Kevin Drum over at Washington Monthly has two posts on the troop “surge” which lend some additional light to the situation (President Bush tonight is expected to announce he’s sending an additional 20,000 troops). The first is almost heartbreaking:
More troops in Iraq will almost certainly not make any noticeable difference there. More troops in Afghanistan might, but they aren’t available because of Iraq. It’s worth keeping in mind that Bush’s resistance to withdrawal in Iraq is likely to lead to the United States losing not just one war, but two. I’m not sure if any American president has done that before.
What does Bush’s troop “surge” have to do with Afghanistan? Oh, you know, only preventing our forces from countering a Taliban offensive. Kevin is referring to this Baltimore Sun article:
As a last-ditch effort, President Bush is expected to announce this week the dispatch of thousands of additional troops to Iraq as a stopgap measure, an order that Pentagon officials say would strain the Army and Marine Corps as they struggle to man both wars.
Already, a U.S. Army infantry battalion fighting in a critical area of eastern Afghanistan is due to be withdrawn within weeks in order to deploy to Iraq.
According to Army Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata and other senior U.S. commanders here, that will happen just as the Taliban is expected to unleash a major campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar. The official said the Taliban intend to seize Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the place where the group was organized in the 1990s.
“We anticipate significant events there next spring,” said Tata.
At stake, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is the key U.S. strategic imperative of preventing al-Qaida and Taliban forces from establishing terrorist sanctuaries, as Afghanistan was in the late 1990s, when al-Qaida launched operations to bomb U.S. embassies and warships and eventually hatched the Sept. 11 plot.
Kevin’s second post deals with the rationale of sending more troops to Iraq, and just who supports it. It turns out that, somewhat recently, nobody did, according to this Newsweek interview with Iraq Study Group member Leon Panetta:
When your bipartisan panel came to the conclusion that relying on Iraqi forces and embedding U.S. advisors was the right course of action, rather than a surge, did you think that you were reflecting the consensus of the U.S. military at the time?
Yes. We sat down with military commanders there and here, and none of them said that additional troops would solve the fundamental cause of violence, which was the absence of national reconciliation. We always asked if additional troops were needed. We asked the question of [Gen. George] Casey and others, we asked it of Marine commanders in Anbar. Do you need additional troops? They all said the same thing: we don’t need additional troops at this point; we need to get the Iraqis to assume the responsibility they’re supposed to assume…
Did you interview Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who’s about to take over command of multinational forces in Iraq? What did he recommend? He is now said to be a supporter of the surge.
At that time he was talking about the need to train and embed U.S. forces in the Iraqi army. (laughs)
You can say what you will about the Study Group’s recommendations, but I’ve seen nobody question its methodology.