Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Manifest Destiny or a Security Manifest

On January 23rd, George Bush delivered his sixth State of the Union address to the Congress and the U.S. public. As forecast, Bush put domestic issues first rather than, as in earlier years, foreign policy. Considering the shambles that now pass for U.S. foreign policy, this change, however politic here at home, cannot be sustained abroad. The world, once on our doorstep, is now in every room of the house. Globalization is too entrenched to be halted, let alone reversed, by any administration or nation. That leaves “adjustment,” an act seemingly unknown and certainly little practiced by this president.

For instance, on January 10th Bush attempted (and failed) to persuade a significant number of congressional Republicans and the public that his “new strategy” for “victory” in Iraq is both new and a strategy. Some analysts believe Bush painted himself into a corner, that he has so narrowed his options that, short of retreating or bombing Iraq back to the Stone Age, whatever ability he might have had to direct events is gone – or in Rumsfeld-speak, “things happen.”

A hundred-plus years ago, presidents “made” things happen globally. Manifest Destiny had gone global despite congressional objection. Teddy Roosevelt sent the U.S. fleet around the world knowing the Navy didn’t have money to pay fuel costs of the voyage. Roosevelt calculated – correctly – that Congress would not dare refuse “to support the troops.”

Globalization for George Bush is less about destiny than security – in his view, war overseas precludes war at home; inspect cargos overseas so mass destruction happens there, not here; put troops on the borders and bugs on telephones. Yes, “things happen,” but the U.S. war in Iraq need not have happened – either to Iraqis, to Americans, and to any who died because of this war.

Consider the spike in U.S. fatalities the weekend before the State of the Union: twenty-seven dead, including five killed by gunmen dressed in U.S. military uniforms driving U.S.-style vehicles and acting just like a U.S. military convoy that expects Iraqis to clear out of the way. This follows a ten-hour sustained shootout between suspected Sunni insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi security forces just a few blocks outside the Green Zone. These events speak to increasingly sophisticated analysis by insurgents of U.S. practices and battle tactics that go well beyond determining where to bury improvised explosive devices along roads or leave bombs in outdoor markets or near universities.

Bush is not the only hostage to fortune. The new military “team” named to run the war in Iraq will be under pressure to translate revised and revitalized warfighting theory into on-the-ground “success.” But much will depend on whether Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki commits additional Iraqi security troops and these troops act evenhandedly. If not, Iraqi society may disintegrate so far that it will be unable to hold together, trapping U.S. forces until a new administration comes to power – or Congress acts to force withdrawal.

Al-Maliki has said by November his troops would take the lead on all military operations in Iraq. The White House undoubtedly would welcome such a “benchmark” as vindication of its new strategy. The catch is the Iraqi demand that the Pentagon expeditiously transfer heavy armaments – tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft – to the Iraqi army, equipment that U.S. troops in or going to Iraq also need.

Maybe that’s the key: in the context of the Baker-Hamilton proposed regional process, give Iraqis the equipment and fly the troops out. Iraqis want this. The American public wants this. Other Gulf allies want this – as long as U.S. forces are “over the horizon.”

As part of its war agenda, the administration has claimed the president exercises inherent, expansive executive power under the Constitution’s “commander-in-chief” clause that neither the Congress nor the courts can gainsay. After six years of constant warfare with no end in sight, the public understands that unaccountable government is manifestly unresponsive, undemocratic, and a threat to the security of our freedoms.

It’s time for Bush to adjust to the country, not the other way around.


Blogger rasphila said...

Very well put. I would add that, in order to stand a chance of success, the new warfighting theory requires far more troops than the "surge" or than any realistically available number of U.S. personnel. The "surge" is bound to lead to more U.S. and Iraqi casualties, especially with the increasing sophistication of the insurgents—with little or nothing to show for the expenditure of blood and treasure. As now, those who suffer the most will be Iraqi civilians.

My fear about a quick transfer to Iraqi forces is that the Maliki government has not shown that it can control its own partisans (especially al Sadr) or bring about a political settlement. But at this point, U.S. forces are—as they have been for a long time—just making matters worse. This makes quick transfer, or at least a timeline for withdrawal, the least bad among a series of bad options.

12:12 PM  

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