I’ve been trying to think of something to say about President Bush’s decision to send 22,000 new troops to Iraq. It’s turning out to be harder than I expected, partly because it has already been covered very well by others, partly because there were no surprises in Bush’s address to the nation – we all knew what was going to be announced, but mainly because the plan is so spectacularly stupid that I can’t really avoid stating the obvious. For once I find myself agreeing with the majority of US military officers and politicians of both parties who oppose this plan. Still, something as important as this does need to be commented on.
First, let’s get these really obvious points out of the way. It won’t work. It hasn’t worked so far and more of the same is just as likely to fail. It also failed in Vietnam. Most intelligent humans when realising that their actions are not achieving the desired results, and are in fact counterproductive either try something else or give up, especially when they have been warned by so many others beforehand. Not Dubya. It’s like watching a demented retard slam his head into a wall, shout out “Ouch, that hurt!” and then slam his head into the wall again in the hope of getting a different result. The world is now waiting for the next inevitable “Ouch, that hurt!”.
Telling the American people and the wider world that this troop reinforcement is coming at the request of the Iraqi government won’t wash either. The Bush administration had to convince al Maliki’s government of the need for more troops and agreement was reached by focussing on the Sunni extremists and al Qaeda (al Qaeda is about two or three percent of the insurgency). In other words this plan will add to the sectarian divisions. And let’s not forget that to 90 percent of Iraqis the Americans are personae non gratae. Having the largely Shi’ite army and police force (already infiltrated by extremist elements) smash their way into peoples’ houses with the Americans is only going to make matters far worse. And there is no way that 20,000 troops are anywhere near enough to hold the areas they clear so it will be exactly as before once they inevitably leave.
It’s easy to pass this folly off as mere hubris from a president trying to salvage something from the disaster he’s created and to a large extent it is, but there’s more to it than that. Bush’s reputation cannot be salvaged and there were more hints of a wider war in Bush’s speech.
We’re also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
Yes, Iran again. While Bush is outwardly supporting the Shi’ite Iraqi government which is on friendly terms with Iran, he is doing his utmost to provoke the Iranian regime to respond. Arresting Iranian officials invited by al Maliki’s administration, and now storming an Iranian consulate and arresting employees. When these diplomatic incidents are coupled with the sabre rattling coming from Bush, Blair and of course Israel, and with the naval build up in the Persian Gulf, a frightening and familiar pattern emerges.
The British government is still hinting at troop withdrawals from the region this Summer but hasn’t explicitly stated that it will withdraw troops. Basra may be less violent than Baghdad, but the coming “surge” in troops and the expected crack-down on extremists will also affect the Shia who could decide to retaliate in the south of the country. The British held zone is strategically important to the American occupation; it’s a supply line and an entry and exit point. It’s also on the Iranian border. The coy game that Blair seems to be playing is rather typical of him. Remember him saying that no decision had been made to invade Iraq right up until the moment troops went in? I wonder if he isn’t doing the same thing again. If a wider war explodes, or if the Basra area is targeted by insurgents then the plans to withdraw British troops will either have to be accelerated or dropped completely. There is little doubt that Blair would like to be involved in another adventure with his buddy but he knows there isn’t the stomach for it in the UK even with Tory support. It would take a serious and ‘unexpected’ crisis to turn public opinion in his favour and it’s not just American warships that are in the Persian Gulf.
Blair’s government seems happy to go along with any idea that is suggested in America. When the Iraq Study Group (ISG) reported its findings, Margaret Beckett said “We get the impression that their thinking was broadly in line with our own”. And yet the same government supports the ‘surge’ (the complete opposite to the recommendations of the ISG) despite the announcement of the intention to withdraw British troops from Iraq. If the troop withdrawal is a genuine intention of the Government, then this could be seen as a sign of a split between London and Washington but great care will be taken to smooth over any cracks in the alliance. Of course we don’t know (nor are we likely to know) if the Bush administration asked Britain to supply more troops or maintain the current numbers for longer.
Peace and stability in the region seem further away than ever.