Plan for troop 'surge' in Iraq gathers force
President Bush plans to lay out his Iraq strategy this week – and could opt for a modest increase of US forces.
Advocates of a "surge" of US troops in Iraq hope to persuade President Bush that the victory he seeks there is only possible with a substantial and prolonged escalation of the US presence.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The new congressional Democratic leadership, on the other hand, is calling on Mr. Bush to resist the idea. Yet the president may not satisfy either the "large and long surge" or the "no surge" camp when he unveils his plans in a speech to the American public, likely to occur Wednesday night. Speculation has grown as Bush has consulted widely and reshuffled his Iraq diplomatic and military teams that he could opt for a modest increase – no more than 20,000 troops.
Critics say that would simply repeat past tactics that have not delivered, while advocates of a big surge say it could be worse than nothing, only exposing more US troops to danger without providing the larger numbers they say are needed to get the job done of securing the civilian population.
"We must not low-ball this," says Frederick Kagan, a military historian at Washington's American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and a prominent proponent of a "large and long" US military increase. Insisting Iraq will be costly and bloody for the United States no matter what policy is chosen, he adds, "We can pay the price and win, or pay a similar price and lose."
Nearly two months after the Iraq Study Group dismissed any rise in US troops, advocates of military escalation are calling for an increase of up to 40,000 troops over the current 140,000 on the ground. The goal would be to secure Baghdad with a large American footprint long enough to allow economic development to take hold, and to defeat insurgents in the western Al-Anbar Province.
The strategy is supported by two prominent senators – longtime troop-increase advocate John McCain and Joseph Lieberman – and Washington neoconservatives. Other senators say they could support a small increase lasting a few months. Still others condemn the idea, including Republican Chuck Hagel, who calls it "folly."
Supporters say it would finally call on the US military to do something it should have done from the beginning. "The US military has never set the task for itself of providing security," says Mr. Kagan. What he advocates "is not simply a surge of troops," he says, "but a change of mission."
The major shift in mission that Bush is expected to announce is for US soldiers to take on the task of providing security to Iraqi civilians, primarily in Baghdad, instead of leaving that to the Iraqis. "What's being prepared is actually a drastic departure" from recent strategy, says Paul Hughes, a former Army colonel who served in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Bush has made it increasingly clear that he is committed to achieving "victory" in Iraq. He has announced a number of diplomatic and military moves in recent days suggesting that he is lining up his team for what he sees as the defining foreign- policy effort of his last two years in office.
First, director of national intelligence John Negroponte, a seasoned diplomat and former ambassador to postwar Iraq, was moved back to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The president's new Iraq policy is expected to include a substantial new reconstruction program involving small teams of State Department officials working among Iraqis, and Mr. Negroponte is seen as a boon to its successful implementation.