Moving Backward In Iraq
Terrell E. Arnold

A retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State; former Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College; former State Deputy Director of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning.
Wednesday night President George W. Bush outlined a program in essence to totally Americanize the War in Iraq. That plan, as discussed below, is as remarkable for what it leaves out as it is for the tactical battle plan it proposes. The missing elements are both a critical commentary on how the war has gone in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, and as a study in the deceptions practiced on the American people regarding virtually every important aspect of the US Iraq campaign.
The key elements of the Bush plan were on paper at least as early as December 13, 2006. They appear to have been finalized last Friday, January 6, 2007, when a cabal of the neo-conservatives and boosters who brought us the calamitous war in Iraq met and decided to send yet more troops into that catastrophe. Labeled by one observer as the "real Iraq Study Group", as distinct from the official one led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, this group provided a report flamboyantly titled "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq." And they demonstrated the same triumph of political ideology over reality that has plagued the Bush administration from the beginning.
The plan, slides for which are dated December 13, 2006, was obviously prepared in advance and trotted out for final vetting at the Friday meeting. The title is bulletproof Bush language, and the odds are 100 to naught that he, Cheney, and a few others saw and approved the scheme before it was ever presented at AEI (American Enterprise Institute). In short, with the deviousness that has been characteristic of this administration, this plan was being finalized as the Baker/Hamilton study group plan was circulating for discussion. That suggests, fairly bluntly, that there was never any administration intent to consider seriously the Baker/Hamilton report.
As outlined in a set of more than 40 slides that are available on the Internet, the plan was prepared by Frederick Kagan, one of the leading neo-conservative supporters of Israel. In essence the plan, lavishly illustrated with maps, says (a) the US does not need to work with the Iranians and the Syrians, (b) it will take too long to train the Iraqis, (c) Baghdad is the center of the conflict and must be secured, (d) we need to add roughly 30,000 more American troops, the majority to be deployed in and around Baghdad; (e) we must expect increased casualties, but that will not indicate we are losing, (f) If Baghdad and the al Anbar (Sunni) regions of the country are secured, the conflict will be largely over, (g) reconstruction should be pursued as early as possible under close American scrutiny, and (h) doing anything about Palestine is not on the agenda.
What the AEI/neo-con group gave Bush was a tactical war plan that suited the PNAC (Project for a New American Century) scheme for garnering and keeping America's power position in the world. On paper, the plan presents a triumph of force over reason. As outlined by Bush, the words are a bit different, but the proposed approaches are the same. The basic plan is to use present American combat troops plus 20-30,000 additional American troops primarily to pacify Baghdad and al Anbar province, pretty much leaving the rest of the country to take care of itself.
This addition would, over a period of several weeks, bring total US force strength in Iraq up to about 150-160,000; in the AEI/PNAC plan, somewhat more than half of these are combat. The AEI/PNAC scheme says those troops would be equally divided between Baghdad and the countryside. Bush says three quarters or more of the new troops would be used on pacifying Baghdad.
Whatever the case, it is worth noting that the new Army and Marine field manual on counterinsurgency says the effective ratio of counterinsurgency troops to residents should be 20 per thousand or 1 combat trooper per 50 residents. The countrywide ratio before augmentation would be about 1 US trooper to 200 Iraqis. After augmentation the ration would be reduced to 1 US trooper to about 160. The AEI/PNAC model says only about 84,000 of the force after augmentation would be combat. That means a countrywide ratio of 1 US combat trooper to 300 Iraqis. In the AEI/PNAC model half of these troops are in Baghdad and the other half distributed. That would mean a ratio of 1 US trooper to 120 Baghdadis and 1 US trooper to around 500 Iraqis in the countryside. General David Petraeus, who just assumed command of forces in Iraq, also approved the ratio in the Army and Marine field manual, and he could not be pleased by the actual or contemplated ratios in any part of Iraq. Even with the augmentation, American forces will be so thinly spread that they will take a lot of hits.
However, the most striking feature of the plan, both as outlined by Kagan and as presented by President Bush, is the number of important subjects left out. First on the list of omissions is a total lack of reference to any allies either in the AEI/PNAC plan or in the escalated Iraq venture proposed by Bush. The implicit assumption of both is that the United States will go it alone except for help from the Iraqis, whatever that may prove to be.
That omission, it appears, is consistent with British intentions. Reports from London suggest the British will be drawing down forces in Iraq rather than augmenting in line with Bush plans. That means Coalition coverage in the south, the region of most Shi'a, will be reduced. As a result, Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi army will have more room to maneuver, both against the Sunni and against American forces.
The Iraq Study Group made a special point of including progress toward peace in Israel/Palestine as part of their package to stabilize the region. Bush left that out of his plan, and he did nothing to allay rising speculation that the US and Israel may do a joint venture on Iran to disrupt its support for Iraqi Shi'a and to destroy its alleged nuclear facilities; nor did Bush mention the active role of Israelis in northern Iraq among the Kurds and against Iran.
Bush glided smoothly around any suggestion that the United States would leave Iraq. His threat to abandon the Iraqis if they did not meet their commitments was not stated in terms of leaving. Rather, the buddy system he proposed for US and Iraqi troops in Baghdad and the provinces appeared to be a relationship that could go on for years.
Bush was as silent on any role for the UN as he was on the unmentioned allies. Had he chosen to take the opportunity, the importance he assigned to getting on with Iraqi reconstruction presented a definable need for UN support. He also appears to have eschewed any possible scheme to put UN peacekeepers in the field as an alternative to continuing American-led combat.
At first blush, the idea of embedding American advisers and troops with the Iraqis, as suggested by the Iraq Study Group, appears sound. However, the likelihood that American forces would operate under Iraqi command is zero. That means in popular Iraqi perception, as well as in combat reality, that the Americans will exercise overall command. That fact has pretty hairy side effects. First, this will identify virtually all Iraqi forces as taking orders from the Americans. If the Iraqis participate in attacks on their own religious and ethnic communities, the Americans will be blamed while the Iraqis will be roundly hated by their own communities and despised by other communities for doing American bidding.
It is a virtual no-win position for the Iraqi forces, even if military operations succeed. It is already difficult for onlookers to decide whether an operation is against militants or against opposing ethnic/religious groups. In short, it is simply hard to tell whether a given attack is insurgency or civil war. Since a roadside bomb, when thrown in either context, is equally destructive, who can tell? The bottom line for American forces is that they will be seen by all sides as the enemy. That will increase American casualties.
Bush references to oil were artfully chosen. He spoke of developing a scheme, presumably in the Iraqi constitution, for sharing of oil revenues among all Iraqis--a reference to the presently oil dry zone that is the al Anbar region of the Sunnis. However, he did not mention the about to be implemented rule left behind by Jerry Bremer that all new wells will be developed by outsiders who will share in the revenues. This scheme is out and out US confiscation of Iraqi oil resources, and it will enrage many Iraqis.
While Bush credits the Iraq Study Group with the idea, it is doubtful that his scheme to take over and supervise conduct of the war by embedding American advisers and combat brigades with Iraqi forces was what the ISG had in mind. In fact, both the AEI/PNAC group and the immediate Bush team appear to see any leading security role for Iraqi forces as some distance in the future.
Bush stayed off long term US intentions. He did not mention the four, some say more, major bases already built in Iraq, and he made no reference to the 104 acre US Embassy complex being laid out like a fortress on the Baghdad landscape. That complex, which is easily ten times larger than needed to conduct long term relations with Iraq, will provide--with the numerous military bases--the new hub of an imperial US regional design. Another hub apparently will be Tel Aviv.
Most striking was Bush use of this speech to throw a number of barbs and threats at Iran and Syria. Citing their support for attacks on American troops, he said that "we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."  Implicitly that means border crossing special operations.  Bush mentioned the deployment of Patriot air defense missiles and the positioning of a US carrier strike group in the region. He left no doubt that these were steps to deter Iran from helping the Shi'a in Iraq. He mentioned other steps to "bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests".
The sum of the Bush speech is a policy formula that is long on military action and threatened actions, but lacking in any efforts to shorten the conflict in Iraq or to reduce tensions in the Middle East. The proposed trip to the region by Condoleezza Rice seems destined to rub that posture in, because her agenda includes only talks with "reformers", meaning the Bush administration still does not define diplomacy as a means to bargain with people they do not like. The posture is a set of bullying tactics designed to provoke others (especially Iran and Syria) to react in fashions that will then be used as excuses for military assault. One can hope that both the Syrians and the Iranians are smart enough to see through this and avoid provocative reactions.
The Bush formula proposes a decisive move backward in Iraq. How far back depends in part on how seriously the Bush approach provokes others, e.g., Iraqis, Iran and Syria, Sunni Arabs from other countries, to resist.
Bush mentioned al Qaida by way of keeping the Iraq campaign at the center of the War on Terrorism. However, the involvement of outsiders is, and always has been, a small part of the Iraqi problem. It is clear that the great bulk of resistance to the American occupation would exist if al Qaida were to disappear tomorrow.
The ultimate flaw in the Bush scheme, therefore, is that it puts almost all of American energy in Iraq behind a military campaign to squelch Iraqi resistance. He seems oblivious of the fact that the dominant problem in Iraq is the American occupation, and the Bush plan only prolongs that agony. Far from reducing warfare, the escalation will only increase conflict, instability and uncertainty in Iraq, as well as throughout the region. The plan is likely to do that as remaining allies scatter to protect their forces and reputations. It would be best to stop this plan now and not wait for proof of failure.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College, and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at



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