Scary, essential new reporting from Michael Hirsh of Newsweek:
Gen. David Petraeus's new "surge" plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good.
The previous general in Iraq, George Casey, was focusing on training Iraqi forces before he left his post, in a move designed to prep the country for an American departure. Under Casey's plan, reports Hirsh, "By 2008, the remaining 60,000 or so U.S. troops were supposed to be hunkering down in four giant 'superbases,' where they would be relatively safe." But under Petraeus's plan, the Army is setting up hundreds of "mini-forts" all over the country, right in the middle of some of the worst fighting. The idea that the Iraqis can take responsibility for their own security -- always a fallacy -- has been discarded. American servicemen and women are walking beats. The most dangerous beats in the world. "We're putting down roots," one former Army captain tells Hirsh.
This is the last thing Democrats -- who are trying to decide which way, not if, they are going end the war, both in Congress and if they were to take the White House in 2008 -- want to hear. Could the disconnect between what candidates are saying on the trail and what is happening on the ground in Iraq be any greater?
But ignore that for a second. It's like the 2006 elections never happened. In their rhetoric, members of the Administration acknowledge that politically, they can't get away with another long-term go at achieving stability in Iraq: the people have spoken, and they won't have it. For example, when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked at a congressional hearing how long the surge was expected to last, he said, "I think for most of us, in our minds, we're thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years."
But the fact of the matter is that Petraeus has gone ahead and implemented a long-term strategy that is useless if we cut it off in one year or even two. It doesn't pay dividends that quickly. Don't get me wrong: I see the value in what Petraeus is doing. It's the proper way to fight an insurgency. But really, it's the proper way to prevent an insurgency, and the well-intentioned Petraeus and his genius-club of advisors are at least two years late to the scene. (An aside: "Civil Affairs" teams are a little-known part of the military. They are commissioned to do what Petraeus has the whole Army doing, and if they had been used from the beginning of this war, we could have avoided this whole mess. For more, consider "Waging Peace" by veteran reporter Rob Schultheis. It's an excellent read and is totally relevant to discussions how wars like this one should be fought.)
In the end, I suspect this will prove the Powell Doctrine right yet again -- Bush's war in Iraq is one long, painful lesson on how right Powell was when he said that foreign wars should only be fought if we have a clearly defined objective and exit strategy, the support of the international community, and broad support amongst the American people. Before, we didn't have clearly defined objectives or an exit strategy. Now that we do, there is no support amongst the American people for what Petraeus is doing, and with Congress looking to redraw the 2002 war authorization in order to more narrowly define what American troops can be used for in Iraq... it looks like even this worthy new plan from a worthy new general is just another path that ends in failure.