Think We’re Leaving Iraq? Not So Fast

The Iraq War dominated the electoral landscape during the recent mid-term elections. Voters swept in candidates across the nation who vowed for change in Iraq. But making good on his pledge that “I will not withdraw even if Laura and Barney [his dog] are the only ones supporting me,” President George W. Bush is readying the largest request for funds so far to continue the war. Even worse, he’s on the cusp of actually increasing troops.

Both in polls before the elections and in exit polling, voters were clear that they wanted a change in Iraq. Polls report that 56 percent support withdrawing some or all U.S. troops. But a series of high-level reviews and reports requested by Mr. Bush and Republicans in Congress in order to look like they are “doing something,” are likely to take a different direction than voters want.

The Iraq Study Group (also known as the Baker-Hamilton commission because it’s headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Indiana Representative Lee Hamilton) will likely push greater international involvement in the conflict, urging the United States to conduct talks with Iraq’s closest neighbors, Iran and Syria. Though incredibly tight-lipped about the group’s forthcoming recommendations, in interviews Baker has ruled out a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq over the next year.

Worried that the independent Iraq Study Group wouldn’t produce a policy in line with the administration’s, Bush requested a review by the Pentagon. Its review is considering an increase of at least 20,000 American troops and the addition of several thousand more trainers to work with Iraqi forces.

The Pentagon’s proposed increases would be on top of the additional 12,000 U.S. troops Mr. Bush sent to Iraq and the 100,000 newly trained Iraqis in 2006. With these increases, the number of coalition and Iraqi security forces Iraq top 500,000. Yet, violence has reached new heights. In November, well over 1,300 Iraqis died, representing the highest monthly total since the initial invasion. And the U.S. death toll will top 800 for the year–the most deaths in a single year since the war began.

Also reaching epic proportions is the war’s cost. President Bush will be asking Congress in January for $124 billion for the war. Add in the $70 billion Congress has already approved for the year and the tab nearly reaches $200 billion for the fiscal year — a 60 percent increase from the previous year. Put in perspective, spending on the Iraq War in 2007 will equal that for the U.S. departments of health, education, international affairs, and veteran’s affairs combined.

The long-term financial picture is grim. Because the funds have been borrowed and we have a moral and medical obligation to care for the 20,000 wounded veterans over their lifetimes, taxpayers can expect to shell out between $1 trillion and $2 trillion over the next decade.

Given the strategic failures, great expense, and mid-term voters backing withdrawal, it is incomprehensible why Mr. Bush would opt to increase U.S. troops in Iraq. Reminiscent of Vietnam, troop increases in Iraq have not created better conditions for Iraqis. Adding more troops and trainers will not produce a different result on the ground, but it will add to the terrible stress our troops are under and raise the human and economic costs even higher.

The trap that Mr. Bush and the various commissions have fallen into is the belief that “doing something” is better than withdrawing. While the commissions are right in stating that there are no good options, the least bad option is phased withdrawal. It is simply wishful thinking that the United States can tweak the formula of troops, training, and international support to produce a “victory.”

Despite digging in, sending more troops, training more Iraqis, and spending more money, 2006 has been the worst year of the Iraq War by far. The late Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll noted, “There is an old military doctrine called the ‘First Rule of Holes’: if you find yourself stuck in one, stop digging.” The official commissions making recommendations on Iraq are side-by-side with Bush’s dog Barney digging deeper. It’s time to stop.

Op-ed distributed through Minuteman Media.

Erik Leaver is policy outreach director for the Foreign Policy In Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.