*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
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
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
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
rense.com. 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 email@example.com.
Army's New Counter Insurgency Handbook states that the ultimate
indicator of success in COIN is protection of the population, not
protection of the COIN force. It also sticks with the 1 COIN/50
population ratio, which would indicate a need for 100,000 troops in
Baghdad, and about 500,000 for the country.