Thursday, September 20, 2007

The War in Iraq: The Politics of Delay

The political machinations emanating from General David Petraeus’ progress report on the U.S. troop surge are blatantly obvious if you read between the lines of his testimony. Despite the promises that certain U.S. military units will be sent home in March and July of next year the real thrust of Petraeus’ testimony was his urgent statement that a substantive U.S. military presence be maintained in Iraq indefinitely.

For all the bluster of the “success” of the troop surge the real intent of the surge has been to delay and hamstring those opposing the war in Iraq. For quite some time now the Bush Administration has been fighting a delaying action against its political opponents; trying to buy enough time in order to perpetuate a substantive U.S. military involvement in Iraq and its domestic war on civil liberties in America.

Indeed for all the Bush Administration’s talk that certain U.S. military units will return home in March and July of 2008 there is a pungent smell of politics in the timing of those troop withdrawals. Unless I’m mistaken March is the time for Super Tuesday (the Southern Regional Primary) and don’t forget that George W. Bush’s victory in Super Tuesday in 2000 helped him win the G.O.P. Presidential nomination. What of the troop withdrawal in July? Just in time for the Republican convention.

But is the Bush Administration doing this to benefit those already declared Republican presidential candidates? I don’t think so. Instead I feel these moves are building the ground for an impending Presidential run of President Bush’s brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. During the past several weeks the Bush Administration has been clearing its political impedimenta: the departures of Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales are prime examples of this. (In the case of Rove, I don’t believe his resignation was sincere at all. I feel that the President is simply granting Rove a two month rest period before he returns for a potential Jeb Bush presidential campaign).

If my instincts are correct I feel that Jeb Bush will declare his candidacy sometime between Columbus Day and Veterans Day this year. I also feel that President George W. Bush wants to maintain a heavy U.S. troop presence because he wants everything to be in place for what will probably be the real policy of a Jeb Bush Administration: a drastic escalation in the fighting in Iraq with the great potential that it will spill over into neighboring Iran.

During the past several months the Bush Administration has been busy coupling Iran to the insurgency in Iraq with the implied threat of a U.S. strike against Iran. It is my belief that the Bush Administration and a succeeding Jeb Bush Administration wants to up the ante in response to its failing policies in Iraq by escalating the fighting in the hopes of salvaging the Bush Family’s political and historical standing.

Just as George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 to make up for his father’s failure to oust Saddam Hussein in 1991 there exists the enormous potential of Jeb Bush escalating the war in Iraq to carry over into Iran solely to salve the wounded pride of his brother George. Such a possibility cannot be discounted. Despite the Bush Administration’s propaganda to the contrary the perpetuation of the Iraq war has been mostly based on image-considerations rather than security considerations.

The surge taking place right now will simply be one of many surges which will make for great political theater but to those brave troops doing the actual fighting will result only in more innocent blood being shed for worthless, ephemeral, selfish objectives.

The worst is yet to come.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Troop Surge: A Question of Limitations

Regardless of what General Petraeus or the Bush Administration says in its progress report on the results of the American troop surge in the Green Zone in Iraq the central question which needs to be addressed is what will happen when the troop surge comes to an end—which it must do—sooner or later.

Despite the political rhetoric among war-hawks that the surge needs to be maintained in order to continue the “progress” practical military necessity demands that the surge will have to stop so as to allow the forces engaged to rest, re-arm, re-equip, receive new personnel, and adopt new tactics for future battles. It’s an inescapable aspect of warfare. A cursory examination of military history shows this to be true.

When the inevitable lull does take place will violence flare anew thus canceling whatever “progress” had been made before? If so, what will we do then? Mount another surge? And another?

War, by its very nature, imposes an unnatural and harmful strain on those who engage in it and the material the combatants use to wage war. Even victorious armies can be undermined by the successes they achieve on the battlefield. Here are two examples: In 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Germans in the early months of the invasion achieved astonishing success in seizing vast amounts of territory in Russia against negligible or ineffective resistance but much to their astonishment the German columns were suffering rapid depletion of men and material. The German Army Group South was down to 60% effectiveness in men and material even though their sector had the lightest resistance of all. German leaders were confused by this and finally one of their commanders, who flew over the battlefields, came to this inspired conclusion. He realized that attacking armies were only effective for a certain distance and depth. The Germans armies invading Russia had nowhere near the amount of men and material needed to achieve truly effective control of the endless Russian Steppes. The enormity of their task in subjugating such a huge area of land was the root of the physical and mechanical breakdowns being felt by the German armies.

The same thing happened in 1944 when the Anglo-American-Franco armies were liberating Western Europe from Nazi occupation. Despite fantastic successes on the battlefield, the Allied forces experienced significant slowdowns in autumn and early winter because supplies and new personnel weren’t getting to the front fast enough to sustain the offensives by the armies engaged. There are innumerable books on the subject. The late Stephen Ambrose dealt with the issue in-depth in his best-selling book Citizen Soldiers. Indeed, Ambrose wrote that by December 1944 even though the Allied forces were on the German border ready to invade the Allied combat divisions were only at 50% effectiveness in terms of manpower and that the Allied forces had no reserves at all save for the three Airborne divisions. (This explains why General Eisenhower sent the 82nd Airborne division to St. Vith and the 101st Airborne Division to Bastogne to foil the German counter-offensive during the Battle of the Bulge. They were the only reserves he had available to meet the threat). What’s more significant about this is that the Allies were liberating friendly countries.

The American forces in Iraq do not possess that advantage. They are fighting in hostile territory amidst a populace that does not welcome its presence. There is no conscription to ensure a steady stream of fresh personnel and American industry is not being geared to supply new material to the forces in the field as it was in World War Two. The fact that the troop surge was confined to only one sector of Iraq merely confirms that America lacks the logistical strength to achieve overall success in Iraq and, probably, never had enough personnel to achieve a truly decisive victory in the first place.

When the sad history of the Second Iraq war is written there will probably be considerable documented evidence that mid-level Pentagon officials warned the Bush Administration that ousting Saddam Hussein was a shoestring gamble (since American forces were decisively engaged in Afghanistan at the time) and that the invasion would only work if there was no significant resistance. As it turned out the gamble failed. What’s more insulting to our armed forces is that the President has been trying to shift the blame to his commanders, saying, in essence, that he was only following the recommendations of his military advisers when he invaded Iraq—which I don’t buy for a moment. Time will show that it probably was the other way around: that the Bush Administration overrode the Pentagon’s caveats and blundered into Iraq in a desperate quest for vainglory. (I don't see how any sane military commander could ever have recommended such a strategic monstrosity).

And meanwhile more and more innocent, brave Americans die every day.

And this is progress?