Administration Still Doesnt Recognize the Main Factor in the War

President Bush’s speech, outlining a “Strategy for Victory in Iraq” at the U.S. Naval Academy on November 30, 2005, failed to take the opportunity created by the public and the U.S. Congress to engage in a real debate about the Iraq War. Instead Bush put forth a new glossy covered report, polished off some old rhetoric and continued to give a view of the Iraq War clouded by rose colored glasses. Vowing to “Stay the Course” the President made clear that the administration still doesn’t recognize the main factor in the war—that the occupation is driving the resistance.

Stationed at a podium in front of a backdrop that eerily resembled a soldier’s dog tag with the words “Plan for Victory” within a silver oval, the President said little to convince the American public that the body count of 2,110 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis would stop rising.

In fact, the President’s plan only further deepens the reach of U.S. occupation. Bush calls for U.S. involvement in the Iraqi political process, increasing security and economic development. But as the U.S. plants its bootprints more firmly in Iraqi society, it only serves the purposes of inflaming the insurgency.

A true plan for victory would recognize this, detail a plan of turning Iraq over to Iraqis, and start bringing the troops home. This is the only way victory can be achieved in Iraq.

1. President’s Overall Strategy

  • Redefining the Iraq War as a war on terrorism likely sets forth a plan for an extended military presence in the country.
  • The rationale for the Iraq War originally was its weapons of mass destruction capability. The new focus on combating terrorism in is only a result of the occupation.
  • The benchmark of staying until all terrorist threats are eliminated is not a strategy for victory.
  • Over the past three years the military has not been able to eliminate the 1,000-2,000 al Qaeda affiliates in . Moreover, the has not been able to capture Osama bin Laden in the five years since 9-11. The president’s plan does not recognize these failures.
  • Combating terrorism cannot be done by a single nation, no matter how strong a military it maintains. For a counterterrorism strategy to be effective, a multilateral approach is essential, but the Bush administration continues to reject this reality and go it alone.
  • Moreover, combating terrorism must employ a variety of tactics, not just military action. Once again, the President failed to examine any of the root causes behind the violence.
  • President Bush failed to outline what costs this war will entail. Over $250 billion has been allocated to date. Funds for reconstruction have been raided for security and training of Iraqi soldiers. And if reconstruction is truly one of the three pillars of strategy a clear commitment of future money must be on the table.
  • Rejecting a timeline is a way of removing accountability.

2. Training Iraqi Forces

  • While some progress is being made in training greater numbers of Iraqi troops as the President detailed, the most important benchmark, the safety of the Iraqi people, remains unchanged. Daily attacks have increased over the last few months and they remain deadly. For example, on November 10, more than 60 Iraqis died in four separate attacks.
  • Despite 40,000-50,000 deaths and arrests of likely insurgents, the resistance continues to thrive. The number of resistance fighters in increased from 5,000 in November 2003 to roughly 20,000 today. Recruiting of fighters for the resistance remains at levels equal with efforts to kill and capture. There is no indication that having more Iraqis trained will change this deadly dynamic.
  • Measuring the progress of Iraqi troops has been very uneven and readiness changes on a regular basis. A year ago, the Pentagon estimated that three battalions were able to operate independently. The latest reports indicate that only one battalion is ready. The lacks the ability to properly measure the readiness of the troops. A March 2005 GAO report noted that, “the departments of State and Defense no longer report on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are equipped with their required weapons, vehicles, communications equipment and body armor.”
  • Because of a lack of proper measurements, the only benchmark which was given in the speech was “as the Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down.” This is not a clear benchmark for success.
  • In Bush’s speech, he specifically noted the success of Iraqis taking control of Haifa Street in Baghdad. With the presence removed, Iraqi soldiers are able to control what once was one of the deadliest streets in . This is an indicator that the presence of troops inflames the insurgents, rather than as a force to quell them.
  • Security troops are directed and led in many cases by troops and military advisors. In this sense, Iraqi troops are carrying out a mission. For this reason, many troops are not loyal, and with unemployment hitting near 40%, many fight simply for a paycheck, not for the survival of the country of .

3. A Tacit Strategy of Picking Sides

  • In his speech Bush, classified “rejectionists”—Sunni Arabs who have not embraced the shift from Saddam Hussein’s to a democratically governed state—as ““the enemy”. These actors are the largest portion of the insurgency, and coupled with Saddamists and former regime loyalists are estimated to number 18,000. Thus, the new strategy openly admits the battle is largely being fought against Sunnis, making it impossible for the U.S. to act as a neutral arbiter and further increasing the risk of an all out civil war.
Erik Leaver is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the policy outreach director for the Foreign Policy In Focus Project. He is the co-author of, “The Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of War and the Case for Bringing Home the Troops.”