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November 16, 2006
The Final Push?

Fresh on the heels of the New York Times interviews with retired generals opposing the cut-amd-run/phased deployment strategies of the Democrats, the Guardian (UK) reports that the White House will propose a concentrated effort to stamp out the sectarian violence in Baghdad. The new plan calls for an additional 20,000 American troops for the Iraqi capital and a renewed mandate for aggressive action against the militias and death squads:

President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations. ...

Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers. This figure is far fewer than that called for by the Republican presidential hopeful, John McCain. But by raising troop levels, Mr Bush will draw a line in the sand and defy Democratic pressure for a swift drawdown.

The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and insurgent violence, and enable redeployments of US, coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.

Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Simon Tisdall quotes his anonymous source as saying that the plan can be described in a nutshell: "lower the goals, forget about the democracy crap, put more resources in, do it."

Lowering the goals makes more sense than running away, but depending on the extent of the abandonment, it risks making the entire effort pointless. The reason why the US insisted on engaging in the Wilsonian task of nation-building after toppling Saddam was twofold. Democracy should allow more rational outlets for political aspirations instead of allowing them to fester in tyranny, thus eventually reducing the impulse towards terrorism. The second follows from the first, and that was to seed Southwest Asia and North Africa with democracy, with its roots in Iraq.

Forgetting about the "democracy crap" means that all of that long-range strategy has just disappeared. Instead, the US presumably would put a strongman or military junta in place in Baghdad, probably secular, as a way of achieving stability. The new junta would likely attract the Ba'athist elements that have operated the majority of the insurgencies in Iraq, helping to end one form of terrorism in the country -- but putting the terrorists back in charge again. The Iraqi people, who turned out in force for three elections and who want democracy to work, would essentially be sold back into some form of authoritarian executive by the US.

Pardon me, but I hardly see how this strengthens us in the Middle East. If we send 20,000 troops to Baghdad in order to stand up a strongman, why would anyone in the region support democracy? Why would anyone trust us if we promised to back their activism for freedom and liberty?

I know the situation in Iraq is tough, and that more resources are needed. However, we should send more resources to establish freedom and to fulfill the promise we made to the Iraqi people. Hopefully the Bush administration plans on doing that, and not sticking around long enough to stand up another dictator in Saddam's place. We shouldn't send 20,000 American troops for that kind of mission; in fact, we shouldn't send a single one. I have to believe that George Bush would feel the same way, and I look forward to seeing what the White House has to say once the ISG report has been released.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 16, 2006 4:48 AM

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