Last Updated: 9/27/06

Chickens are home to roost in Iraq
The Bush administration is running out of troops, money and ideas.

By Andrew Bacevich
The Australian
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

AS if by stealth, almost without our noticing, the Iraq war's long-awaited turning point has arrived. After the innumerable events touted as decisive that turned out to be anything but that - the capture of Saddam Hussein, the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the various milestones related to the creation of a new Iraqi political order - the end game now becomes clear. And the outcome points ineluctably towards an American failure of immense proportions.

Historians of the global war on terror will likely recall September 2006 as a pivotal moment. Throughout this month, chickens have come home to roost. Each has arrived bearing bad news for the Bush administration.

First came a pessimistic assessment of progress in Iraq's critical Anbar province, the main stronghold of the Sunni resistance. According to the senior US Marine intelligence officer in Anbar, the war there is not being won and without a substantial injection of additional coalition troops may soon become unwinnable.

In their efforts to downplay the significance of this critique, the best that senior US commanders can do is to redefine what they mean by victory. Success in Anbar, it turns out, no longer requires defeating the insurgents. It now means holding the line long enough for Iraqi security forces to have a go.

The second sign of a turning point came in the Iraqi capital. Administration leaders in Washington and commanders in the field have made no bones about the fact that winning "the battle of Baghdad" has emerged as their top priority. Yet the news coming from Baghdad throughout September has been almost uniformly bad. Despite a commitment of US reinforcements, violence in the capital has only worsened. Attacks have increased in frequency, Iraqi militias have become bolder and more defiant, and bodies are piling up everywhere, many showing gruesome signs of torture and mutilation. Baghdad today is not lost. But not even the most wild-eyed optimist can argue that it is being won.

September's third indicator of change comes courtesy of the punditocracy. William Kristol and Richard Lowry, editors of two leading US conservative magazines, The Weekly Standard and National Review respectively, both stalwart supporters of the war, jointly penned a much-noted opinion piece in The Washington Post on September 12, urging George W. Bush to leave no stone unturned in his efforts to win the fight for Baghdad. Kristol and Lowry claim to know exactly what the President needs to do: send more troops to Iraq, upping the ante and breaking the back of the insurgency.

Unfortunately, the hawkish journalists failed to note that there are no more troops left to send. The US Army and US Marine Corps are tapped out. The cupboard is bare. There's no calling for the cavalry: they are already in the fight and surrounded by Indians. The Kristol-Lowry commentary has had the unintended but salutary effect of revealing just how detached from reality members of the stay-the-course school have become. In a single small article, they have demolished whatever credibility remained among those who promoted this misguided war in the first place.

As if to reinforce that point, the hard-pressed US Army has begun signalling that it is fast approaching the end of its rope. This provides the fourth bit of evidence suggesting that things are coming to a head.

According to news reports this week, army chief-of-staff General Peter Schoomaker has refused to submit a budget plan for fiscal year 2008, rejecting as totally inadequate Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld's allocation of $US98.2billion ($130billion). Schoomaker says that to stay afloat his service needs $US138.8billion, a whopping 41 per cent increase. Perhaps Schoomaker is staking out a negotiating position. Or perhaps he is casting a barely veiled vote of no-confidence in the Pentagon's senior leadership and the policies that are causing the army such distress.

To press the point home, a report appearing in The New York Times on Monday assessed the condition of the army's 3rd Infantry Division as its soldiers prepare for their third tour of duty in Iraq. The essence of the dispatch: this once-crack division is undermanned, inadequately trained and unready. Two of its four brigades don't even have tanks or other heavy equipment.

As the article makes clear, these deficiencies are becoming increasingly common across the army. (Anyone inclined to credit this story to the efforts of an enterprising reporter as opposed to senior military officers sending up signal flares doesn't understand civil-military politics in Washington.)

The final indicator is the most damning: the National Intelligence Estimate completed in April but leaked to the press in the past few days. An NIE represents the consensus of judgment among the 16 agencies that make up the bureaucratically complex US intelligence community. In this instance, the judgment offered by the highly classified NIE can hardly be more devastating: far from reducing the threat posed by Islamic radicalism, the Iraq war is exacerbating that threat, recruiting new terrorists faster than the US and its allies can eliminate them. All the monumental efforts and sacrifices in Iraq have managed only to dig us deeper into our hole.

In Iraq, the Bush administration is running out of troops and running out of money. It has manifestly run out of ideas. This troubling reality is unlikely to impress Bush. A man resembling the character Pyle in Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American in that he, too, is "impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance", the President won't give an inch.

But the President just may be on the verge of making himself irrelevant.

Andrew Bacevich, a US Vietnam veteran and a contributing editor of The American Conservative, is professor of international relations at Boston University. He is the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford, 2005).

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