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here's No Winning Strategy for a Lost War

by Pham Binh

When Bush announced the new surge strategy back in January, I thought that it
would be "temporarily successful" as Hitler's Battle of the Bulge was in 1944. I
was wrong -- the surge has been a total, complete, and utter failure from
beginning to end, just like the entire war.

The first sign of trouble was when the Bush administration and the military began
touting early signs of success back in April. They said sectarian violence was
down in Iraq thanks to Bush's decision to throw 30,000 more troops into the meat-
grinder, and they pointed to the 50 percent decline in the number of bodies dumped
on the streets of Baghdad as proof. Of course, what they left out was that over
the same time period the number of car bombings grew. "Oops."

Now there's even more proof that the surge has failed. In May, recorded civilian
deaths reached 2,000, the highest since the beginning of the surge. (And who
knows how many unrecorded deaths there are -- the Ministry of the Interior which
helps compile the stats is controlled by the Shia Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council
[SIIC] which is responsible for the bulk of the sectarian killings in Baghdad).
The Green Zone's parliament was bombed in April, rockets and mortars attacks on
the Zone have become common, and U.S. soldiers have been ordered not to walk alone
in the Zone because they might be kidnapped. Now, a new internal assessment by
the U.S. military of the surge shows that they have been able to "maintain
physical influence over" only 146 of the 457 neighborhoods in the capital -- a
whopping 32 percent -- despite the fact that almost all the surge troops are in
place.

Bush's "bold new strategy" to win the war never had a chance to succeed because it
was based on a combination of delusion, wishful thinking, and desperation. The
theory (insofar as there was one) was that if the U.S. could curb the sectarian
violence in Baghdad, all the hardcore sectarian politicians the U.S. installed
into power would put aside their sectarianism, sing kumbaya, give each other
flowers, make nice, and create a stable puppet government that would recognize
Israel and allow the U.S. to pull its combat troops out while keeping a garrison
of tens of thousands there permanently. Such a large military presence in the
heart of the Middle East would allow the U.S. to blackmail competitors like Russia
and China by threatening to cut off their oil supply and at the same time threaten
Iran and Syria militarily.

According to the Army's counter-insurgency doctrine written by General David


Petraeus, the man in charge of executing the surge, the U.S. needs a minimum of
120,000 combat troops in Baghdad to wrest control of its neighborhoods away from
the Sunni resistance and the Mehdi Army, the anti-occupation Shi'ite militia led
by Muqtada al-Sadr. Prior to the surge there were 52,000 combat troops in all of
Iraq. So even if the U.S. sent all the troops it has in Iraq to Baghdad as well
as the 30,000 surge troops on top of that, it would still be unable to control the
city!

The bottom line is that the U.S. cannot win in Iraq. The British Ministry of
Defence did a poll in 2005 that showed 65 percent of Iraqis (that's 18.2 million
people) think attacks on U.S. and British forces are justified.

The basic problem for the U.S. is that there are no social forces in Iraq that
want Iraq to be an American satellite. Al-Sadr and the Sunni resistance, which
combined probably have more popular support than all of the collaborators in the
Green Zone government put together, want the U.S. out ASAP. Among the forces in
the Green Zone government, the Kurdish parties want autonomy and their share of
oil revenue; the Sunni parties want an end to the occupation, a share of the oil
money, and some control over the state apparatus; the SIIC only collaborates with
the U.S. to stay in power. None of them are particularly interested in a
permanent U.S. occupation. Furthermore, the Iraqi police and army units that the
U.S. created, armed, and trained are merely Shia militias with uniforms and legal
authority whose members are routinely caught planting the deadly roadside bombs
that have killed so many of our hapless soldiers.

Even the ever-in-denial-because-we're-making-progress-and-


victory-is-around-the-corner-if-only-the-Democrats-stopped-
coddling-terrorists Bush administration is beginning to realize that there's no
winning strategy for a lost war, with the exception of Dick Cheney who is still
babbling about victory. Bush, whose approval rating now matches his I.Q., has
said that after the surge he would implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study
Group (ISG), whose report was published shortly after the Republicans got their
long-overdue thumpin' at the polls last year. Although Bush probably did not
bother to read it (the words "Study Group" probably killed what little interest he
had), its recommendations were: talk nice to Syria and Iran, step up the training
of Iraqi military and police units (apparently the Iraqis blowing up our soldiers
should be doing a much better job), withdraw combat troops, and let the remaining
troops hunker down in the four permanent mega-bases under construction.

If Bush does all of the above, it would be the smartest thing he has done in a
long, long time. The surge is going to end at some point in 2008 because it is
not working and because it is militarily unsustainable.

Bringing the troops home from Iraq is what Americans overwhelmingly voted for in
the last mid-term election. Implementing the ISG's recommendations would allow
Bush to take credit for something that he was initially hostile to. More
importantly, doing so would deprive the Democrats of the ability to criticize his
Iraq policy because he would be implementing theirs. (Leading Democrats Nancy
Pelosi, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, and Barak Obama have endorsed the ISG's
recommendations to pull combat troops out of Iraq while maintaining a permanent
garrison there. Not one of them spoke out against the administration's comparison
of U.S. presence in Iraq to South Korea, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops
have been stationed for over fifty years.)

Bringing some troops home in 2008 would help the G.O.P. a lot with the Iraq
problem that cost them so dearly at the polls in 2006. Bush could claim that he
was obeying the will of the voters while the Dems would not be able to slam him
for stubbornly staying the course. If this redeployment occurs, it would mean the
American ruling class has given up on the original aims of the war: complete and
total domination over Iraq, the creation of a thoroughly pro-U.S. regime, and a
permanent military presence. Instead, they would opt for the ISG's Plan B -- a
permanent military presence tacitly tolerated by a semi-independent Iraqi
government.

While this would be a step forward for the Iraqis and the U.S. antiwar movement,
it would by no means be the end of the war or the end of the fight to get our
troops out of Iraq.