It’s looking more and more like President Bush is going to order thousands of more troops to go to Iraq to do the same stuff the US troops in Iraq right now are doing. They’ll be patrolling Baghdad, training Iraqi troops, patrolling Anbar province, and so forth. As Josh Marshall notes this morning, neither the Iraqi government nor the US military seem to want the extra troops, so why is President Bush considering this course? I think it all comes down to psychology.
President Bush has three options when it comes to troop levels. He can keep them as they are, which looks to most people like he’s not changing his strategy. The President’s current strategy has lost the faith of just about everyone, including members of his own party. Even if he tells every soldier in Iraq to work on something completely different, it will still look like we’re “staying the course,” and that’s politically untenable at this point. The US has tried many changes in tactics over the past three years to dampen the violence in Iraq, and none have worked, so disregarding changes in strategy is probably OK at this point.
Alternatively, he can reduce the number of troops in Iraq. President Bush would call this “cutting and running.” He is not going to do that, even though it’s what most people want him to do.
Finally, he can send more troops to Iraq. Psychologically, this is the only option available to President Bush. He has to make a change for political reasons, and despite the fact that victory is no longer an option, sending more troops is a tangible change in course and makes it look like we’re still trying hard to win. To be fair, we certainly are trying to win, but the problem is that winning is no longer in the realm of possibility. If a new President were to take over tomorrow, the question he would be asking himself is, “What can be salvaged?”
Here are a couple of other quick Iraq thoughts while I’m at it.
Who is hurt worst politically if President Bush sends more troops to Iraq? In my opinion, it’s John McCain. McCain has been banging a drum for more troops for months. If President Bush chose not to send more troops, McCain could campaign for the Presidency under the banner that if the actual President had been as proactive as McCain wanted, maybe we could have won this thing. Now it’s looking like President Bush is going to do just as McCain ordered, and I don’t think it’s going to help. Now McCain gets to be the latest guy to offer a plan that worked as poorly as every other plan that has been attempted.
Finally, I’m pretty much done with the post hoc analysis of why our mission in Iraq has failed. Every day there’s a new book that explains which mistakes ruined our chances to win in Iraq. Is it because the Coalition Provisional Authority was staffed with political hacks instead of experts on post-conflict rebuilding? Is it because we sent too few US troops in to occupy Iraq? Is it because the neocons at the Pentagon ordered Paul Bremer to disband the Iraqi army and fire every former Baath party member from the civil service? Is it because Donald Rumsfeld chose to let people loot Baghdad immediately after it fell to the US invasion?
Obviously, in retrospect, all of those things were mistakes, but the bottom line is that our fate was sealed as soon as President Bush decided to invade Iraq. It was never going to work out, no matter what we did, and the only chance was to stop it before it started. The reason it went badly is because it was a bad idea executed by people who thought it was a good idea. We’ll be paying a price for that for many years to come.