March of Folly
At the risk of stating the semi-obvious, George W. Bush's decision to go on national television tomorrow night and announce a plan to deploy 20,000 more U.S. troops in a long-term operation to "secure" Baghdad and some Sunni territory as well, is as mystifying as anything "the decider" has done in the course of his mystifying presidency.
Hardly anyone thinks this deployment will work, even within the Pentagon and the White House, as the vast number of blind quotes in the news media questioning the decision makes clear. (Fred Kaplan's exhaustive review of the operational implausibility of the Bush plan is definitely worth reading). It's also clear the Maliki government, on whose willingness to fully commit Iraqi forces the slim chances of the whole enterprise rest, is being dragged kicking and screaming into line with Washington's edict. And that's hardly a surprise, since "clearing" Baghdad of "terrorists" or "extremists" or whatever Bush chooses to call them, will inevitably involve armed clashes with the Mahdi Army, one of the pillars of Maliki's political base.
Even fans of the idea of deploying more troops typically think the troop levels Bush is talking about will be insufficient to make a difference, other than convincing Iraqis that we'll never, ever leave. And then there's the little matter of Bush's willingness to give American public opinion a big middle finger; as new polls indicate, despite relatively strong (if probably temporary) Repubublican rank-and-file support for the escalation, it's anathema to the coalition of Democrats and independents that flipped Congress in November.
The big symbolic factor in Bush's decision is supposedly this: he's finally abandoned the old stay-the-course rap, even if he doesn't acknowledge the shift tomorrow night. But the strange timing of the escalation strategy helps illustrate something about the administration's post-invasion Iraq policies that has often been obscured by the consistent happy-talk: they've repeatedly flip-flopped, but almost always far too late.
Think about it. Rumsfeld took us into Iraq absolutely determined not to conduct an occupation, assuming instead that he could turn over the country to Iraqi exile politicians. That determination barely outlasted the invasion itself. When chaos broke out, administration talking heads first welcomed the phenomenon as the natural exuberance of a liberated people, and savaged anyone who suggested an organized insurgency. When that claim became increasingly absurd, the Bushies described the insurgency as a temporary rear-guard action by Baathists with no real popular base. Then they shifted to a description of the newly-recognized insurgency as composed primarily of "foreign fighters" recruited by al-Qaeda (which, BTW, was thereby "pinned down" in the "flypaper" of Iraq, and couldn't conduct terrorism operations anywhere else, until they did). When the indigenous Sunni insurgency was finally acknowleged, the administration suggested its increasing ferocity was a sign of desparation. For many months, the president's men dismissed intra-Pentagon arguments for adoption of a counter-insurgency strategy. And they finally started talking about "clear, hold and build" strategies--and have now placed their chief advocate, Gen. David Petraus, in charge of the "new direction" in Iraq--when the conditions necessary for successful counter-insurgency have all but vanished.
What has united all these horribly belated "decisions," of course, has been the administration's remarkably consistent resistance to empirical evidence of failure and folly. And by that standard, there's nothing about the "new direction" that really breaks new ground. --