By Ivan Eland
President George W. Bush, contrary to the will of the American and Iraqi peoples and his own military commanders, seems ready to embark on a potentially disastrous escalation of the Iraq war, which was lost long ago. This mind-numbingly idiotic strategy is sure to needlessly cost more American and Iraqi lives and to lose the presidency for the Republicans in 2008.
Apparently, the impressionable president, who is still listening to the neo-conservatives who got him into this mire in the first place, will announce this week that up to 20,000 more U.S. troops will be sent to Iraq to dampen the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province. This relatively small number of troops will not quell the violence, however. Although more troops are being added, they will now patrol Shi’ite areas, as well as Sunni enclaves, thus continuing to be spread too thin. And news of the arrival of more foreign occupiers most likely will increase resistance. Previously, when more U.S. forces were sent into Baghdad to pacify the city, violence actually spiked. U.S. military commanders have already admitted that the war cannot be won militarily, yet that vain hope still seems to be in the mind of the president. Unfortunately, U.S. and Iraqi casualties are likely to rise in the futile effort.
What can President Bush be thinking? Taking the best case (which is not all that good), in a convoluted way of thinking, the president could be setting up a U.S. withdrawal. For public relations purposes, he could show that he made every effort to help the Iraqis, but that they just could not rise to the challenge. They will most certainly fail to meet the economic, political, and military goals that he will set for them. Then a U.S. withdrawal could be justified even to the president’s conservative supporters.
Henry Kissinger, who has been advising the Bush administration, escalated the war in Southeast Asia during the 1970s before negotiating a U.S. withdrawal. Similarly, John McCain, the hawkish presidential wannabe, has left a back door open in his advocacy of more troops for Iraq. He has said that if such an escalation doesn’t work, he would then support withdrawing U.S. forces from the country.
Although escalation would help Bush retain what remains of his political base, it is totally unnecessary. He doesn’t have to run again for re-election. Also, the president doesn’t have to throw more troops to their deaths to rhetorically say he has done all he can do to help Iraqis help themselves. After all, the United States has already lost more than 3,000 troops in Iraq and spent more than $300 billion trying to pacify Iraq, and the American and Iraqi people have both grown tired of the effort. By escalating the war, the “pro-democracy” president is flouting the outcome of the 2006 elections in the United States and the popular will of the Iraqis, the majority of whom want a U.S. withdrawal.
More likely the president is trapped in his own psychological maladies. Deep down, he knows that Iraq is an unsalvageable mess, but he is an avoider of bad news and cannot accept it mentally. Psychologically, he just hopes to postpone defeat in any way he can. Defeat in Iraq means a failed presidency for him. The likely outcome of this mental trap is to attempt to keep the lid on Iraq’s escalating civil war until he can hand off the problem to his successor.
Escalation of the war means his successor will very likely be a Democrat. By 2008, the failed Iraq policy will make the hawkish McCain radioactive as a candidate for president. Even Republicans who were skeptical of Bush’s war policies, such as Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), probably will not be able to win the presidency. In the 2006 congressional elections, even Republicans who opposed the war—for example, Jim Leach of Iowa—were defeated. Thus, Bush’s new strategy will likely strengthen Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008.
Despite the verbal support of many Republicans for escalation, it is they who should be most dispirited by the president’s new policy. The gleeful Democrats will oppose the escalation rhetorically, but give the Republicans the rope to figuratively hang themselves. Despite their hints to the contrary, the Democrats will not take the courageous step of cutting off funding for the war, lest they be accused of pulling the rug out from under the troops. At a minimum, they should nix funding for added troops, but may be hesitant for fear of being blamed for “losing” the war and out of a reluctance to stand in the way of the Republicans digging their electoral hole deeper.
Although President Bush’s new Iraq policy will be golden for the future of the Democratic Party, it will be disastrous for the already exhausted U.S. soldiers, the Iraqi people, and democracy in Iraq and the United States.
-Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.