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Iraq: Escalating Failure

The Progress Report

Last night, President Bush disregarded the opposition of U.S. military commanders, lawmakers of both parties, the Iraq Study Group (ISG), and the American public and announced to the nation that he plans to increase America's presence in Iraq by approximately 21,500 troops, with no timetable for when troop levels would be drawn back down.

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MICHIGAN: “A Michigan public school district is under pressure to provide a constitutionally suspect and factually flawed Bible course to its high school students.”

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MEDIA MATTERS: Broadcast networks ignore Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) televised response to Bush’s address calling for redeployment.


DAILY GRILL

“The military’s new strategy for Iraq envisions creating ‘gated communities’ in Baghdad — sealing off discrete areas and forcibly removing insurgents, then stationing American units in the neighborhood to keep the peace and working to create jobs for residents.”
— Los Angeles Times, 1/11/07

VERSUS

“The gated communities plan has been tried — with mixed success — in other wars. In Vietnam, the enclaves were called ‘strategic hamlets’ and were a spectacular failure.”
— Los Angeles Times, 1/11/07


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  January 11, 2007
Escalating Failure
Go Beyond The Headlines
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Escalating Failure

Last night, President Bush disregarded the opposition of U.S. military commanders, lawmakers of both parties, the Iraq Study Group (ISG), and the American public and announced to the nation that he plans to increase America’s presence in Iraq by approximately 21,500 troops, with no timetable for when troop levels would be drawn back down. The right wing tried to present this “surge” as the “last chance for success” in Iraq. But as the Associated Press noted, Bush’s escalation announcement is simply the “latest repackaging of a program that’s been wrapped and rewrapped many times.” When Bush sent increased U.S. forces into Baghdad in June 2006, the security situation actually deteriorated further and violence increased. One Bush administration official admitted that the escalation plan is “more of a political decision than a military one” and military commanders have made clear to the President that U.S. forces are already overstretched. As Bush noted in June 28, 2005, sending more troops to Iraq will “undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead” and “suggest that we intend to stay forever.” Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has introduced legislation demanding accountability from the President, and the Center for American Progress has released a memo recommending “an amendment on the supplemental funding bill that states that if the administration wants to increase the number of troops in Iraq above 150,000, it must provide a plan for their purpose and require an up or down vote on exceeding that number.” American Progress also has a strategic redeployment plan detailing “a responsible exit from Iraq as part of a balanced global strategy to make Americans safer.”

REPACKAGING FAILURE: Even before Bush spoke to the nation last night, the escalation plan was underway. Ninety advance troops from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Baghdad yesterday and an “additional battalion of roughly 800 troops from the same division are expected to arrive in Baghdad Thursday.” The troop increase will cost $5.6 billion, in addition to $1.2 billion to finance a rebuilding and jobs program. The American troop presence in Iraq will swell to approximately 153,000 soldiers. But the AP reported that the 21,500 additional troops “will include only one major combat unit that was not otherwise scheduled to go. The rest of the boost will come from sending a few brigades earlier than planned and extending the tours of others.” Bush last night presented this plan as a “new strategy” that will “help us succeed in the fight against terror.” But in reality, “Bush’s overall strategy seems likely to remain wholly unchanged: To keep U.S. troops in Iraq as long as it takes for the Iraqi government to start functioning effectively. That means using American bodies and firepower, pretty much indefinitely, to prop up a country racked by civil war and chafing under occupation. That means the American death count ticks on, with no end in sight,” writes the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin. One senior Army official acknowledged that there will be “more violence than usual because of the surge.”

IGNORING THE PUBLIC, MILITARY, AND EXPERTS: It is clear that Bush did not listen to the American public when figuring out the way forward in Iraq. A recent CBS poll found that just 18 percent of the American public supports an escalation of involvement in Iraq. He also didn’t heed the advice of his military commanders. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were unanimously opposed to the escalation. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who publicly declared in December that he does not support escalation, “is caustic in private about the proposed ‘surge,’” columnist Robert Novak reported. Military commanders also told the President that they had just 9,000 soldiers and Marines available to go to Iraq. Bush also ignored advice from America’s “allies abroad.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair made clear that he will not send more U.K. troops to Iraq, but will instead “stick to its own strategy of gradually handing over to the Iraqi army.” The ISG also did not recommend an escalation in troops in its recent report, and group member Leon Panetta told Newsweek that increasing troops will send the “wrong message to the Iraqis.”

IGNORING CONGRESS: The President also claimed that his decision came after he “consulted members of Congress from both parties.” But according to a tally by The Progress Report, many more lawmakers oppose the escalation than support it. (Help us fill in this list. Call your members of Congress, ask their position, then email their response us.) After a meeting last week between Bush and 30 Republican senators, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) observed, “I think I was the only senator who acted like he would be supportive. I was surprised that no one said it but me.” Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), said on the Senate floor, “I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that any more.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote Bush a letter telling him that escalation “is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake.” Even traditional Bush administration ally Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) — who is currently in Baghdad — yesterday said that he does “not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer.”

WHY IT WON’T WORK — TROOP STRAINS: Not only did the military admit to the President that it does not have enough troops to support the escalation, but it does not have enough armor. Yesterday, the Baltimore Sun reported that the thousands of troops Bush ordered to Iraq “will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than the Humvees in wide use, military officers said.” A report in early 2006 found that the Army had become a “thin green line,” stretched to a “breaking point.” Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a leading proponent of Bush’s plan, admitted, “Is it going to be a strain on the military? Absolutely. Casualties are going to go up.” More than 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed in the Iraq war.

WHY IT WON’T WORK — POLITICAL MOTIVATIONS: With military commanders largely opposed to escalation, one Bush administration official acknowledged to NBC News “that this surge option is more of a political decision than a military one.” The Washington Post reported yesterday that after the ISG came out, how “to look distinctive from the study group became a recurring theme” and “some staff members on the National Security Council became enamored of the idea of sending more troops to Iraq in part because it was not a key feature of Baker-Hamilton.”


WHY IT WON’T WORK — PAST FAILURES: AP noted that “there’s clearly a been-there, done-that feel to Bush’s new plan. It’s an old story: The U.S. before has temporarily raised troop levels, taken steps to encourage democracy, spent money on education and public works and set benchmarks for the Iraqi government.” These past approaches have also failed. In June 2006, Bush announced a major effort to secure Baghdad, stating at a news conference that over 7,000 U.S.-led coalition troops would be moved into the city. But since that time, violence in Baghdad has drastically increased. Approximately 106 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq in December, making it the deadliest month in 2006. Then-Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. William B. Caldwell admitted that the “big push” was a big failure, as did Bush, who conceded that “our operations to secure Baghdad have encountered greater resistance. … I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq. I’m not satisfied, either.” Another part of the new U.S. strategy will create “gated communities” in Baghdad by “sealing off discrete areas and forcibly removing insurgents, then stationing American units in the neighborhood to keep the peace and working to create jobs for residents.” But this approach, too, was tried during the Vietnam War and was a “spectacular failure.” “It didn’t work,” said Conrad Crane, one of the authors of the military’s counterinsurgency manual. “They ended up locking up the insurgents with the population in these new hamlets. … It actually helped the Viet Cong with recruiting.”

Under the Radar

STEM CELLS — WHITE HOUSE MISLEADS TO GARNER OPPOSITION TO STEM CELL BILL: Following the tremendous success of stem cell supporters in the 2006 election, the House of Representatives will vote today on legislation to expand the number of stem cell lines available for use in federally funded research. The Bush administration “jumped back into the bitter debate” yesterday, urging lawmakers to vote against the legislation; the House vote is “virtually certain to fall short of the two-thirds margin needed to override another Bush veto, vote counters on both sides of the issue said.” On Monday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, “The vast majority of breakthroughs right now, virtually all, have involved those other than embryonic stem cells.” In fact, however, over the last year there have been a large number of medical breakthroughs involving embryonic stem (ES) cells. In just the last six months, media reports have noted that ES cells have been used to help paralyzed rats walk; to create T-cells, which could lead to a cure for AIDS; to create sperm that successfully fertilize mouse eggs, which could aid those with infertility; to slow vision loss in rats; to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in rats; to create insulin-secreting cells, which could be used to treat diabetes; and to make a vaccine that protects mice from lung cancer; to create cardiovascular “precursor” cells, which could be used to treat heart disease. Embryonic stem cells remain the most promising type of stem cell due to their ability to become any type of cell in the human body. Also, the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) yesterday released “Advancing Stem Cell Science Without Destroying Human Life,” a white paper that misrepresents the potential of discovering and using alternatives to embryonic stem cells. Center for American Progress analysts Jonathan Moreno and Sam Berger write that the White House report “exaggerates the potential of reprogramming adult cells to behave like embryonic stem cells, distorts the potential of recently discovered amniotic-fluid stem cells, and obscures the deleterious effects of President Bush’s stem cell policy.”

ADMINISTRATION — BUSH IGNORES CONGRESS, APPOINTS ANTI-REGULATORY ZEALOT TO OVERSEE BUSINESS REGULATIONS: Earlier this year, President Bush nominated Susan Dudley to be the next head of an obscure but “super-powerful office that oversees many business regulations.” The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs holds sway over federal regulatory agencies like the EPA and helps set regulatory policy for a wide range of issues, from workplace safety to water quality. Congress fiercely opposed her and didn’t vote on the nomination because she had accumulated a record of opposing EPA public health standards to fight smog, opposed lower-polluting SUVs, opposed air bags in cars, and opposed measures to curb global warming. Bush has resubmitted her name to the Senate, but she is considered unlikely to be approved. So Bush engaged in an end-run around Congress. The Wall Street Journal reports today, “President Bush appointed conservative academic Susan Dudley to an influential new job advising on regulatory policy, at a time the regulatory process could serve as a conduit for the White House to push through any policies opposed by a hostile Congress.” In her new position, she will act as a senior adviser to the White House’s regulatory office. That position will enable her to influence policy decisions, although she won’t be able to implement them on her own. “The White House is again displaying its contempt for carrying out and enforcing the law to protect the public,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.

CONGRESS — MCCONNELL CLAIMS CONGRESS CANNOT RESTRICT FUNDS FOR IRAQ, VOTED TO RESTRICT CLINTON IN SOMALIA: On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) came out against the Kennedy bill requiring President Bush to gain new congressional authority before escalating the war in Iraq. “I think it is inappropriate for the Congress to try to micromanage, in effect, the tactics in a military conflict,” McConnell said. “I don’t think Congress has the authority to do it.” But Congress does have the authority to use “several different policy levers to guide U.S. national security policy as it relates to the deployment of American troops.” Congress has done so many times over the last 35 years. In Nov. 1993, McConnell supported a move by Congress to place limits on military spending for U.S. troop deployments in Somalia. Section 8151 of Public Law 103-139 “limited the use of funding in Somalia for operations of U.S. military personnel only until March 31, 1994″ and permitted “expenditure of funds for the mission thereafter only if the president sought and Congress provided specific authorization.” The language passed the Senate as an amendment introduced by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV). McConnell voted for it. He also spoke on the Senate floor in October 2003 about the legislation: The narrow issue before us tonight is simply how do you leave? We are leaving, we all agree on that. … The only issue here tonight is how we leave and, in my judgment, the Byrd amendment better defines the proper exit for the United States in this most unfortunate experience in Somalia, at least since May.”


Think Fast

“Senior House Democrats said yesterday that they will attempt to derail funding for President Bush’s proposal to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, setting up what could become the most significant confrontation between the White House and Congress over military policy since the Vietnam War.”

Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was named the ranking member of the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee yesterday. “The Democrats in the Senate have signaled they’re going to make climate change a big issue,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “We need to have our guys locked and cocked over here.”

Aides to President Bush “hinted that the administration had already come up with a ‘Plan B’ in case the latest strategy failed, with one saying ‘there are other ways to achieve our objective.’ But he would not describe that strategy.

J. Steven Griles, the former No. 2 official in the Interior Department, has been notified by federal prosecutors that he will most likely be indicted for lying about his relationship with the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. With the prospect of his indictment, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources who has been reportedly dating Griles, tendered her resignation this week. 

“There were 744,000 homeless people in the United States in 2005, according to the first national estimate in a decade.” A majority of the homeless were single adults, but about 41 percent were in families.

One of the caucus’ most influential centrists, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), expressed interest in Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-MA) legislation to seek congressional approval for Bush’s proposed escalation policy. “I’m very interested in it,” Baucus said of the Kennedy proposal.

Tony Blair will soon announce that almost 3,000 [UK] troops are to be cut from the current total of 7,200, allowing the military to recover from four years of battle that have left it severely overstretched.”

And finally: What President Bush could learn from Apple’s Steve Jobs about announcing new proposals. “Bush speeches tend to take on a funereal air, what with the dark suits and somber tone. A nice mock turtleneck and snug-fitting jeans could lighten the mood.