My turn: Surge or denial: Contradictions between president's war strategy and follow-through

Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2007

President Bush calls it a surge. Some in Congress and the majority of Americans oppose this new strategy, seen as an escalation of the war. Left out of the debate of names is the critique of the effort to train Iraqis to take over the duty of protecting their nation so our troops can come home.

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Back in June 2005 the president told us "our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own. Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" ("As Iraqis Stand Up, We Will Stand Down," Bush Tells Nation, by John D. Banusiewicz, American Forces Press Service, June 28, 2005).

During the 2004 presidential debates, Bush boasted there were 100,000 Iraqis already trained. This past December, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey predicted that the "Iraqi security forces will reach their goal of 325,000 trained and equipped members" by the end of 2006 ("Dempsey: Iraqi forces will improve dramatically," by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service, Dec. 20, 2006).

By these reports of progress we might imagine that our allies in Iraq have increased dramatically and that the President's objectives have been met. So why aren't there 21,000 reliable Iraqi troops for this "surge" to secure Baghdad and the western provinces?

One of the ways we should be able to analyze this question is to look into the funds budgeted for that strategy. For a rather clear and straightforward-sounding objective, the dollars invested directly in training and equipping the Iraqi security forces is also a measure of how America's soldiers on the ground are being supported. After all, this program needed to be successful for our men and women to come home.

According to the Iraq Study Group report that Bush has essentially ignored, the Iraqi security forces aren't capable of performing their missions because our government "has resisted fully funding Iraqi forces. The entire appropriation for Iraqi defense forces for FY 2006 ($3 billion) is less than the United States currently spends in Iraq every two weeks. ... They [Iraqis] lack the ability to sustain their operations, the capability to transport supplies and troops, and the capacity to provide their own indirect fire support, close-air support, technical intelligence and medical evacuation."

The Bush administration has put forth every budget request that Congress has approved. Certainly they should have made sure that the appropriations were sufficient. The stark contradiction between declaring a primary strategy and failing to fully fund it should open the door to many serious questions. Are there really 325,000 fully trained Iraqi troops?

This administration is not the first to champion secrecy while ignoring dissenting voices. If we consider the significance of the Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the news media in 1971, it's readily apparent that the willingness to mislead Americans during a time of war has no allegiance to either political party.

So it's imperative that we rigorously question the president's past performance. The Iraq Study Group report exposes some of the most compelling evidence that the Bush administration hasn't been honest with us about the progress of the war. This bipartisan effort led by James Baker, a highly trusted confidant of the president's father, should be part of the barometer that Americans use in determining whether or not we support the so-called surge and the continued occupation of Iraq.

As our troops face the growing violence in Iraq, it is the facts on the ground that we need to fully understand. Yet it appears the reality there has either been repressed by commanders in Iraq or manipulated at higher levels. The Iraq Study Group claims that "there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. ... Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."

Is the Pentagon also embellishing the success rate of training the Iraqi security forces for the sake of policy objectives? This question may come from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the details of what that mission was truly about. But not to ask it is to trust a President who seems to be following patterns of those during the Vietnam War.

Lyndon Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin attacks that never happened to escalate that conflict. Richard Nixon secretly bombed Cambodia. Those decisions contributed into the loss of 58,000 American soldiers. America failed in Vietnam first by denying it wasn't winnable. Deception and denial aren't sound strategies in Iraq either. It's time to stop funding failure.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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