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U.S. Senators Examine Iraq

U.S. lawmakers continue to examine military, political and diplomatic options in Iraq. A panel of four prominent retired U.S. generals recently offered the U.S. Senate their assessment of President Bush’s plan to increase troop levels in Iraq.

Leading lawmakers have proposed resolutions voicing concern about President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq. The U.S. Congress is closely scrutinizing the Bush administration plan to send some 21,000 additional troops to Iraq by holding a series of hearings.

The President’s plan reflects the view of many analysts that a failure in Iraq would be a strategic blow to the United States and that America’s goals in Iraq may still be achievable despite worsening sectarian strife.

A panel of prominent retired generals recently assessed the President’s strategy, which includes a renewed partnership with the Iraqi government to calm Baghdad’s most troubled districts and the deployment of more U.S. Marines to suppress a growing Sunni insurgency in Iraq’s al-Anbar province.

One of the architects of the new strategy, former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General Jack Keane, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently that the key to stabilizing Iraq is to quell the Sunni violence.

“It was never, ever our mission to defeat the insurgency. But in 2005, they raised the level of violence over what it was in 2004 and raised the level of violence way beyond the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to cope with it. In my judgment, even if they were fully trained and fully equipped, they would not have the capacity to deal with this level of violence. When we made the decision not to defeat the insurgency, we made a conscious decision not to protect the population,” said General Keane.

President Bush’s blueprint for stabilizing Iraq also includes benchmarks to which the Iraqi government can be held accountable and countering Syrian and Iranian “networks” in Iraq.

Elusive Victory?

But critics, among them the former Chief of the Central Command, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph Hoar, argue that the planned increase in U.S. military strength in Iraq is unlikely to succeed.

“The addition of 20,000 troops is too little, too late. The centerpiece of a change of direction should be to demand that the Iraqi government make significant changes in policy, to disarm militias, purge the police and move rapidly on a host of other pressing issues. If Mr. Malaki’s government can show progress by stepping up to meet these political changes, then the issue of more troops would merit some consideration,” notes the former Chief of the Central Command.

In addition, he says American leaders have failed to understand the political forces at work in Iraq, “Victory in the conventional sense is no longer possible. Our goal today in Iraq should be to achieve a paradigm shift that will enable political changes sufficient to give the people of Iraq an assured degree of stability and justice.”

Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, who commanded troops in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, is skeptical about increasing U.S. forces in Iraq.

“The surge of five U.S. army brigades and two Marine battalions dribbled out over five months, where potentially they might start drawing down in November. And where their mission allegedly would be to get down to detailed granularity to fight a counterinsurgency battle in a city of six million Arabs who are murdering each other with 1.20 [millimeter] mortars, drills and car bombs is a fool’s errand,” argues General McCaffrey.

Although bleak, he says the situation in Iraq is not irreversible, “I see no reason why this beleaguered nation, with all of its problems, couldn’t be turned around by sensible strategy and sensible application of resources,” says McCaffrey.

General McCaffrey, who teaches International Affairs at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, says a better option would be to intensify training and equipping an additional 250-thousand Iraqi troops and increase economic support for Iraq.

Regional Balance of Power

According to the former Director of the National Security Agency, retired Army Lieutenant General William Odom, the American effort in Iraq has gone badly because the United States did not understand the consequences of deposing Saddam Hussein.

“The war is not confined to Iraq. We face 26 million Iraqis, they are not all against us, but millions are. We should also include a large proportion of Iranians. The so-called moderate Arab states are not benignly sitting aside and watching this. When you start adding up who we could be facing, we could be facing several states where the regimes may be on our side, but the public is not,” warns General Odom.

He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States should refocus on maintaining a balance of power among three regional forces -- Arabs, Israelis, and Iranians.

According to General Odom, “As long as we had a foot in all three camps, the military requirements for maintaining a balance in the region were not high. When we lost our footing in the Iranian camp, they became very high. Every administration since then [the 1950s], until this one I think, has realized that. So a new strategy has to have as its aim not winning a victory in Iraq per se, but reachieving regional stability. The problem with the administration’s strategy in Iraq is that the means they have used to pursue regional stability has undercut it.”

He says the policy of spreading democracy by force of arms is the main source of volatility in the Middle East. He and other generals who participated in the Senate hearings echo the opinions of many congressional leaders who are calling for an alternative to President Bush’s plan with the goal of preventing the Mideast from falling into chaos if Iraq becomes a failed state.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.