WASHINGTON - As official Washington breaks
for the two-week Christmas-New Year's hiatus, it
knows that the No 1 issue it will face on its
return in early January is the White House's
apparent "urge to surge" as many as 50,000 new
troops into Iraq for up to two years in a
last-ditch effort to claim what President George W
Bush insists on calling "victory".
plan, which was presented to Bush last week in a
meeting with five national-defense specialists,
including two associates of
neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute
(AEI), is designed to focus US military efforts on
providing "security" for average Iraqi citizens
against both the Sunni insurgency and Shi'ite
militias that have, in the report's words, made
Baghdad the "center of gravity of this conflict".
Drafted hastily - it currently exists only
as a PowerPoint presentation - by its two main
authors, AEI fellow Frederick Kagan and the former
vice chief of staff of the US Army, General Jack
Keane, as an alternative to the report of the
bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) headed by former
secretary of state James Baker and former
congressman Lee Hamilton, it is called "Choosing
Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq".
title is apparently chosen deliberately to counter
one of the ISG's core messages: that there is "no
magic bullet" - least of all a military one - that
can save what most analysts in Washington believe
is the biggest US foreign-policy debacle since at
least the Vietnam War.
proposals for Iraq, the new Keane-Kagan strategy
has a chance to succeed," declared this week's
Weekly Standard, which, like the AEI fellows
involved in the "Victory" project, was a major
champion for going to war in Iraq.
the provenance of the plan - aside from Keane and
two other senior retired military officers, a
majority its 17 contributors are AEI fellows - has
fed suspicions that it represents one final effort
by neo-conservatives to convince the president
that, by "doubling down" on his gamble on Iraq, he
can still leave the table a winner and "transform"
the entire Middle East.
While Bush has not
explicitly endorsed the concept, he noted at his
year-end White House press conference on Wednesday
that he was open to the idea. Vice President Dick
Cheney's office, which is closely tied to AEI, is
known to support it strongly.
to all the talk in Washington, the 'plan' whipped
up by AEI's Fred Kagan is likely to be mostly
implemented by President Bush when he stops
stalling about his policy in Iraq," said Pat Lang,
the former chief Middle East analyst at the
Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, who has
warned that, if implemented, it would likely lead
to "Stalingrad on the Tigris".
of the size possible under current constraints on
US forces will not turn the tide in the guerrilla
war," warned Lang, who noted, along with many
other experts in the past month, that the
reinforcement of thousands of US troops in Baghdad
since last summer had actually increased the
"Those who believe still
more troops will bring 'victory' are living in a
dangerous dream world and need to wake up," he
added, conceding, however, that it may appeal to
Bush for that very reason. "He wants to redeem his
'freedom agenda', restore momentum to his plans,
and in his mind this might 'clear up' Iraq so that
he could move on to Iran."
Even if Bush
supports the plan, however, his much-weakened
political position in the wake of last month's
mid-term elections, in which Democrats won control
of both houses of Congress, makes it highly
unlikely that he could muster the kind of support
- both among lawmakers and the uniformed military
- he would need to deploy the number of troops for
which the plans calls.
While the current
front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential
nomination, Senator John McCain, supports the plan
- as does the Democrats' most prominent
neo-conservative, Senator Joseph Lieberman - some
key Republicans, including Senators Gordon Smith
and Norm Coleman, who until now have strongly
backed Bush's Iraq policy, have come out in
They are certain to be
bolstered by doubts expressed on Sunday by former
secretary of state Colin Powell, who, since his
retirement two years ago, has been extremely
reluctant to voice any criticism of Bush.
A former chairman of the joint chiefs of
staff, Powell told CBS News that he was "not
persuaded that another surge of troops into
Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this
communitarian violence, this civil war, will
The current theater commanders,
including the outgoing head of the US Central
Command, General John Abizaid, and the senior
officer in Iraq, General George Casey, have also
argued that more troops are likely to increase,
rather than reduce, the violence.
an Arab speaker with an advanced degree in Middle
East studies from Harvard University, has all but
explicitly endorsed the main recommendations of
the ISG, particularly its emphasis on gaining the
cooperation of all of Iraq's neighbors in
stabilizing the country.
The Joint Chiefs
of Staff are also reportedly skeptical of the
plan, with the army chief of staff, General Peter
Schoomaker, warning Congress this month that even
at the current rate of deployment - not to mention
increased troop levels, let alone those
recommended by the "Victory" plan - "we will break
the [army's] active component".
addition to conveying their views directly to
Bush's new Pentagon chief Robert Gates, those same
skeptics among the active-duty and retired
military officers will almost certainly be among
the first witnesses called to testify before key
congressional panels beginning next month as the
newly empowered Democrats take control of the
legislative agenda for the first time in 12 years.
While the incoming Senate majority leader
Harry Reid said last weekend that he could abide a
modest increase in US troop strength in Baghdad
for a few months to see if they could reduce the
violence, other key senators, including the
front-runner for the party's 2008 presidential
nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton, said this
week she would not support even a short-term
deployment. Meanwhile, the top Democratic
leadership in the House of Representatives issued
statements opposing any "surge".
neo-conservatives remain confident. "Because this
plan offers a credible prospect of winning in
Iraq," said this week's Standard, "moderate
Democrats and queasy Republicans, the White House
thinks, will be inclined to stand back and let
Bush give it a shot."