There’s No Winning Strategy for a Lost War

When Bush announced the new surge strategy back in January, I thought that it would be “temporarily successful” as Hitler’s Battle of the Bulge was in 1944. I was wrong — the surge has been a total, complete, and utter failure from beginning to end, just like the entire war.

The first sign of trouble was when the Bush administration and the military began touting early signs of success back in April. They said sectarian violence was down in Iraq thanks to Bush’s decision to throw 30,000 more troops into the meat-grinder, and they pointed to the 50 percent decline in the number of bodies dumped on the streets of Baghdad as proof. Of course, what they left out was that over the same time period the number of car bombings grew. “Oops.”

Now there’s even more proof that the surge has failed. In May, recorded civilian deaths reached 2,000, the highest since the beginning of the surge. (And who knows how many unrecorded deaths there are — the Ministry of the Interior which helps compile the stats is controlled by the Shia Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council [SIIC] which is responsible for the bulk of the sectarian killings in Baghdad). The Green Zone’s parliament was bombed in April, rockets and mortars attacks on the Zone have become common, and U.S. soldiers have been ordered not to walk alone in the Zone because they might be kidnapped. Now, a new internal assessment by the U.S. military of the surge shows that they have been able to “maintain physical influence over” only 146 of the 457 neighborhoods in the capital — a whopping 32 percent — despite the fact that almost all the surge troops are in place.

Bush’s “bold new strategy” to win the war never had a chance to succeed because it was based on a combination of delusion, wishful thinking, and desperation. The theory (insofar as there was one) was that if the U.S. could curb the sectarian violence in Baghdad, all the hardcore sectarian politicians the U.S. installed into power would put aside their sectarianism, sing kumbaya, give each other flowers, make nice, and create a stable puppet government that would recognize Israel and allow the U.S. pull its combat troops out while keeping a garrison of tens of thousands there permanently. Such a large military presence in the heart of the Middle East would allow the U.S. to blackmail competitors like Russia and China by threatening to cut off their oil supply and at the same time threaten Iran and Syria militarily.

According to the Army’s counter-insurgency doctrine written by General David Petraeus, the man in charge of executing the surge, the U.S. needs a minimum of 120,000 combat troops in Baghdad to wrest control of its neighborhoods away from the Sunni resistance and the Mehdi Army, the anti-occupation Shi’ite militia led by Muqtada al-Sadr. Prior to the surge there were 52,000 combat troops in all of Iraq. So even if the U.S. sent all the troops it has in Iraq to Baghdad as well as the 30,000 surge troops on top of that it would still be unable to control the city!

The bottom line is that the U.S. cannot win in Iraq. The British Ministry of Defence did a poll in 2005 that showed 65 percent of Iraqis (that’s 18.2 million people) think attacks on U.S. and British forces are justified.

The basic problem for the U.S. is that there are no social forces in Iraq that want Iraq to be an American satellite. Al-Sadr and the Sunni resistance, which combined probably have more popular support than all of the collaborators in the Green Zone government put together, want the U.S. out ASAP. Among the forces in the Green Zone government, the Kurdish parties want autonomy and their share of oil revenue; the Sunni parties want an end to the occupation, a share of the oil money, and some control over the state apparatus; the SIIC has only collaborates with the U.S. to stay in power. None of them are particularly interested in a permanent U.S. occupation. Furthermore, the Iraqi police and army units that the U.S. created, armed, and trained are merely Shia militias with uniforms and legal authority whose members are routinely caught planting the deadly roadside bombs that have killed so many of our hapless soldiers.

Even the ever-in-denial-because-we’re-making-progress-and-victory-is-around-the-corner-if-only-the-Democrats-stopped-coddling-terrorists Bush administration is beginning to realize that there’s no winning strategy for a lost war, with the exception of Dick Cheney who is still babbling about victory. Bush, whose approval rating now matches his I.Q., has said that after the surge he would implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), whose report was published shortly after the Republicans got their long-overdue thumpin’ at the polls last year. Although Bush probably did not bother to read it (the words “Study Group” probably killed what little interest he had), its recommendations were: talk nice to Syria and Iran, step up the training of Iraqi military and police units (apparently the Iraqis blowing up our soldiers need should be doing a much better job), withdraw combat troops, and let the remaining troops hunker down in the four permanent mega-bases under construction.

If Bush does all of the above, it would be the smartest thing he has done in a long, long time. The surge is going to end at some point in 2008 because it is not working and because it is militarily unsustainable.

Bringing the troops home from Iraq is what Americans overwhelmingly voted for in the last mid-term election. Implementing the ISG’s recommendations would allow Bush to take credit for something that he was initially hostile to. More importantly, doing so would deprive the Democrats of the ability to criticize his Iraq policy because he would be implementing theirs. (Leading Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama have endorsed the ISG’s recommendations to pull combat troops out of Iraq while maintaining a permanent garrison there. Not one of them spoke out against the administration’s comparison of U.S. presence in Iraq to South Korea, where tens of thousands of U.S. troops have been stationed for over fifty years.)

Bringing some troops home in 2008 would help the G.O.P. a lot with the Iraq problem that cost them so dearly at the polls in 2006. Bush could claim that he was obeying the will of the voters while the Dems would not be able to slam him for stubbornly staying the course. If this redeployment occurs, it would mean the American ruling class has given up on the original aims of the war: complete and total domination over Iraq, the creation of a thoroughly pro-U.S. regime, and a permanent military presence. Instead, they would opt for the ISG’s Plan B: a permanent military presence tacitly tolerated by a semi-independent Iraqi government.

While this would be a step forward for the Iraqis and the U.S. antiwar movement, it would by no means be the end of the war or the end of the fight to get our troops out of Iraq.

Pham Binh is an activist and recent graduate of Hunter College in NYC. His articles have been published at Znet, Asia Times Online, Dissident Voice, and Monthly Review Online. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Pham, or visit Pham's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Jon Koppenhoefer said on June 6th, 2007 at 3:57pm #

    I’m not surprised that much of the administration’s public statements don’t make much sense; I’m convinced that none of the primary actors are as stupid as they seem.

    What bothers me is the lack of public comment on what Bush and Co. must have in mind for the future relationship of the US and Iraq. It would seem–by now–that they will establish Iraq as a garrison state, an outpost, to protect Western access to non-Saudi petroleum deposits.

    When they are done with Iraq and Iran, attention will be paid to South America, and, of course, Venezuela.

    Or am I completely naive?

  2. g Anton said on June 6th, 2007 at 9:03pm #

    I hate incompetence! I think the above article is correct in that the occupation of Iraq is doomed to failure, but at least they (Bush, et al) could do a better job of controlling the news. As the old saying goes, “Figures don’t lie, but liars do figure”. Their attempt at making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is laughable.

  3. Empiricist said on June 6th, 2007 at 9:41pm #

    Let’s face it, the American people can share in the blame too. We allowed Bush to win reelection knowing the core reasons he had given to launch the invasion of Iraq were false, and they continue!

  4. Leyla said on June 7th, 2007 at 12:40am #

    They are also creating a new nation called Kurdistan in the region, just to cause more confusion in the area. Because having just Israel in the region is not enough. The new government in Kurdistan is also a puppet government but the Kurds are so grateful to the Americans that they are very willingly accepting anything. How their neighbors going to take it is a very different story.

  5. RLaing said on June 7th, 2007 at 4:29pm #

    Re: Kurdistan

    How are their neighbors going to take it? The Turks will sooner or later invade to stop it, and by now the U.S. will betray the Kurds out of sheer conditioned reflex.

  6. RLaing said on June 7th, 2007 at 4:37pm #

    To know whether or not the surge is succeeding, we need to know the actual goals of it, those held by the policital elites that arranged for it. I doubt very much that a reduction in civilian casualties was among them, whatever the rhetoric.

  7. Binh said on June 7th, 2007 at 6:25pm #

    RLaing: I addressed the U.S.’s main goals in an earlier article “Bush’s Surge Fails Before It Starts” which can be found here:

  8. Davol said on June 8th, 2007 at 1:44pm #

    The problem with fighting a war with lies is that it tends to deny reality thus making reality the undefeatable opponent. It goes from telling lies about weapons of mass destruction, and complicity to 9/11 in order to start the war, all the way to the folly of calling the Iraqi resistance an “insurgency”. The truth is that it can’t possibly be this hard to give a country back to its own people. The war’s goals of shoving privatization scams down the Iraqi’s throats that have so far failed to fly in our democratic land, a mercenary army growing stronger while our military is being crippled by the war’s mismanagement, not to mention no-bid contractors who exclude Iraqis from the rebuilding, and thinly veiled torture policies, have proven counter-productive and futile. A surge would have been helpful in the initial invasion, but now it’s only purpose is to postpone the inevitable withdrawal. Truth is Bush and his creepy crew have done too much already to loose this war, and delaying the war’s end is only letting him get away with his war crime. This is why we were taught back in Social Studies 101 that invasions of sovereign nations for unjustified reasons that amount to deliberate lies was a war crime. Now we know.

  9. Dissident Voice : Bush Digs In as NYT Says Get Out said on July 11th, 2007 at 5:01am #

    […] in Iraq. Essentially, the Times is calling for a phased re-deployment of troops which won’t end the war in […]