White House Gears Up to Sell Plan for Troop Increase in Iraq
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 — The White House is planning an aggressive effort to sell Congress and the American public on President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq, beginning with a prime-time address to the nation on Wednesday night, followed Thursday by a presidential trip to Fort Benning, Ga., and appearances on Capitol Hill by the secretaries of state and defense.Yes, remember Social Security privatization - the more Bush tried to sell it the less popular it became. The escalation in Iraq is already almost universally unpopular. To make matters worse no body thinks the escalation will help. Fred Kaplan explains that Bush has appointed a bright new general but he's given him a Mission Impossible.
With Democrats vowing to oppose any plan to send more troops to Iraq, and some Republicans openly skeptical, Mr. Bush and his aides are already in the thick of an intense sales pitch. It began on Monday, when the president had back-to-back meetings with Republican senators, urging them to hear him out before passing judgment on his plan.
Alas, Petraeus is in much the same situation he found himself back then—loaded with enormous responsibility, the right skills, but not enough resources, either in money or, especially, in troops.Bush is already losing the support of the Republicans and he has about six months to turn things around or lose them all. They have 2008 on their minds. Now 20,000 troops are not going to do it. This was a no sale from the get go.
The big talk this past week, and probably the centerpiece of Bush's announcement (to take place Wednesday night), is the "surge"—20,000 additional U.S. combat troops to be deployed to Baghdad, as part of a classic strategy of "clear, hold, and build." This means swooping a lot of troops into a particular area (a town, a village, a neighborhood, whatever), clearing it of insurgents (i.e., killing or capturing them), and leaving behind enough troops or police to maintain order so that reconstruction can take place—while other troops move on to clear, hold, and build in the next troubled area on the list.
Petraeus and his co-authors discussed this strategy at great length in the Army's counterinsurgency field manual. One point they made is that it requires a lot of manpower—at minimum, 20 combat troops for every 1,000 people in the area's population. Baghdad has about 6 million people; so clearing, holding, and building it will require about 120,000 combat troops.
Right now, the United States has about 70,000 combat troops in all of Iraq (another 60,000 or so are support troops or headquarters personnel). Even an extra 20,000 would leave the force well short of the minimum required—and that's with every soldier and Marine in Iraq moved to Baghdad. Iraqi security forces would have to make up the deficit.