Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bush's "Surge" Is Moving Very Slowly.

John Mitchell, President Nixon's attorney general, used to say, "Watch what we do, not what we say."

The same is pertinent to the Bush Administration's "surge" of 21,500 more troops to Iraq, with the announced aim of quelling sectarian warfare in Baghdad. A month after the operation was announced, it is mighty slow getting started, and it's time to start wondering just what is going on.

Louise Roug, an L.A. Times reporter in Iraq, wrote a lead story yesterday in which she declared, "A month after the Bush Administration announced a "surge" in troops for Baghdad, Iraqis are still waiting for anything to change." Roug said the Maliki regime in Iraq is expressing impatience, and she quoted administration officials as explaining U.S. troops are still being trained at home. Only a paltry 3,000 American troops and 2,000 Iraqi troops have arrived in Baghdad, where, last week, Sunni insurgents continued bombing Shiite neighborhoods and the Shiites mortared Sunni neighborhoods in return. Hundreds of civilians died.

There may be some waiting by the administration to see whether Maliki will live up to his commitments of Iraqi troops. Those which have arrived are only at about half-strength and show little desire to fight.

Could it be that the Bush policy may yet change, and that American troops will stand down to some extent, or be withdrawn from the Baghdad area into the hinterland, where they would, for the time being, be safer?.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that, despite several helicopters being downed, the rate of U.S. casualties in the last week or so has declined. Yet if even the first new U.S. units had been committed to pacifying Baghdad neighborhoods and keeping Sunnis and Shiites from one an other's throats, the casualties would have increased.

A column in the New York Times Week in Review section today raises some worthwhile questions. The war critic Frank Rich notes that the "surge" is already getting off to a bad start. "Not enough capable Iraqi troops are showing up and, as Gen. Peter Pace told the Senate last week, not enough armored vehicles are available to protect the new American deployments." Rich also quotes the conservative columnist William Kristol as assailing the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, for "letting the Joint Chiefs slow-walk the brigades in." It has become obvious that key military higher-ups doubt the utility of the "surge." They may, as Kristol suggests, have caught a case of the slows.

In the L.A. Times' "Current" section, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, meanwhile questions Mr. Bush's bellicose recent statements towards Iran. Calling these "ominous," Brzezinski writes, "If the United States continues to be bogged down in protracted, bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and much of the Islamic world.

"Here, for instance, is a plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran: Iraq fails to meet the benchmarks for progress toward stability set by the Bush Administration. This is followed by U.S. accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure, then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the United States blamed on Iran, culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran. This plunges a lonely United States into a spreading and deepening quagmire lasting 20 years or more and eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Ridiculous? Perhaps not. We have to watch what happens carefully.

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