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To Surge or Not to Surge | The Nation

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To Surge or Not to Surge

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Keith White

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“We are in the classic fog of war,” says Stephen Cohen.

Friday January 5, 2007

Antiwar protesters greeted Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) Friday at a Washington, D.C. event unveiling their support for a surge in U.S. troop numbers in Iraq.

The protest outside the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was organized by the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org, which labeled it a "Peaceful Picket to Say 'No Iraq Escalation.'" Approximately 75-100 protesters rallied against calls by Lieberman and McCain--long-time Iraq War supporters--for more U.S. troops in Iraq.

To Surge or Not to Surge"I am not sure if this is going to achieve anything," protester Matt Kawar, 27, said, noting "some of the people in there are pretty die-hard warmongers." While unsure if the demonstration would change any minds, he continued, "I wouldn't feel right about myself if I didn't do something to try."

Meanwhile, inside and upstairs from the protesters' chants, AEI held its two-session event on the future of America's Iraq mission. AEI senior fellow and military historian Frederick W. Kagan and retired Army General Jack Keane headlined the first panel, discussing the AEI report Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq. Written by Kagan, it calls for an 18-month troop surge in Baghdad, declaring, "[F]ailure in Iraq will require far greater sacrifices tomorrow in far more desperate circumstances."

Kagan was confident that "forces exist to execute the plan," while cautioning that success "isn't going to happen quickly" and Americans should prepare "for a bloody year," regardless of what course America takes.

Senators McCain and Lieberman, returning from a recent trip to Iraq, endorsed the report and urged the Bush administration to follow its recommendations.

Lieberman heralded the AEI report, saying it "will lead us to victory in Iraq and victory in the larger war on terrorism."

McCain agreed, insisting the Bush administration not make any potential troop surge too brief. "The troops surge should be significant and sustained, if not don't do it," McCain said.

McCain and Lieberman both placed Iraq in the context of the United States' greater war on extremist terrorism, regarding Iraq's sectarian violence as the result of terrorist instigation. They also said any American phased withdrawal, such as that advocated by the Iraq Study Group, would hand a huge success to Islamic terrorists while also dealing a body blow to moderate Muslims in the region.

Critics of a troop surge in Iraq have raised doubts about its effectiveness and the ability of our military to deploy further troops to the region.

"What is their plan B?" McCain responded, adding the "only thing worse than an overstretched military [is] a defeated and broken one."

Lieberman opposed any attempt by Congress to refuse funding a troop surge."I think it's time for the president to be president and for Congress to respect [his role]...as commander-in-chief," he said.

Such sentiments, regardless of their warm reception by the audience, were strongly opposed by protesters 12 stories below.

Daniel Meltzer, 22, likened America's role in Iraq to a car wreck. "It's like we've hit the Iraqi people in our car, and we're sitting on top of them and they are bleeding out," he said. "They are not going to survive if we continue to leave our car on top of them. If we drive off of them, yeah, it's going to hurt. However the damage has already been done. It's all going to get worse."

"Go to Iraq and see if it looks like they are succeeding now," 16 year-old Emma Olsen suggested, pointing to widespread disillusionment with America's mission in Iraq.

But Olsen also voiced a weakness of the anti-war movement, adding, "there should be a lot more youth involvement. ... I haven't seen that many young people here today."

Meltzer saw student apathy as the result of poor political leadership. "The problem is not that students and youth are not against the war," Meltzer contended, but "that they see fault with the Democratic Party ... because they feel they have been sold out by the party one too many times."

But Alexis LeFevre, 27, doubted the Bush administration would seek alternatives to a surge of U.S. troops. "Bush is delusional. He doesn't care if he has zero percent approval," she said, adding, "He's going to do whatever he wants anyway."

Regardless of their differences, the speakers at AEI and the protesters shared a profound worry over America's future in Iraq. Protesters doubted any real ability to alter President Bush's final decision on Iraq. On the other hand, the pro-surge speakers rested hopes for success in Iraq on prudent policies from a distrusted Bush administration and the support of a skeptical American public.

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