The best we can ever expect from a stupid president is a strategy of no strategy, but even Republicans were disappointed in George Bush's speech on Iraq, which was his response to Republican Rep. John Murtha's call for the United States to pull troops from Iraq immediately.
Reiterating failed US policy, Bush outlined the plan that his government has pursued for the past three years in Iraq: "Clear, hold, and build." And, not surprisingly, the US public yawned and changed the channel, in search of a new episode of "Lost" (a perfect, one-word metaphor for the war in Iraq).
The Pentagon, which has been caught planting fake news stories in the Iraqi press as propaganda for the war effort, is having a hard time keeping the bad news from US citizens. This past week the Washington Institute for Near East Policy released a report that said the insurgency in Iraq is "as robust and lethal as ever." The report's authors were Jeffrey White, a 34-year veteran of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, and Michael Eisenstadt, a former civilian-military analyst with the US Army. These guys know what they're talking about, and what they say is devastating: the insurgency has barely begun to tap into a vast pool of potential Sunni recruits in Iraq; if they ever start recruiting seriously, the US war effort is doomed.
Meanwhile, US officials still put the insurgency's strength at about 20,000 men--no change from last year or the year before. The current Iraqi government, on the other hand, estimates the insurgency to include more than 100,000, with no explanation for the difference in estimates, but we might reasonably assume that Iraqi analysts living in the thick of the turmoil in Baghdad would have more information than analysts in Washington, D.C.
The facts on the ground in Iraq are not too hard to discern from here in the United States, however. We can just read the news off the wire service reports. Every week brings a new US initiative in Ramadi, Samara, Hit, Qaim, Tal Afar, Mosul, and dozens of other cities with Sunni or mixed Sunni/Shiite/Kurdish populations. Most, if not all, of these cities have been attacked before by US troops, some of them twice and three times. Previously "cleared" of Iraqi rebels, US troops have turned these cities over to poorly-trained and ill-equipped Iraqi troops or police and moved on to deal with the next targeted town, thereby allowing the rebels to retake the "cleared" cities. In spite of Bush's speech, this policy can't change, because there simply are not enough US troops to "hold" every rebel bastion in Anbar Province, much less Diyala, Nineveh, Sulimaniyah, and other provinces where the war has continued unabated.
We might, for a moment reflect on the one city that has been "cleared" and "held": Fallujah. Fallujah is a garrison town now, its entrances and exits blocked by US forces, its residents subject to search and inspection each time they come and go--much like residents of the Gaza Strip. An estimated 60 percent of the city was destroyed in order to "clear" it, and most of it has not been rebuilt. Fallujah has only one-half the population that it did prior to the US assault, and it's unlikely to improve for years, if not decades, to come. If this is what "clear" and "hold" mean, then it's no wonder that the United States is losing the war.
Nor has the United States successfully "held" other important cities in Iraq. Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, is still outside US control. Large parts of Mosul, the third largest city in Iraq, are under the control of insurgents. Basra is run by Shiite militias who have taken over the Iraqi police forces in that city--no surprise, since the Iraqi government doesn't have the money to pay salaries to its police forces, so they take money and orders from militia leaders, instead. Even Baghdad, which has suffered a Fallujah-like encirclement by US troops and Iraqi security forces, has seen as much as one-third to one-half of its neighborhoods slip outside the jurisdiction of US forces or Iraqi police.
As for "rebuilding," Bush is clearly referring to rebuilding the Iraqi army. Any other meaningful rebuilding has simply ceased because of the security situation. Of the reconstruction funds spent in Iraq, the largest portion has gone for two things: 1) to pay for private security guards, and 2) to train and equip Iraqi army troops and police forces. But, shockingly, the Iraqi government last week issued its own report on the state of the Iraqi army in which it described its own military as ill-trained, ill-equipped, and desperately lacking qualified recruits.
In the meantime,
the Iraqi nation itself is disintegrating. The head of the Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq--the Shiite returning-exile
group that runs the current Iraqi government--announced a couple
of weeks ago that the Shiites would pursue a separate, autonomous
region in the south of Iraq modeled after the Kurdish autonomous
region in the north. Last week, the Kurdish regional government
agreed to let a Norwegian company begin drilling in a new oil
field, without any approval from the federal government in Baghdad.
Said Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani: "there is
no way Kurdistan would accept that the central government will
control our resources." In this statement of defiance, he
used the word "Kurdistan," which for most Kurds means
a separate and independent state. Iraq is moving ever faster towards
Balkanization."Clear, hold, rebuild" is the Bush administration
mantra, but the truth on the ground in Iraq looks a lot more like
"invade, destroy, and separate." Rep. Murtha is right;
the strategy we need to hear from the Bush administration right
now is "disengage, apologize, and withdraw."