Troop 'surge' in Iraq would
be another mistake
BY W. PATRICK LANG and RAY MCGOVERN
Clearing House" -- -- - Robert Gates' report to
the White House on his discussions in Iraq this past
week is likely to provide the missing ingredient for the
troop ''surge'' into Iraq favored by the ''decider''
team of Vice President Dick Cheney and President George
When the understandable misgivings voiced by top U.S.
military officials made it obvious that the surge cart
had been put before the mission-objective horse, the
president was forced to concede, as he did at his press
conference on Wednesday, ``There's got to be a specific
mission that can be accomplished with the addition of
more troops, before I agree on that strategy.''
The president had led off the press conference by
heightening expectations for the Gates visit to Iraq,
noting that ''Secretary Gates is going to be an
important voice in the Iraq strategy review that's under
way.'' No doubt Gates was given the job of hammering out
a ''specific mission'' with U.S. generals and Iraqi
leaders, and he is past master at sensing and delivering
on his bosses' wishes.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's aides have given
Western reporters an outline of what the ''specific
mission'' may look like. It is likely to be cast as
implementation of Maliki's ''new vision,'' under which
U.S. troops would target primarily Sunni insurgents in
outer Baghdad neighborhoods, while Iraqi forces would
battle for control of inner Baghdad. A prescription for
bloodbath, it has the advantage, from the White House
perspective, of preventing the Iraqi capital from total
disintegration until Bush and Cheney are out of office.
Well before Tuesday, when Gates flew off to Iraq, it was
clear that Cheney and Bush remained determined to stay
the course (without using those words) for the next two
years. And the president's Washington Post interview on
Tuesday, as well has his press conference Wednesday
strengthened that impression. In his prepared statement
for the Post, Bush cast the conflict in Iraq as an
enduring ''ideological struggle,'' the context in which
he disclosed that he is now ``inclined to believe that
we do need to increase our troops, the Army and
Lest the Post reporters miss the point, the president
added, ''I'm going to keep repeating this over and over
again, that I believe we're in an ideological struggle .
. . that our country will be dealing with for a long
time.'' In the same interview, he described ''sectarian
violence'' in Iraq as ``obviously the real problem we
At his press conference the next day, the president
repeated the same dual, inconsistent message, which went
unchallenged by the White House press corps. Pick your
poison: Do you prefer ''sectarian violence'' as the real
problem? Or is it ''ideological struggle?'' The White
House seems to be depending on a credulous press and
Christmas-party eggnog to get by on this.
Incoming Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said
last Sunday that he could ''go along'' with the widely
predicted surge in U.S. troops in Iraq, but for only two
or three months. Is it conceivable that Reid doesn't
know that this is about the next two years -- not
months? Egged on by ''full-speed-ahead'' Cheney, Bush is
determined that the war not be lost while he is
president. And he is commander-in-chief. Events,
however, are fast overtaking White House preferences and
are moving toward denouement well before two more years
`Get with the program'
Virtually everyone concedes that the war cannot be won
militarily. And yet the so-called ''neoconservatives''
whom Bush has listened to in the past are arguing
strongly for a surge in troop strength. A generation
from now, our grandchildren will have difficulty writing
history papers on the oxymoronic debate now raging on
how to surge/withdraw our troops into/from the quagmire
The generals in Iraq may have already been ordered by
the White House to ''get with the program'' on surging.
Just as they ''never asked for more troops'' at earlier
stages of the war, they are likely to be instant
devotees of a surge, once they smell the breezes from
Washington. As for Gates, it is a safe bet that whatever
personal input he may dare to offer will be dwarfed by
Cheney's. Taking issue with ''deciders'' has never been
Gates' strong suit.
Whether Gates realizes it or not, the U.S. military is
about to commit hara-kiri by ''surge.'' The generals
should know that, once an ''all or nothing'' offensive
like the ''surge'' apparently contemplated has begun,
there is no turning back.
It will be ''victory'' over the insurgents and the
Shiite militias or palpable defeat, recognizable by all
in Iraq and across the world. Any conceivable ''surge''
would not turn the tide -- would not even stem it. We
saw that last summer when the dispatch of 7,000 U.S.
troops to reinforce Baghdad brought a fierce
counter-surge -- the highest level of violence since the
Pentagon began issuing quarterly reports in 2005.
A major buildup would commit the U.S. Army and Marine
Corps to decisive combat in which there would be no more
strategic reserves to be sent to the front. As Marine
Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway pointed out Monday,
``If you commit your reserve for something other than a
decisive win, or to stave off defeat, then you have
essentially shot your bolt.''
It will be a matter of win or die in the attempt. In
that situation, everyone in uniform on the ground will
commit every ounce of their being to ''victory,'' and
few measures will be shrunk from.
Analogies come to mind: Stalingrad, the Bulge, Dien Bien
Phu, the Battle of Algiers.
It will be total war with the likelihood of all the
excesses and mass casualties that come with total war.
To force such a strategy on our armed forces would be
nothing short of immoral, in view of predictable troop
losses and the huge number of Iraqis who would meet
violent injury and death. If adopted, the ''surge''
strategy will turn out to be something we will spend a
generation living down.
Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., spoke for many of us on
Sunday when George Stephanopoulos asked him to explain
why Smith had said on the Senate floor that U.S. policy
on Iraq may be ``criminal:''
``You can use any adjective you want, George. But I have
long believed in a military context, when you do the
same thing over and over again, without a clear strategy
for victory, at the expense of your young people in
arms, that is dereliction. That is deeply immoral.''
W. Patrick Lang, a retired Army colonel, served with
Special Forces in Vietnam, as a professor at West Point
and as defense intelligence officer for the Middle East.
Ray McGovern was also an Army infantry/intelligence
officer before his 27-year career as a CIA analyst. Both
are with Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.