There have been pop psychology explanations that attribute President Bush 43’s aggressive foreign policy decisions to a rivalry with President Bush 41–”for example, ascribing junior’s invasion of Iraq as a reaction to his father’s writings about the pitfalls of doing so. Advocates of such explanations must be trumpeting the president’s recent repudiation of the chief recommendations of the Iraq Study Group–”a panel stocked with his father’s former associates–”to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and to engage in direct negotiations with Iran. If junior is either consciously or unconsciously making decisions that implicitly stick it to his old man, the American, Iraqi, and Iranian peoples unfortunately are primarily the ones who will be stuck with the horrific results.
Most U.S. military commanders were unenthusiastic about Bush’s escalation of the war with the gradual addition of slightly more than 20,000 U.S. forces. They correctly realized that the force would not have that much effect on the ground, while merely drawing more resistance. Any military, especially a U.S. military that is a lover of “shock and awe,” likes to surprise its enemy with overwhelming force. But instead of building up U.S. forces in secret and launching a massive surprise assault on key neighborhoods in Baghdad, the Bush administration, prone to publicity stunts for domestic consumption that mean nothing on the ground in Iraq, is introducing the added forces in small drips over time. Forced with this public challenge, the Iraqi resistance is redoubling their efforts to pump up the violence, resulting in a sharp spike of 27 U.S. deaths this past weekend. Moreover, the increase of approximately 20,000 U.S. forces will still render a total of only 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Over the last four years, a couple of times the United States has had 160,000 troops in Iraq, but did not win the day. What makes the administration think a smaller number of forces will do so?
In addition, the former and current military men now advising the president on Iraq and executing his policy, respectively, are not the best choices. One would think after all the disasters in Iraq, Bush would be more careful about his selections. One of Bush’s most important new men on the ground is a disastrous pick for the job. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, now the day-to-day commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, was criticized for his counterproductive “kick-down-the-door” tactics when he commanded the 4th Infantry Division during a previous tour in Iraq. In December 2003, an internal Army report noted that the division indiscriminately rounded up Iraqi military-age youth until the prisons overflowed. These heavy-handed tactics violate the “befriend the Iraqis” counterinsurgency strategy advocated by his boss, General David Petraeus. Unfortunately, with 61 percent of Iraqis saying that it’s justified to attack U.S. forces, even Petraeus’s strategy is too late to save the president’s war.
Lt. General Jack Keane (Ret.), who with the neoconservative academic Frederick Kagan proposed the war’s escalation, was former Vice Army Chief of Staff at the time of the invasion. Instead of listening to fresh voices, the president is taking advice from a man who has a vested interest in making the existing policy work. Even worse, Keane has admitted that he feels guilty about the Army not being ready to fight a counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Thus, his personal motivations to salvage the policy are getting in the way of providing sound military advice.
The key assumption of Keane and Kagan’s new escalation strategy is that security must precede a political settlement among Iraqi groups. This overturns one of the few correct assumptions that the Bush administration had made in Iraq–”that a political settlement would need to be reached before people would stop fighting. Keane and Kagan don’t seem to understand a basic fact: The fighting does not just occur out of the blue or because the people who do so are inherently evil, but because of actual grievances. The problem was not with the original assumption but that Iraq is so fractured a society that a political settlement was difficult to achieve. With the recent splintering of factions, it has become virtually impossible. Thus, full-blown civil war will likely occur, with or without U.S. forces being in the middle of it. Thus, the correct policy prescription is just the opposite of Keane and Kagan’s escalation–”immediate withdrawal.
As for U.S. relations with Iran, an administration that doesn’t have many cards seems to be trying to better its hand through the usual ham-fisted approach of military intimidation. Deploying another aircraft carrier to Iran’s neighborhood is designed to scare Iran into being more cooperative in Iraq. Yet the U.S. invasion of Iraq was supposed to do the same thing. Instead, all it did was to make Iran even more scared of a U.S. attack and thus to accelerate a drive to get nuclear weapons. A second aircraft carrier will do much the same without moderating Iran’s meddling in Iraq.
President Bush, for one, finally needs to have a stern talk with junior and tell him that he needs to begin to run a grown-up foreign policy, instead of forever being a schoolyard bully.