A Democratic Alternative in 2007?
The president’s plan to “surge” U.S. ground units in Iraq is “a fool’s errand.”
This was the tone of testimony by three of four retired generals when they testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 18. Nonetheless, in his State of the Union Speech five days later, President Bush announced that 21,500 more U.S. troops would be in Iraq in late April or May. Most of the increase, already underway, will be generated by units being held past their original date to rotate out or by units whose in-country date has been moved forward
The operational objective of the surge is a re-invigorated “clear, hold, build” approach. The main difference from past, similar efforts, according to military briefers, is that this time government troops will project not just a sense of but an actual, physically permanent central government presence in Baghdad’s neighborhoods. What residents should experience, the White House hopes, is dramatically improved physical security, more Iraqi police and army units in the neighborhood 24 hours a day every day, with U.S. back-up, particularly in the “clear” phase when the war planners expect more resistance than in the past.
There is much that administration spokespeople do not want to discuss about their “new strategy” (or is it simply their latest adjustment?). One challenge in this scheme is to ensure even-handed treatment and resolution of disputes by security personnel of one ethnic or sectarian identity working in a neighborhood containing residents of other ethnicities and creeds. The fact that every day men dressed in police and military uniforms driving official-looking SUVs kill and kidnap scores of Iraqis simply on the basis that the victims are “not like us.”
This past Monday, February 5, the White House sent its Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request to Congress. Within the Defense Budget, the Pentagon requested $1.1 billion for what it terms “critical military construction projects in direct support of deployed troops” – with the vast majority going to bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two U.S. occupied Iraqi airbases – Al Assad in western Anbar province and Balad north of Baghdad will get $318 million under the Bush request while another $650 million is to go to Bagram air base in Afghanistan. This base is the hub of U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
Now in a federal budget of $2.9 trillion and a Defense budget of $623 billion, $1.1 billion is miniscule – virtually invisible. But what’s important at this point is not so much the dollars but whether the budget accords with statements made to Congress by administration officials. In this regard, last month Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the House Armed Services Committee that there had not been any change to the Pentagon’s opposition to retaining permanent bases in Iraq. Even then, Gates apparently was unconvincing as Representative Barbara Lee reintroduced legislation barring the Pentagon from acquiring permanent bases in Iraq. With the budget out, and an apparent direct contradiction between Gates’ statement and the budget, Democrats and fiscal hawks of both parties ought to require an explanation. I’m sure there is one; it might even be a good one.
The last election in part was a demand by the public for government to be accountable. As the majority in both Houses of Congress, it is up to the Democrats to answer the public’s demand. One is. Representative Henry Waxman is holding hearings in an effort to find out how the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad managed to lose track of almost $12 billion dollars in cash.
As a final note, should the Democrats fail to respond to the demand for accountable government, there is always Sam Waterson’s on-line “Virtual Party” for 2008.