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Bush's Iraq Strategy is More Than Just Escalation

By Dennis Byrne

How can so many people--Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), the Boston Globe, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, anti-war senators and on and on--be so ignorant about such a simple concept?

They are acting as if President George W. Bush's "new strategy" in Iraq is just to "escalate the war" by sending in 20,000 more troops. As anyone one notch above simpleminded ought to be able to understand, the core of Bush's new strategy is about how to fight the enemy.

Instead of clearing an area of insurgents and then leaving, as U.S. troops have been doing for too long, they'll now clear and stay, to secure the neighborhood. They'll stay to provide what has been most missing in this war and what poll after poll say that Iraqis want more than anything else: protection and peace.

If ever there is a recipe for defeat, whether in a traditional war or one against insurgency, it has been the previous Bush administration policy to fight to the death to clear out the enemy, and then promptly leave so that the enemy can pour back in virtually on your heels. How can you expect to get commitment and cooperation from civilians that know that the insurgents will return next week with their threats, violence and brutality?

This is a qualitative difference in strategy, something Bush's critics constantly, and frustratingly ignore. Maybe they are too half-witted to understand the difference. Or maybe they understand but prefer to demagogue the issue instead of engaging in the "bi-partisanship" they demand of the president.

I don't know how many troops it will take to accomplish the (using a discredited word from the Vietnam War era) "pacification" of Baghdad. Maybe 20,000 more. Maybe as Sen. John McCain (R-Az.)--who should get a profile-in-courage award for sticking by his convictions--says, it will take more. Perhaps the present forces, assuming an adequate contribution by the Iraqis themselves, can do it.

But too many people, both Bush supporters and critics, focus on the numbers instead of the change of strategy itself.

The self-righteous resolution passed Wednesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opposing an increase in troops never mentions a word about the real change of strategy. That makes the resolution frivolous at best.

Same with a Boston Globe editorial. It speaks about Bush supposedly wanting Congress to "rubber stamp" his 20,000-troop increase, but likewise fails to mention the real strategy change.

Webb, in his Democratic response to the President's State of the Union, goes on more about members of his family who served in the military (we're grateful for it), but also tries to paint Bush's strategy change merely as an incremental increase in troop strength.

Meyerson, the Post columnist, inexplicably calls Bush a "hedgehog" (The president is a nocturnal animal covered with quills?) in his column for sending "more American forces into Iraq with no apparent regard for the verdict of the American people...." Meyerson claims that the "majority" of Americans no longer supports "the way this war is being fought," but how can he make that claim when he and "the majority of Americans" are talking only about numbers and not about the essence of how the war is being fought.

That brings up a CBS News Poll conducted immediately after the speech which found that among the people who watched Bush speak, a majority believed the U.S. can create a stable democracy in Iraq, that U.S. forces should stay until stability returns, and that the war is worth the cost.

Of course, CBS issued the usual warnings about how the poll did not contact those who did not watch the speech (duh, what would be the purpose of that?) and that typically the poll finds that more members of the president's party, Democratic or Republican, usually watch the speech, so you should expect that more people than not would have agreed with Bush. In other words, don't believe our poll.

Actually, the numbers supporting Bush might have been even higher if he had bothered to explain his new strategy better. Almost in passing reference, he mentioned how the increased troops would "secure" Baghdad, so passing that its significance might have been missed. Bush needs to explain it over and over, because it's apparent that his opponents are not going to conduct an honest debate over the new strategy. Or give it a chance to work.

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist. dennis@dennisbyrne.net.

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