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The Bush war plan has entered a new and much more dangerous phase.
Before, it was all about refocusing Americans on terrorism and patriotism, in hopes of getting our minds off the dismal state of the economy and the massive transfer of wealth to the rich that was and is still underway.
It was a bad bet, because the war, which was supposed to be short and sweet, with happy Iraqis dancing in the street, has turned into something else. (There has indeed been dancing in the streets, but only around the burning hulks of destroyed American military equipment and the charred bodies of dead GI’s).
So now, with occupation turning into guerrilla war, the plan is to de-emphasize the ongoing war and try to refocus Americans on the domestic economy, which, while still in a mess, is at least less of a disaster at the moment than the Iraq war.
The new plan is to try and present the illusion of progress in Iraq, by at least temporarily “drawing down” the U.S. troop levels there, from the current 134,000 to “just” 100,000 by next May, when the presidential campaign will have begun in earnest.
It’s a seemingly bizarre strategy, to be sure. How, one might ask, can the Pentagon be contemplating a reduction in the U.S. military presence in coming months even as the guerrilla resistance movement is growing in numbers, skill and daring?
Not long ago, of course, the publicly proclaimed strategy was to pull out American troops and replace them with foreign troops. Initial plans called for Pakistani or Indian soldiers, but those countries demurred. Then Turkish troops were proposed, but Turkey, faced with popular resistance and with fierce opposition to the idea within Iraq, also declined the invitation. European countries (with the exception of Poland, which may be reconsidering its decision after losing a major to a guerrilla attack, and after polls showing 57 percent oppose having troops in Iraq), were equally dismissive of the idea. So now, taking a page from President Nixon’s book (“Vietnamization”), the Pentagon claims it will train 170,000 Iraqi soldiers to take over some of the job of pacification from the Americans.
This is quite a task, building from scratch in just half a year an army that, if successfully created, would stand right up there in the top ranks of the world’s military forces, in terms of numbers. (Note that it takes that long just to get that many draftees out of civvies and suited up and trained in the U.S., a country over 10 times the size of Iraq, and with a 1.4 million-person military machine already in place to train and absorb the new recruits.)
The other surprising thing about this new Pentagon scheme is that no one–even the famously self-confident and vainglorious Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–could reasonably predict how it would work. Would Iraq soldiers really aggressively go after, and kill fellow Iraqis, fighting loyally on the side of the American occupiers? Could they be entrusted with the heavy arms and air support that U.S. troops have, or would they be left to do the job with small arms? Would arming 170,000 Iraqis end up simply being a way of inadvertently training and arming a whole new cadre of anti-American guerrillas? Would the new Iraqi recruits resist the temptation to funnel arms — and information–to guerrillas?
It seems incredibly premature, with the establishment of this Iraqi army so speculative and untested, for the Pentagon to already be talking about and planning for significant U.S. troop reduction.
But then, this appears not to be a generals’ decision at all. Like the Vietnam War of yore, the military decisions in the Iraq war are clearly being made not by the brass, but by political operatives, headed by campaign “General” Karl Rove.
What this new plan means is that Rove and Bush’s other political handlers are about to callously sacrifice both Iraqi civilians and American soldiers in the interest of winning re-election next November. It may be possible, that is, for the U.S. to draw down the number of soldiers in Iraq during the peak months of the presidential campaign, enabling Bush to claim, with the help of a demonstrably compliant and unquestioning media, that he is winning the war in Iraq, but this can only be done by a) exposing remaining troops to much greater risk of attack and b) having the remaining forces adopt even more deadly and indiscriminate tactics against guerrilla attacks–for example wider use of helicopter and fixed-wing gunships to spread death and destruction over wide areas whenever there is an attack, and a return to more aerial bombardment. Look, for example, for carpet bombing of cities in the so-called Sunni Triangle, which will soon become Iraq’s “Mekong Delta.”
Longer term, of course, such a scorched-earth strategy will only lead to greater animosity towards the U.S. war and occupation, and to a more powerful guerrilla movement.
But that doesn’t matter to Bush’s political braintrust. Their goal now is clearly just to get past election day.
After that, though, they, or Bush’s Democratic successor, will have to confront the old Johnson/Nixon dilemma: keep sending in even more troops, or risk having the U.S. defeated and driven from the country in a humiliating defeat.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html