term global war against terrorists, a response to warnings that sustained deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the armed forces to near the breaking point."
This was just days after the Army's top general, Peter Schoomaker, warned that the service would "break" without more troops. So we'll fix that. The military commanders worry that the already "stretched" Army and Marine Corps would be even thinner once the now inevitable "short-term" surge ended? This has nothing to do with that. It will take years to add substantially to the size of the military. But you have to start somewhere. And Rumsfeld is really gone - he had laughed at any call to increase the size of the military, arguing that "technological advances and organizational changes" could give the Army and Marine Corps the extra capability it needed, when it needed that. That was his "transformation" crusade - technology-based "just in time" inventory control applied to the military. Oops. Maybe later.
Robert Burns, the Associated Press military writer, not the dead Scottish poet who messed up everyone's New Years Eve with that incomprehensible ditty, had a good roundup of this all, with these nuggets -
Rep. Ike Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who will become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee next month, echoed those sentiments Tuesday. "I'm convinced the Army and the Marines are near the breaking point," Skelton said, while expressing skepticism that a big troop surge would be worth the trouble.
Even the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which advocated removing most combat troops by early 2008, said it could support a temporary increase if U.S. commanders believe it would be effective. Roughly one-third of the 140,000 American troops in Iraq are combat forces.
The Army announced on Tuesday evening that it will accelerate the planned creation of two additional combat brigades as a means of relieving some of the strain on troops caused by repeated and increasingly frequent deployments to Iraq. Both brigades will be ready to join the rotations to Iraq by next April, 11 months ahead of schedule in the case of one brigade while 17 months ahead for the other.
The American Enterprise Institute issued a report last week recommending a surge of seven Army brigades and Marine regiments starting next spring. A contributor to that report was retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who was the vice chief of staff at the time the Iraq war was launched in 2003.
Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, said Saturday that one option under consideration by the president is sending five or more additional combat brigades, which equates to roughly 20,000 or more troops. Conway did not say he opposes that proposal, but he emphasized the potential drawbacks.
"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."
The five or more extra brigades would, he said, be units already scheduled to go to Iraq in a later rotation. But he added that using those troops now would mean "a lesser capable" force in the future.
"You better make sure your timing is right," he said. "Because if you commit the reserve for something other than a decisive win or to stave off defeat, then you have essentially shot your bolt."
The Army's Schoomaker told reporters last week that a surge would make sense only under certain conditions. "We would not surge without a purpose," Schoomaker said. "And that purpose should be measurable."
But how do you measure the president regaining the respect of the nation and the world? That's what this seems to be about.
Oh, and add this to the mix - "The Defense Department is thinking about a major buildup of U.S. Navy forces in the Gulf as a show of force against Iran, a senior defense official said Tuesday."
More of the same - the world WILL respect us. The next two years are laid out for all to see.
But what about the midterm elections? Didn't they change things?
E. J. Dionne in the Post argues they changed the fundamentals -
It wasn't all that long ago that Democrats and liberals were said to be out of touch with "the real America," which was defined as encompassing the states that voted for President Bush in 2004, including the entire South. Democrats seemed to accept this definition of reality, and they struggled - often looking ridiculous in the process - to become fluent in NASCAR talk and to discuss religion with the inflections of a white Southern evangelicalism foreign to so many of them.
Now the conventional wisdom sees Republicans in danger of becoming merely a Southern regional party. Isn't it amazing how quickly the supposedly "real America" was transformed into a besieged conservative enclave out of touch with the rest of the country? Now religious moderates and liberals are speaking in their own tongues, and the free-thinking, down-to-earth citizens in the Rocky Mountain states are, in large numbers, fed up with right-wing ideology.
Only a few months ago, it was widely thought that accusing opponents of wanting to "cut and run" in Iraq would be enough to cast political enemies into an unpatriotic netherworld of wimps and "defeatocrats." Now the burden of proof is on those who claim that fighting in Iraq was a good idea and that the situation can be turned around.
Maybe the tables have turned. It's not just the Joint Chiefs. There's something in the air.
It may be the kids -
In 1984 three exit polls pegged Ronald Reagan's share of the ballots cast by Americans under 30 at between 57 and 60 percent. Reagan-style conservatism seemed fresh, optimistic and innovative. In 2006 voters under 30 gave 60 percent of their votes to Democratic House candidates, according to the shared media exit poll. Conservatism now looks old, tired and ineffectual.
Also note this -
Speaking as a political scientist.... Generally speaking, the "you get more conservative as you get older" myth really is a myth. People's ideological/partisan identification doesn't change much after the age of 30. If someone votes for the same party three times in a row, they're hooked for life. It takes some earth-shattering to change after that.
People don't get more conservative as they get older, but they do get more rigid. What happens is that ideology acts as an informational screen - people shield out stuff that is inconsistent with their predispositions (which is why FOX News works). So as we get older, our attitudes get reinforced.
So liberals should NOT get happy if people who are under 30 are on the left, because the young are very volatile. But after thirty, it's smooth sailing.
Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the ridiculously influential "Kos," adds it up -
The youth vote turned out heavily in favor of Kerry and Democrats this year. If we can hold them in 2008 - and it's critical that the Democratic Congress and our 2008 nominee speak to this demographic - then we've got ourselves a massive demographic advantage over the coming decades.
Couple that with the fact that Darwinian capitalism is under attack, the war is a mess, people are tiring of having Christian fundamentalist morality shoved down their throats, and conservatism is nothing but a cesspool of corruption, and we're seeing the seeds of a solid governing progressive majority emerging in the next few election cycles.
And Kevin Drum chimes in - "Preach it, brother. If the 2006 election did nothing else, I hope it convinced the chattering classes that Iowa is no more the 'real America' than California is. We'll see."
In the meantime, there's a war to escalate. There seems no way to stop that.