In a sober address to the nation Wednesday night, President Bush confirmed his determination to surge the United States military deeper into the Iraq quagmire by sending roughly 21,500 more troops to that troubled land.
The president went even further than his critics feared he might, outlining a dangerous program of integrating U.S. and Iraqi military units – with U.S. trainers and strategists embedded in Iraqi units and U.S. brigades partnered with Iraqi brigades. And he signaled that he will implement his new approach before Congress has a chance to consider it. Indeed, the first new U.S. brigade is scheduled to hit the ground in Iraq Monday.
Bush confidently dismissed Congressional opposition, anticipating – correctly it turned out – that while Democratic leaders in the House and Senate would criticize the strategy, they would not move to block it by employing the power of the purse to cut off funding of moves to escalate the war.
Despite the muted Democratic response, the proposal advanced by the president in Wednesday evening's televised address to the nation will be rejected on its merits by serious-minded Americans, able military analysts and those members of Congress who take seriously their Constitutionally-mandated duty to check and balance a dangerous executive. And, predictably, these expressions of sincere opposition to a misguided strategy will be criticized by the Bush administration's amen corner.
The president's boosters will continue to claim that any challenge to his war-making authority amounts to, at best, hatred of America, and, at worst, playing politics with the lives of U.S. troops already on the ground in Iraq.
No Democratic criticism of the president's same-as-it-ever-was approach – be it from cautious leaders or bolder backbenchers -- will be accepted by those who have decided that their first loyalty is to the Bush administration rather than to the United States.
So it is only appropriate to turn for comment of the president's "surge" strategy to a Republican supporter of the war who has made eight trips to Iraq.
Suggesting that Bush's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq "sounds eerily like Lyndon Johnson's plan to save Vietnam in the mid 1960s" with an escalation of U.S. troops numbers in southeast Asia, Lt. Colonel Oliver North says the this president's approach is every bit as wrong as Johnson's.
"Sending more U.S. combat troops is simply sending more targets," North argued in columns and television appearances during the period leading up to the president's speech.
The Marine who was the Reagan administration's Iran-Contra point man and who went on to run as a Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, before joining Fox News as the host of the conservative network's "War Stories" program, has actually done something that few conservative supporters of the war have. He's gone to Iraq, again and again, spending substantial amounts of time talking with the troops, the commanders and Iraqis.
As a result, North speaks with a measure of authority when he rejects the arguments of the neoconservative theorists and hawkish senators, such as Arizona Republican John McCain and Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman, who advocate for a troop surge in Iraq. Bluntly stating that McCain and Lieberman, and by extension Bush, are "wrong" to argue for adding troops, North complained before the president's speech that the neoconservatives and their senate allies were not listening to the Americans who are already on the ground in Iraq.
"Messrs. McCain and Lieberman talked to many of the same officers and senior noncommissioned officers I covered for Fox News during my most recent trip to Iraq," North noted this week. "Not one of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen or Marines I interviewed told me they wanted more "U.S. boots on the ground." In fact, nearly all expressed just the opposite: 'We don't need more American troops, we need more Iraqi troops,' was a common refrain. They are right."
"Adding 10,000 or 20,000 more U.S. combat troops -- mostly soldiers and Marines -- will not improve Iraqi willingness to fight their own fight, which is an imperative if we are to claim victory in this war," explains North, who adds that, "While putting 200,000 American or NATO troops on the Iranian and Syrian borders to stop infiltration might make sense, that's "mission impossible" given the size of U.S. and allied armed forces."
Don't get North wrong. He's not a "Bring the Troops Home Now!" man. He favors a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, and he's particularly enthusiastic about adding more trainers to help the Iraqis to actually "stand up" so that Americans can "stand down." And North can be expected to soft peddle some of his message in the days to come, as he is facing immense pressure from his conservative allies and employers to get on board for the surge.
But North's writings and comments regarding the surge strategy -- especially a thoughtful column that appeared in the Washington Times Tuesday -- offer a poignant reminder of how even the president's amen corner is no longer shouting "amen."
Reasonable people can -- and should -- debate North on whether a continued U.S. presence in a country where the vast majority of people do not want us. And, certainly, reasonable people can debate the colonel's continued willingness to give the Bush administration one more chance.
But there is no debating that North got things right when he warned against any escalation of that presence.
Forget about the Democratic response to Bush's madness. When the president's defenders attack war critics for questioning the sanity of the surge, just point them toward Lt. Colonel North's observation that: "A 'surge' or 'targeted increase in U.S. troop strength' -- or whatever the politicians want to call dispatching more combat troops to Iraq -- isn't the answer."
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