As President Bush draws up a new Iraq battle plan, it's clear he will have a fight on his hands if he wants more troops
December drew to a close as the deadliest month in two years for American soldiers in Iraq. At his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush gathered his national security teamincluding new Defense Secretary Bob Gatesto draw up what may well be a last-chance strategy to turn back the tide of chaos. It couldn't have lightened the mood any that morning to glance at the Washington Post's front page: "Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq." Former President Gerald Ford, who died last week at age 93, criticized Bush's rationale for the war in a posthumously published July 2004 interview with the Post's Bob Woodward. Said Ford, "I don't think I would have gone to war."
For a current president who famously doesn't like to look back, Ford's delayed critique may mean little, but it raises the stakes a bit higher for Bush's effort to sell the American people on whatever he decides to do next in Iraq. With concern growing almost daily about U.S. soldiers and marines facing hostile fire and increasingly powerful roadside bombs, caught in the middle of what looks to many like an Iraqi civil war, Bush faces the most daunting challenge of his presidency. In urban Baghdadnot just in the insurgent badlands of Al Anbar provincesome streets are so regularly booby-trapped with roadside bombs that they are treated as no-go zones for U.S. patrols.
After making it clear that he has his own no-go zones (namely, opening a dialogue with Iran and Syria and considering a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops), Bush is expected to release his new plan for Iraq within days. It will very likely include an economic package that will fund microloans for small businesses and jobs in neighborhoods that have been targeted by military strikeselements of classic counterinsurgency strategy that weave economic and political incentives together with armed measures. But much of the chatterand the real political stakessurround a so-called surge of U.S. troops, enough to make the total force in Baghdad larger than at any time since the war began. That would, the thinking goes, improve security in the city of some 6 million and give the Iraqi government more time to take charge if it can. But it would be hard to pull off. "The big question," says one U.S. commander at Baghdad headquarters, "is what do they want us to do with these troops, exactly, that we're not doing already?"
Wordplay. In Washington, the word surge is increasingly accompanied by something akin to virtual quotation marks. It's more politically palatable than "escalation," with its echoes of Vietnam, and carries the implication of limited duration, or an ebb. But new troops will be on the ground for a while. In a widely circulated PowerPoint presentation, Frederick Kagan, a neoconservative military historian at the American Enterprise Institute, touts the benefits of a surge in a "plan for success," adding that a minimum of 30,000 troops should be sent to the country for "18 months or so." "That's not a surge," says one military official. "It's a troop increase, plain and simple."