Bring It On!

George W. Bush & John McCain: A Tale Of Two Fools

June 23rd, 2007 | by Daniel DiRito |

Is it any wonder that George W. Bush has the lowest approval ratings since Richard Nixon? This President has pursued his vision of Iraq for over four years despite numerous signs and signals that it was an exercise in futility. His most recent stab at salvaging Iraq has been his highly touted surge…the addition of some 30,000 U.S. soldiers…and it too, is beginning to look like a miscalculation.

With the surge fully implemented, once again we are hearing that the troop level may not be sufficient to bring stability to the war torn country and that it is likely that the sectarian and insurgent violence will simply shift to regions of the country that are not secure…a la the notorious game of whack-a-mole we’ve been playing since the outset.

As the U.S. offensive, code-named Phantom Thunder, has been greeted with a week of intensified fighting in areas outside the capital — areas that the U.S. military has largely left untouched for as long as three years — the push raised fears from security experts and officers in the field that the new attacks might simply propel the enemy from one area to another where there are not as many U.S. troops.

Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who in 2003 was among the first to call public attention to the relatively small size of the U.S. invasion force, said that the new operation shows how outnumbered U.S. troops remain. “Why would we think that a temporary presence of 30,000 additional combat troops in a giant city would change the dynamics of a bitter civil war?” he said in an interview yesterday. “It’s a fool’s errand.”

An officer working in Arrowhead Ripper, the subsidiary offensive in Diyala province, said wearily, “We just do not have the forces in country right now to have the appropriate level of presence across the country.”

Many counterinsurgency experts agree. Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., the director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a national security think tank, said flatly that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, does not have enough troops. “I suspect General Petraeus is taking a risk here, but that’s what commanders do,” he said.

I keep coming back to the original assessment by General Shinseki, the general who was forced into early retirement after arguing that it would take 300,000 U.S. troops to bring security and keep the peace after the toppling of the Hussein government. At what point are we going to admit that it would still take something closely approaching that number to achieve our goal of securing the country?

Senator McCain, one of the last staunch supporters of the president’s Iraq war, has time and again admitted that we made a number of mistakes in the early stages of the war…yet he seems to be suggesting that we’ve ceased making those same mistakes. I believe Senator McCain was the first person to use the term whack-a-mole when describing our undermanned effort…yet he now contends that the surge is the right thing…despite evidence that there will not be enough troops to secure and hold the peace. Is it any wonder that McCain’s campaign is struggling?

There is a tendency to presume that voters don’t take the time to understand the nuances of any particular problem and that Iraq is simply one of those problems. I would argue that the voting public has understood the issues in Iraq for far longer than they have been given credit…and their waning support for Senator McCain simply represents their recognition of his inconsistent and insufficient analysis of the Iraq war…and his sellout to win the President’s favor.

The issue of the number of troops has dogged the Bush administration and its generals since before the war began. Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, told Gen. Tommy R. Franks in September 2002 — seven months before the U.S. invasion — there were not enough troops in the war plan. Most famously, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army’s chief of staff, told a congressional hearing a month before the assault that the plan did not call for a sufficiently large occupation force.

“I believe we have enough U.S. troops for this specific operation,” said a U.S. military strategist there, referring to Phantom Thunder. “I do not believe we’ve ever had enough troops to do all of the tasks we should be doing in Iraq.”

One of Petraeus’s nerviest gambles is that enemy fighters will not be able to move and disrupt other areas. The biggest concern for U.S. commanders is the big northern city of Mosul, where insurgents counterattacked the last time the U.S. military conducted an operation this size, in November 2004. That is especially worrisome because the United States now has only one battalion of about 1,000 troops stationed there, far fewer than were there then.

“For the control and retain phases, we will need reliable Iraqi security forces in sufficient numbers,” said Lt. Col. Douglas A. Ollivant, a senior Army planner in Baghdad. “There are clearly not yet enough reliable forces.”

Iraqi security forces are “the weak link,” said counterinsurgency expert Krepinevich. The Iraqi government is so factionalized that Iraqi forces remain largely ineffective, he explained: “This is the principal weak spot in our strategy — and I’m afraid it may be fatal.”

A senior commander in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that U.S. plans do not call for holding cleared areas.

Perhaps I’m dense, but the only thought that comes to mind when reading an analysis of this latest strategy is, “Been there, done that”. How many times are we going to go into an area, kill and capture some low level insurgents, hand the ongoing security effort over to the woeful Iraqi security forces, then watch the insurgency return again?

George Bush may be a man of conviction but he wouldn’t be the first man whose convictions made him nothing more than a stubborn fool. I’m not sure how far George Bush would go to avoid an admission of failure or a concession that others were right and that he and his neocon cronies were wrong…but it appears he’s nowhere near his limit…and he’s racking up the casualties to prove it.

John McCain used to present himself as a man of conviction (and I occasionally thought he was) until he decided he needed George Bush to anoint him to be his successor. Since that moment, John McCain has not only lost his standing as a man of conviction, he has proven that George Bush has no monopoly on foolishness…though Senator McCain appears to be the type of fool reserved for someone who sells out in hopes of a bigger prize. Regardless, I have to hand it to Senator McCain…he may have demonstrated that it’s possible to be a fool’s fool.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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