Biggest escalation of war
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since U.S. invasion of Iraq
Well over 20,000 additional troops to be deployed
Behind partisan rhetoric, bipartisan support for war is firm
U.S. troops during December 24 firefight in New Baghdad, eastern part of Iraqi capital.
BY SAM MANUEL
AND JACOB PERASSO
WASHINGTON, January 10In a nationally televised speech from the White House tonight, U.S. president George Bush announced the biggest escalation of the imperialist war in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Bush said the Pentagon, beginning this week, is deploying more than 20,000 additional troops to Baghdad and nearby Anbar province, bringing the number of U.S. forces in the country to 160,000. The goal of the escalation, Bush said, is to assure victory for Washington and its allies in the conflict in Iraq, the outcome of which "will determine the direction of the global war on terror and our safety here at home."
Despite partisan rhetoric of "opposition" to the escalation, statements by top Democratic Party politicians indicated that bipartisan support for the imperialist war aims remains firm.
Prior to Bush's speech, Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the plan the president was expected to announce a "tragic mistake." But the senator also "contended Congress was constitutionally powerless to second-guess Bush's military strategy because lawmakers had voted to authorize the commander in chief to wage war," reported the January 8 Washington Post.
"As a practical matter, there's no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop,'" Biden said.
In the televised Democratic response that followed the president's speech, Sen. Richard Durbin said, "We remain committed on a bipartisan basis to providing our soldiers every resource they need to fight effectively and come home safely. But it's time to begin the orderly redeployment of our troops so they can begin coming home soon."
Responding to questions by reporters after his remarks, Durbin reiterated Biden's claim that the Democratic majority in Congress has its hands tied. "A commander in chief has extraordinary authority to move troops to certain places in the world, and the president's going to use that authority," he said.
The "new strategy" Bush described had been largely outlined in a study by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank. It was authored by Frederick Kagan, an AEI military analyst, working with Jack Keane, a retired U.S. Army general and de facto operational advisor of the Bush administration. Kagan and Keane coauthored a number of articles and opinion columns arguing for the plan in recent weeks.
The day before Bush's speech, U.S. and Iraqi forces completed a highly publicized trial run of operations to come, battling "hundreds of Sunni Arab insurgents … in one of the fiercest clashes in the capital in recent memory," the Washington Post reported January 10. U.S. fighter jets "strafed rooftops with cannons while the Apaches [attack helicopters] fired Hellfire missiles" in a downtown Baghdad neighborhood.
"It was a day to remember," Capt. Robert Callaghan said, according to the Post.
U.S. naval buildup in Gulf
In addition to the influx of troops, which will be largely drawn from five National Guard combat brigades and two Marine battalions, Bush said, "I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region."
The buildup of U.S. naval forces in the Arab-Persian Gulf has been going on since late last year. The Pentagon is now sending a second aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, and its escort ships to the Gulf, reported the January 3 Defense News, "as a warning to Syria and Iran and to give commanders more flexibility in the region."
Washington's success in Iraq "requires defending its territorial integrity," Bush said, and this "begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
Bush said governments in the region had a stake in backing the U.S.-led war. "Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremistsand a strategic threat to their survival," he stated.
The Stennis group will join the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which entered the Gulf in December. Each carrier is accompanied by a half-dozen warships, including destroyers, cruisers, and attack submarines, carrying fighter jets, bombers, and guided missiles.
The Stennis will bring the number of sailors on ships in the Gulf to 16,000. There are now about 45 warships in the Gulf and across the region from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, a third of them from "coalition" forces, which this month includes Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Pakistan.
In the month leading up to his speech, Bush chose new military commanders for Iraq and the region, as well as other key personnel, such as the ambassadors to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United Nations, to implement the White House plan.
Admiral William Fallon is replacing Gen. John Abizaid as head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which supervises the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fallon commanded a carrier wing in the 1991 Iraq war, led a naval battle group in NATO operations in Bosnia, and currently commands all U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is replacing Gen. George Casey as the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Petraeus had previously been a division commander in Iraq for more than two years. He headed operations of the 101 Airborne division in Najaf, Karbala, and Hilla and its occupation of Mosul, a former stronghold of Saddam Hussein's Baath party. Posted in Kansas since 2005, he recently completed the Pentagon's new counterinsurgency manual.
Not 'surge' but long-term operation
Many politicians and much of the media have described the increase in troops Bush announced as a "temporary surge." Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, however, the new U.S. operational commander in Iraq, said the war might last another "two to three years" with the increased level of troops, according to the January 8 New York Times.
There are indications that the Pentagon plans to take advantage of widespread outrage in Iraq and worldwide at the vigilante-style execution of Saddam Hussein, in which supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr were prominently involved, to target such groups. Al-Sadr leads a Shiite militia that operates in and outside the Iraqi government and has a record of murdering opponents and Sunni civilians, much like Sunni-led death squads are doing. Al-Sadr's forces are one of the bases of support of Iraqi prime minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki.
Strategic Forecasting, a U.S. private intelligence service, said January 10 that the troops sent to Baghdad will "focus on the Shiite militiasparticularly that of Muqtada al-Sadrthat represent the most serious challenge to a political settlement."
In his speech Bush said that soon after the 2005 Iraqi elections "al-Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents…. blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islamthe Golden Mosque of Samarrain a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today."
According to figures released January 7 by the Iraqi health ministry, nearly 23,000 Iraqis were killed in the war last year17,000 in the second half of 2006.
Over the last year "there were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents" in Baghdad, Bush said. "And there were too many restrictions [placed by the Iraqi government] on the troops we did have." Now, however, he said, U.S. and Iraqi forces "will have a green light to enter" neighborhoods where al-Sadr's forces operate.
In addition to the Baghdad reinforcement, some 4,000 of the additional U.S. troops will be deployed to Anbar province to target al-Qaeda operatives and their allies, the U.S. president announced.
Bush's plan includes steps to prevent religious and national divisions from tearing apart prospects for a stable regime in Iraq friendly to U.S. interests in the region. These measures include provincial elections to give Sunnis more control in regions they dominate, strengthening autonomy for the Kurds, and ensuring what Washington calls the sharing of oil revenues by Shiite, Kurdish, and Sunni authorities. It also calls for the Iraqi government to relax the policy of "de-Baathfication" the exclusion of former Baath party members, the vast majority of them Sunnis, from the government and many civil service positions.
In his speech, Bush also promised further "economic assistance" for Iraq that is supposed to result in "visible improvements in neighborhoods and communities," more jobs, and greater "Iraqi self reliance."
No alternative in ruling class
No influential voice in the ruling class has presented any serious alternative to the White House plan.
Top Democrats said before Bush's speech they would hold a "symbolic" vote to express opposition to an increase in troops. Some have threatened action to cut funding for the new deployment, such as Sen. Edward Kennedy, who introduced a bill that would require the president to seek congressional authorization before sending more troops.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted that cutting funding for the war might be considered. But this is something the Democrats did not even do late in the Vietnam War.
Such "opposition" is already fizzling.
"We have to be very careful about blocking funding for any troops because we don't want to leave our troops short-changed," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, Democrat from Louisiana.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota, said, "I don't think we should be pulling back any funds."
In an indication of the Democrats' long-standing support for the war, Sen. Durbin claimed today in his rebuttal to the president's speech that "we have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own government. We Americans and a few allies have protected Iraq when no one else would."
In a January 9 editorial, the New York Times called for concentrating "enough forces in Baghdad to bring some security to streets and neighborhoods, giving Iraq's leaders one last opportunity to try to bargain their way out of civil war." The liberal daily also warned Democrats to "resist euphemistic formulas like 'phased redeployment,' which really means trying to achieve with even fewer troops what Washington failed to achieve with current force levels."
Critics of the White House plan say the military is too stretched to maintain such high force levels. In recent press interviews and again in his speech tonight, Bush said the size of the armed forces will be increased, a step strongly backed by the Democrats. There are currently 507,000 active-duty Army soldiersdown from some 800,000 at the time of the 1991 Gulf War, and 1.6 million during the Vietnam Warand 180,000 active-duty Marines.
In concluding his speech, Bush said a "phased withdrawal of our combat forces" now, which some Democrats advocate, "would force a collapse of the Iraqi government [and] tear that country apart." He challenged politicians criticizing his road map "to explain how the path they propose would be more likely to succeed." And he announced that he is acting on the advice of Sen. Joseph Lieberman and other members of Congress to form "a bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror."
Sam Manuel reported from Washington and Jacob Perasso from New York.
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