Thursday, January 11, 2007

Robert Fisk: Bush's new strategy

So into the graveyard of Iraq, George Bush, commander-in-chief, is to send another 21,000 of his soldiers. The march of folly is to continue...

Published: 11 January 2007

There will be timetables, deadlines, benchmarks, goals for both America and its Iraqi satraps. But the war against terror can still be won. We shall prevail. Victory or death. And it shall be death.

President Bush's announcement early this morning tolled every bell. A billion dollars of extra aid for Iraq, a diary of future success as the Shia powers of Iraq still to be referred to as the "democratically elected government" march in lockstep with America's best men and women to restore order and strike fear into the hearts of al-Qa'ida. It will take time oh, yes, it will take years, at least three in the words of Washington's top commander in the field, General Raymond Odierno this week but the mission will be accomplished.

Mission accomplished. Wasn't that the refrain almost four years ago, on that lonely aircraft carrier off California, Bush striding the deck in his flying suit? And only a few months later, the President had a message for Osama bin Laden and the insurgents of Iraq. "Bring 'em on!" he shouted. And on they came. Few paid attention late last year when the Islamist leadership of this most ferocious of Arab rebellions proclaimed Bush a war criminal but asked him not to withdraw his troops. "We haven't yet killed enough of them," their videotaped statement announced.

Well, they will have their chance now. How ironic that it was the ghastly Saddam, dignified amid his lynch mob, who dared on the scaffold to tell the truth which Bush and Blair would not utter: that Iraq has become "hell" .

It is de rigueur, these days, to recall Vietnam, the false victories, the body counts, the torture and the murders but history is littered with powerful men who thought they could batter their way to victory against the odds. Napoleon comes to mind; not the emperor who retreated from Moscow, but the man who believed the wild guerrilleros of French-occupied Spain could be liquidated. He tortured them, he executed them, he propped up a local Spanish administration of what we would now call Quislings, al-Malikis to a man. He rightly accused his enemies Moore and Wellington of supporting the insurgents. And when faced with defeat, Napoleon took the personal decision "to relaunch the machine" and advanced to recapture Madrid, just as Bush intends to recapture Baghdad. Of course, it ended in disaster. And George Bush is no Napoleon Bonaparte.

No, I would turn to another, less flamboyant, far more modern politician for prophecy, an American who understood, just before the 2003 launch of Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq, what would happen to the arrogance of power. For their relevance this morning, the words of the conservative politician Pat Buchanan deserve to be written in marble:

"We will soon launch an imperial war on Iraq with all the 'On to Berlin' bravado with which French poilus and British tommies marched in August 1914. But this invasion will not be the cakewalk neoconservatives predict ... For a militant Islam that holds in thrall scores of millions of true believers will never accept George Bush dictating the destiny of the Islamic world ...

"The one endeavour at which Islamic peoples excel is expelling imperial powers by terror and guerrilla war. They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon... We have started up the road to empire and over the next hill we will meet those who went before."

But George Bush dare not see these armies of the past, their ghosts as palpable as the phantoms of the 3,000 Americans let us forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis already done to death in this obscene war, and those future spirits of the dead still living amid the 20,000 men and women whom Bush is now sending to Iraq. In Baghdad, they will move into both Sunni and Shia "insurgent strongholds" as opposed to just the Sunni variety which they vainly invested in the autumn because this time, and again I quote General Odierno, it is crucial the security plan be " evenhanded". This time, he said, "we have to have a believable approach, of going after Sunni and Shia extremists".

But a "believable approach" is what Bush does not have. The days of even-handed oppression disappeared in the aftermath of invasion.

"Democracy" should have been introduced at the start not delayed until the Shias threatened to join the insurgency if Paul Bremer, America's second proconsul, did not hold elections just as the American military should have prevented the anarchy of April 2003. The killing of 14 Sunni civilians by US paratroopers at Fallujah that spring set the seal on the insurgency. Yes, Syria and Iran could help George Bush. But Tehran was part of his toytown "Axis of Evil", Damascus a mere satellite. They were to be future prey, once Project Iraq proved successful. Then there came the shame of our torture, our murders, the mass ethnic cleansing in the land we said we had liberated.

And so more US troops must die, sacrificed for those who have already died. We cannot betray those who have been killed. It is a lie, of course. Every desperate man keeps gambling, preferably with other men's lives.

But the Bushes and Blairs have experienced war through television and Hollywood; this is both their illusion and their shield.

Churchills have gone, used as a wardrobe for a prime minister who lied to his people and a president who, given the chance to fight for his country, felt his Vietnam mission was to defend the skies over Texas.

But still he talks of victory, as ignorant of the past as he is of the future.

Pat Buchanan ended his prophecy with imperishable words: "The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history."

The Bush plan, and the question of withdrawal What Bush says 20,000 troops increase

Mistake of not sending sufficient troops must be rectified. Troops stabilise Baghdad and reinforce Anbar province, on condition that Iraqis take on Shia militias

$1bn reconstruction aid

Fresh funds will help create jobs and stimulate economy to show Iraqis there can be a peace dividend, and friendly Middle East states should help out too


US commitment to Iraq is not open-ended but no timetable for troop withdrawal, even though US troops are expected to hand control to Iraqis by November

What Congress says 20,000 troops increase

Troop build-up is a mistake. House expected to vote on increase, Senate legislation forces Bush to seek congressional approval but neither move could block troop deployment

$1bn reconstruction aid

Don't throw good money after bad. US has squandered billions since the invasion and Democrats plan investigation. Millions of dollars 'overpaid' by Pentagon to Iraq contractors


Bush has not learnt the lesson of November's mid-term elections which gave Democrats control of the House and Senate on the platform of a phased withdrawal from Iraq

What Baker says

20,000 troops increase

Up to 20,000 military trainers and troops embedded into and supporting Iraqi army, while combat troops drawn down to avoid increase in total numbers

$1bn reconstruction aid

US economic assistance should be boosted to $5bn per year. US should take anti-corruption measures by posting oil contracts on the internet for outside scrutiny


All US combat troops not needed for force protection should be out of Iraq by the first quarter of 2008

Likely outcome 20,000 troops increase

Escalation of conflict

Money will be wasted, with official corruption in Iraq said to drain $7bn a year


Troop surge could disguise 'cut and run' depending on the circumstances in both Iraq and America