The small surge

Does Bush have a plan for victory -- or just for avoiding a final defeat on his watch?

By Tim Grieve
Published January 5, 2007 2:38PM (EST)

In the latest iteration of the new "way forward" to leak out of the Bush administration, the president will send as many as 20,000 additional troops to Iraq rather than the 40,000 that had been floated in some earlier reports on the "surge." While such a scaling back would be good news for the 20,000 troops who won't be going, does the new plan -- if it is, in fact, the plan -- strike anyone else as another war-on-the-cheap half-measure?

We're not military strategists, and we understand that there are some careful calibrations to be made here. But either the war in Iraq is the central front in the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century" or it isn't. If it is -- and if there's a chance of winning it -- doesn't it make sense to flood the zone with every last resource we can muster? Raise taxes to pay for the war effort, reinstate the draft and send every last soldier we can muster to win a decisive, "shock and awe" sort of victory that will wrap up the battle of Iraq in short order and send an unmistakable message to the rest of the world.

And if it isn't? That is, if the war in Iraq isn't really the central front in the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," or if it is but can't be won anyway, then how can you justify maintaining current troop levels there, let alone sending 20,000 more troops to fight in a cause that is either A) not important enough to fight big, or B) not winnable even if you do?

A Bush administration official acknowledged earlier this week that the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq is, as NBC's Jim Miklaszewski put it, "more of a political decision than a military one because the American people have run out of patience and President Bush is running out of time to achieve some kind of success in Iraq."

So, too, it seems, is the 20,000 vs. 40,000 decision -- a kissing-your-sister compromise that sounds like a new plan but isn't really different enough to change the course of the war. Joe Biden, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, probably has it right on this one: "I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost," Biden tells the Washington Post. In Biden's view, Bush is simply trying to keep Iraq "from totally collapsing" on his watch so he can "hand it off to the next guy" and avoid being the "the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof."

That said, Biden is no stranger to half-measures himself. He'll hold hearings on Iraq, but he says there's "nothing a United States Senate can do to stop a president from conducting his war." That's not true. Congress could cut off funding for the war. Congress could impeach the president. Just because it won't doesn't mean that it can't. Either these things are important, or they're not. It's time for the White House and the Congress to decide which is which.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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