The Wrong Course

President Bush's alleged new policy in Iraq is a thinly veiled "Stay the Course" escalation, the poker equivalent of doubling down with a busted flush.

The President had two choices now that "stay the Course" was rejected by the voters. He could accept the position of the current team in Iraq and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to continue to lighten the U.S. footprint and implement a phased redeployment over the next 12 to 18 months. Or he could escalate, bet more American and Iraqi lives on a reckless gamble and hope to leave office on January 20, 2009 clinging to the hope that there was still a chance for "victory" in Iraq if only his successor would continue his policies

The proposed escalation of the war in Iraq violates the fundamental basis of a democratic society. The President is ignoring the mandate of the November 7 election where his Iraq misadventure was decisively rejected. The new leadership of the Congress, a co-equal branch under our Constitution, has rejected escalation. Polls in the U.S. and Iraq show only miniscule support for escalation.

Some of the small clique of neo-conservatives who led the President into the Iraq misadventure has convinced the President that escalation will justify his decision to invade and occupy Iraq.

The primary reason to reject this strategy is that it cannot succeed. It is difficult to see how 20,000 additional troops can have an affect on the outcome of the chaos and civil war in Iraq. There are currently 132,000 troops deployed so the additional forces will bring the force level to approximately 152,000. This was the force level in late 2005 and early 2006 prior to the increase in sectarian violence and mindless slaughter. How can a force level that could not quell the violence in a less troubled time do it now? Further, the updated Army and Marine Corps Field Manuel on counterinsurgency (PDF) endorses the calculation that at least 20 soldiers are required for each 1000 residents. By this standard, at least 100,000 additional troops would be required in Baghdad alone. The prime mover behind this updated manual was Gen. David H. Petraeus, nominated to be the new commander in Iraq.

What can Congress do? First, Congress must assert the authority of oversight that was so sadly lacking for the last six years. Congress should take advantage of the confirmation hearings for the large number of Presidential nominations as he seeks to replace several officials whose support for escalation was lukewarm at best. The nominees include: Gen. Petraeus and six other high level military, diplomatic and intelligence officials. Congress should demand candid and honest answers from all of these nominees (and their predecessors). The military should be asked to define the military objectives of escalation. The political nominees should be asked whether the President's plan requires a new Congressional authorization as proposed by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA). And all should address the Point Gen. Petraeus made in the early days of the invasion: "Tell me how this ends/" The nominees should not be confirmed if the do not give full and candid answers. In addition, the funds required by the Defense and State Departments for this escalation should be passed in the form of a supplemental budget, not an emergency appropriation and should be subject to the "pay - go rules." Finally, Congress must write into the authorization and appropriation bills a prohibition against permanent bases in Iraq.

Congress must have special concern for our service men and women and our veterans. Mr. Bush made a hollow call for "sacrifice." But the nation has not been asked to sacrifice; only our armed forces, especially the Army and Marine Corps and their families. Escalation could require longer tours, many involuntary extensions, shorted time at home to rest retrain and re-equip and greater stress. The Congress must do what the President has refused to do: fund the escalation with a" war tax" on upper income earners to defray the cost of the war and provide additional troops and compensation for those who have served. It is unpatriotic to ask a small number to pay the price of this misadventure.

The President is using escalation to serve his political, not military objectives. It is escalation in search of a mission. He knows that Congress will not cut off funding for troops in the field. To stop escalation, therefore, action is needed before they deploy. The time to act is now.

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