Troops U-Turn in Iraq

by Henry on July 29, 2006

The _Financial Times_ says that the Bush administration is “engaged in a quiet U-turn on troop numbers.”

bq. The US administration has quietly reversed its goal from whittling down troop numbers in Iraq before the mid-term congressional elections in November. A Pentagon spokesman on Friday confirmed that US troop levels in Iraq rose to 132,000 during the past week – the highest since late May – from 127,000 at the start of the week. The spokesman said troop numbers often fluctuated and “there might be temporary spikes during periods of troop rotation.” However, analysts said an increase in troop numbers was more likely than a reduction because the number of sectarian killings in Iraq had almost doubled since the start of the year. The rise will prompt fears that the US is becoming increasingly bogged down in an unwinnable conflict. … Richard Armitage, who was US deputy secretary of state until January 2005, said: “The US has almost totally reversed the troop situation from two months ago. The danger is that this is too little and too late and that the US will turn into a bystander in an Iraqi civil war it does not have sufficient resources to prevent.”

I haven’t posted on Iraq in a long time, because I’m not sure that I’ve anything useful to say. All the options facing the US are grim, and I don’t know which is the least grim. What I do know is that when we hear something like:

bq. Kenneth Pollack, a former US National Security Council official, said: “The numbers should probably be roughly double what they are. We are seeing the right plan but completely inadequate resources to make it work.”

we can be sure that the Pollack plan plus a pony will get you peace in Iraq. Regardless of whether a doubling of troop numbers would in fact bring peace (a claim that I seriously doubt), it’s clear that those troops aren’t there to send out in the first place. The US military is badly overstretched as it is.

{ 17 comments }

1

Uncle Kvetch 07.29.06 at 2:32 pm

Whatever “pullout” might have taken place this fall would have purely cosmetic anyway. The troops aren’t coming home. Not this year, not next year. If this is Vietnam redux, my guess is that we’re at 1965 or ’66–with a good 7 or 8 more years of bloodshed to go before the good people in the heartland finally say “enough.”

But still, the fact that they can’t even spare 10,000 troops to bring home for the purpose of marching them down Broadway in a tickertape parade, and putting Bush in a flightsuit to reprise his “Mission Accomplished” moment of ’03, is pretty astounding.

2

roger 07.29.06 at 2:55 pm

The only reason not to want to pullout of Iraq is not that the Americans are doing anything more than killing Iraqis, but… tied down in Iraq, the troops can’t be used to advance unwarranted aggression elsewhere. Like a bigger war with Iran.

In the game of war parallels, I’d throw the Soviet war in Afghanistaninto the pot. An unnecessary war, the cost and casualties of which were disguised by the ruling party. That was a sign of vast imperial decay, and that seems to have overtaken the U.S.

There was an unconsciously funny question and answer in the Washington Post the other day with Thomas Ricks, the guy who just wrote Fiasco, about the incredibly bad organizing of the war. Ricks warded off questions from belligerant Bush supporters by saying that he was for victory in the war. And here’s what he thinks victory is like:

Q:”In your opinion, how much longer will our troops be in Iraq?
Tom Ricks: I would bet a loooong time. Maybe 10 to 15 years.”

Ricks is typical of the conventional wisdom in DC. He envisions a victory — 2 to 3 trillion dollars, 15000 American casualties, 300 thousand Iraqis at least — which is as bad as the most catastrophic defeat in American history – Vietnam. Are our rulers geniuses or what? Ricks represents the governing view not only in the GOP, but among the Dems. Both sides seem to be infected with terminal paralysis.

3

Jim Henley 07.29.06 at 3:08 pm

“We could hang ourselves.

It’ll give us an erection!”

4

Uncle Kvetch 07.29.06 at 3:11 pm

Yours truly, less than 2 hours ago: “If this is Vietnam redux, my guess is that we’re at 1965 or ‘66”

Well, that’ll teach me to guess.

5

Brendan 07.29.06 at 3:38 pm

The problem is, of course, where are the Democrats? What are their plans for getting the US out of Iraq? Do they have any? What I do know is that, faced with George Bush (perhaps the most unpopular President of the last 50 years, certainly since Nixon) the Democrats are sitting around like rabbits in the headlights of an oncoming car, terrified that any proposal they put forward for anything will be seen as ‘controversial’.

(Incidentally, everything that can be said about Iraq can also be said about Israel’s current ‘incursion’ into Lebanon. The received wisdom here, too, is that this is a short scale attack that will be quickly resolved in a few months. Uh huh.)

As regards troop numbers, and an escalation of the war, we may find ourselves in that situation sooner than we think, and whether we like it or not. It’s in Hizbollah’s interests to widen the war, and it’s not clear that Israel (or the US) will ultimately blink if it looks like Syria and/or Iran gets dragged in (not an impossible scenario given that the UN is still ratcheting up the pressure on Iran’s ‘nuclear programme’).

The problem in Iraq, therefore, is not, thereofore how do we fix Iraq (let’s face it, Iraq is fucked). The question is, (and always has been) how do we stop this becoming a wider conflagration that threatens the stability of the whole middle east?

6

Sporty 07.29.06 at 4:09 pm

Are you kidding? We’re going to win this thing and that sweet, sweet Iraqi crude will start flowing again and then I’m gonna buy me a big Hummer and a McMansion to celebrate!

7

Steve LaBonne 07.29.06 at 4:46 pm

If somebody could provide a reasonably persuasive explanation of how the continued presence of US troops benefits Iraqis, I’d be willing to consider alternatives to my currently preferred policy, which is getting them out of there ASAP. Haven’t heard one yet, though.

The conventional “wisdom” of such as Ricks is out of touch both with reality and with US public opinion.

And speaking of the wider Mideast mess- cripes, I don’t want to start yet another Israeli / Palestinian brouhaha around here, but shouldn’t the dog in the US – Israel alliance start wagging the tail one of these days instead of the other way around, the way it’s been for so long?

8

Jim Harrison 07.29.06 at 5:07 pm

One very easy prediction: no matter what happens in Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, or Israel, a large number of talking heads will be on television to explain that the outcome is just what Bush and company had in mind all along. A regime with enough media power is immune to disaster or at least thinks it is.

9

P O'Neill 07.29.06 at 10:39 pm

The plan seems to have been to get to November with the higher troop levels being achieved by extending rotations rather than call-ups, but there’s a limit to the length of time that trick will work. And again at the risk of derailing the thread, it was this issue that made the Israeli suggestion of an international force for south Lebanon quite clever, since it sounded constructive but landed Europe and the US with the hot pototo of explaining where these extra troops might come from.

10

sglover 07.30.06 at 1:54 am

Echoing roger and brendan, above. Unfortunately, our “leadership” cast is such that it’s hard to imagine anyone willing to brook the inevitable “who lost Iraq?” idiocy until hard external realities — a broken treasury? a gutted army? — force certain obvious actions.

11

CharleyCarp 07.30.06 at 6:04 am

No Democratic politician has any power or ability to effectuate any plan for reducing/ending the war in Iraq. Proposing such a plan has the effect of changing the narrative from the failure of US policy in Baghdad to the failure of nerve in Washington. In addition, there’s a greater than zero probability that vocal opposition from a majority of the minority party would alter the facts on the ground in Iraq to the detriment of the already low possibilities of ‘success.’

Whine all you want about awol Dems, but this one is going to have to be a Republican show all the way to the 2008 presidential campaign.

12

Brendan 07.30.06 at 8:09 am

‘Unfortunately, our “leadership” cast is such that it’s hard to imagine anyone willing to brook the inevitable “who lost Iraq?” idiocy until hard external realities—a broken treasury? a gutted army?—force certain obvious actions.’

Unfortunately, given that the Tories and the Democrats are too spineless to press for impeachment, we are all fucked until Bush leaves office and Blair resigns. Iraq won’t get bad enough, quickly enough, to lead to their loss of power through any other means. For the moment we really all have to sit here and take it until we get a chance to vote on their replacements.

13

Bob N. 07.30.06 at 2:35 pm

To Henry’s original point about rising troop numbers, let’s not forget how the Bush administration “cuts the deficit”–by first overestimating it. Similarly, an increase in troop levels now makes a cut in October easier.

14

engels 07.31.06 at 2:30 am

shouldn’t the dog in the US – Israel alliance start wagging the tail one of these days instead of the other way around

Look on the bright side, Steve: the tail may be wagging the dog, but the chimp is firmly in charge of the poodle. Or something.

15

john m. 07.31.06 at 4:42 am

“who lost Iraq?”

According to a supporter of the whole mess yesterday on the radio, the answer is the French and the Germans for not getting behind the wondrous vision and moral clarity of the neo-cons. Actually, I’ve seen and heard this line creeping in slowly over the last year or so, inlcuding Richard Pearle on a radio interview here in Ireland maintaining that the policy was fine but the execution was wrong. Which is obviously the fault of those who objected to the policy in the first place. And were not in control of anything. Talk about never being wrong. Next, how Bush’s economic policy is the fault of a small Latvian dwarf juggling troupe….

16

Stuart 07.31.06 at 5:10 am

To 13: Yes its kind of odd, how at the start of the year you can claim ‘We are going to throw bucketloads of cash down a hole’, and at the end of year say ‘Well we arent very good at determining budgets, and we only managed to throw two thirds of the bucketloads of cash expected away this year’. Now somehow you can create positive headlines out of those three things. Bizarre.

17

Barry 07.31.06 at 8:12 am

“And again at the risk of derailing the thread, it was this issue that made the Israeli suggestion of an international force for south Lebanon quite clever, since it sounded constructive but landed Europe and the US with the hot pototo of explaining where these extra troops might come from.”

Posted by P O’Neill

It was always a BS plan, because most countries are reluctant to stick a few tens of thousands of soldiers into somebody else’s war. To keep the peace, after there’s peace, yes, but not in the middle of a raging war.

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