Beyond the Surge

Wednesday night, Bush the Decider announced his intention to throw gasoline on the inferno he ignited in Iraq. He will send in another 21,500 US soldiers, who will kill and injure many more Iraqis and may be killed themselves. Bush’s move shows total contempt for the demands of public opinion and the better judgment of Congress, the Iraq Study Group, and his own top generals (two of whom had to be replaced in order to push the plan through). This decision is not just “stay the course.” It is speed up the course even though you’re headed straight off a cliff.

Bush warned in his speech that a US withdrawal from Iraq would “tear that country apart” and result in “mass killings on an unimaginable scale.” What does he think we’ve seen over the past four years? He also spoke as if everybody in the Middle East is watching with bated breath, praying for a US victory in Iraq. Someone should tell him that many otherwise reasonable people in the Middle East are now busy painting murals of Saddam Hussein. Bush managed to turn the Iraqi dictator into a martyr by delivering him to the sectarian lynch mob that he calls the government of Iraq.

Most Democrats’ response to Bush’s speech was a chilling reminder of how far to the right the political center has lurched. Official Democratic opinion vacillated between two options. The first is to continue to “help the Iraqis.” So far US “help” has killed well over half a million people, destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, ignited a civil war, and transformed the country from a brutal, but highly functional, secular state into a brutal, totally dysfunctional Islamist theocracy.

The second option is to compel Iraqis to “take responsibility” for the lack of security, the marauding militias, and the crisis-level shortages of electricity, water, and housing that so many Iraqi families face. But all of these things are squarely the responsibility of the United States, which pummeled Iraq with 16 years of war and sanctions; propelled reactionary religious fanatics into power; and gave training, money, and weapons to the Shiite militias that are now prosecuting the civil war. The Democrats’ condescending admonitions to Iraqis to “take responsibility” are more accurately called blaming the victim.

What the Democrats should have been saying in response is that another 21,500 troops will not defeat the insurgency or quell the civil war. The “surge” will merely bring the total number of troops to about what it was last November–the single worst month for Iraqi fatalities. And they should have been saying that another $1 billion in reconstruction money won’t make any difference. Far too much of the first $18.4 billion is now lining the pockets of Dick Cheney’s friends at Halliburton. Besides, it’s hard to reconstruct when you’re being bombed and shot at by insurgents. If the Democrats were really doing their job last night, they would have refocused attention on the real issue, which is not tinkering with troop levels and reconstruction budgets, but ending US involvement in the war. Pursuing that goal, after all, is the reason they were elected in the first place.

So what now? We should demand that Congress take advantage of the hearings scheduled over the next few weeks to really interrogate Bush’s proposal. We should demand that they refuse Bush’s request (expected in February) for another $100 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we should forcefully remind them that it’s not nearly enough to say “no” to a troop increase. There are already 132,000 US soldiers in Iraq. A new Iraq policy must begin by bringing all of them home.

YIFAT SUSSKIND is communications director of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization. She is the author of a book on US foreign policy and women’s human rights and a report on US culpability for violence against women in Iraq, both forthcoming.