When Mr. Bush decided to ignore the 2006 elections and the Iraq Study Group report and “surge” more troops into the quagmire of Iraq-Nam, the world was told to give it some time. That was more than 6 months ago. A couple of months into that bad decision, the world was told to wait until September when General Petraeus would make his report. Well, guess what, comrades? The hawks have decided September is too soon, and they have already started preparing the ground work to continue the war well beyond that, indeed until Mr. Bush leaves office.
It turns out that Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, who is more “blood and guts” than “hearts and minds,” needs 45 more days after the Petraeus Report, which is expected around September 15. Talking to Congress by videolink day or so ago, he said, “In order to do a good assessment I need at least until November.”
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, said that the armed forces must “be prepared for whatever it’s going to look like two months from now. That way, if we need to plus up [sic] or come down” in troop numbers, the contingency would have been examined. On the positive side, it’s nice someone involved in the war is at last doing contingency planning. However, if we’re going to “plus up” the troops (good luck finding any that aren’t busy), that means we’ll have to give this second surge even more time to work, after we have allowed the military more time to get them into place.
So, how long to the generals want? Major General Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division currently in Iraq, told Robert Burns of the AP, “It’s going to take through [this] summer, into the fall, to defeat the extremists in my battle space, and it’s going to take me into next spring and summer to generate this sustained security presence.” I’m not about to argue this timeline; I’m quite prepared to take the word of a combat general whose own boots are on the ground. Still, another year in Iraq-Nam?
No, it could be longer. Major General Walter Gaskin, head of US troops in Iraq-Nam’s western Anbar province, said he thought things were getting better there. “I see that experience happening every day, but I don’t see it happening overnight. I believe it’s another couple of years in order to get to that. And that’s not a political answer. That’s a military answer, and what it takes to train the young men and get the leadership that they need to be able to do what the army does.”
Here I will argue a bit. The US Marine Corps can take a high school graduate and turn him or her into a combat US Marine (probably the toughest sort of assault troops on the planet) in about 75 training days. It takes a bit longer to make an officer of him/her, but in a year, you’ve got someone who can do the job exceedingly well. The Iraq-Namese, of course, haven’t produced a unit in the last four years even with US training that is anywhere near as good as the USMC. But they don’t have to be as good as Marines; they just have to be better than the guys they are fighting – guys whose training amounts to a visiting a few websites and a handful of push-ups every now and then. That, however, is tangential to the point he’s making politically. He thinks a couple more years will get the job done. Not six months, not a year, but a couple of years.
Now, the problem the hawks have is the benchmarks. The Americans have set 18 benchmarks that the Green Zone government has to meet to continue getting US help. The interim report the White House gave last week noted progress on only 8. None was achieved. There is a genuine chance that they won’t get met by the time the Petraeus Report comes out. What to do if the benchmarks aren’t met? A rational person would say, the Green Zone government isn’t doing its part, so it’s time to reconsider the whole project.
That isn’t how the Busheviks see it. US ambassador to Iraq Chester Crocker told Congress in the same hearing in which General Odierno spoke, “The longer I am here, the more I am persuaded that progress in Iraq cannot be analyzed solely in terms of these discreet, precisely defined benchmarks because, in many cases, these benchmarks do not serve as reliable measures of everything that is important — Iraqi attitudes toward each other and their willingness to work toward political reconciliation.” Personally, I have no argument with that either. However, reading between the lines, it means, “hey, we aren’t going to make it on very many of the benchmarks we’ve set, so let’s forget them. Let’s stay in spite of the failure of our ‘allies’ to do their bit.”
Ambassador Crocker also said, “We are buying time at a cost of the lives of our soldiers.” Since the surge started on February 1, US troops have died at the rate of 3.44 a day. In 550 days, Mr. Bush leaves office, or another 1892 dead Americans if that’s how you want to keep track of time. The Iraq-Namese government remains prepared to fight to the last American.