Bush's Iraq Escalation Provokes Growing Opposition
Between The Lines
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Jan. 17, 2007
Bush's Iraq War Escalation Provokes Growing Opposition
Interview with Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio:
In a Jan. 10 address to the nation, President Bush detailed his open-ended plan to escalate the Iraq war with an additional 21,500 U.S troops. Bush also called on the Iraqi government to increase its own forces by 8,000 in Baghdad; enact a law to share oil revenues among Iraq's ethnic groups; and launch an Iraqi-financed $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program. Provocatively, Bush accused the Iranian government of "providing material support for attacks on American troops" and threatened to "seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies." This comes as Bush dispatched a second aircraft carrier group to the coast off Iran and deployed Patriot anti-missile defense systems to Gulf states.
Reacting to Bush's plan, Democratic Party leaders said they would schedule votes in both the House and Senate on measures that symbolically reject Bush's Iraq strategy. A growing number of Republicans have opposed the administration's escalation of the Iraq war. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, labeled Bush's proposed troop increase "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."
An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted after the president's address found 61 percent of Americans surveyed oppose the president's escalation plan, while only 36 percent support it. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, who assesses the likely outcome of the president's plan on the ground in Iraq and growing domestic opposition to the war.
CHRIS TOENSING: I think there are three factors, basically, that are keeping the Bush administration policy the way it is – and I'll list them in ascending order of importance. Least important is the psychological factor. For Bush, and Cheney and the others who have their fingerprints all over this war from the beginning, it's a major psychological blow to contemplate the concept of this whole war being a huge strategic defeat and their world view. It's very difficult for them to admit that. I think that's one factor.
The second thing is partisan politics. Bush has said on a number of occasions that the next president is the one who is going to wind down the war in Iraq, whether it's a success or a failure and that, I think is a way of essentially trying to see that his successor is blamed for what are inevitably going to be the bad consequences of a U.S. withdrawal, come what may.
But then, the third factor, which I think is the most important, and this unites the Bush administration with large portions of the Democratic party and the foreign party establishment, is that a U.S. withdrawal -- an admission of defeat -- would indeed, have enormous and perhaps unpredictable strategic consequences for the position of the United States in the world, certainly for the position of the United States in the Persian Gulf.
Ever since the time, well, really of FDR (President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and then picking up with the Carter presidency, the United States has had a "forward-leaning posture," military in nature in the Persian Gulf, for the stated purpose in the case of Carter -- of protecting safe, easy access to two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves, which are under the countries of the Persian Gulf. For the United States to be driven militarily from that region, would be perceived certainly as a major strategic defeat abroad, and it would potentially make other countries of the world wonder if the United States will have the wherewithal to play this role of Pretorian Guard for the Persian Gulf's oil supply that it has played for the last several decades.
I think it is going to take more popular pressure than has yet been seen, and possibly the articulation of an alternative world view, a complete alternative strategic point of view regarding what the United States should do in the Persian Gulf, what its position should be in the world. It may require something like that entering the mainstream of our public discourse in order for the elite of both parties to feel more comfortable about leaving Iraq.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Chris, when you look at the Bush administration's plan to concentrate U.S. troops in Baghdad, part of the Bush administration's focus in Baghdad is to attack both Sunni insurgents as well as Shiite militia and death squads, including the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr. Do you think the U.S. will be able to target the Mahdi Army with cooperation from the al-Maliki government, given their political alliance?
CHRIS TOENSING: I think it's very unlikely, and I think there's no objective reason, aside from the assurances of Bush, that the Maliki government will in fact cooperate. It was as recently, I believe, as early December, maybe it was November that there was supposed to be a major U.S. military operation in Sadr City, and Maliki essentially stopped it for fear that it would alienate a large part of his constituency. In fact, perhaps the one element of his constituency that gives him a semblance of popular legitimacy -since the Sadrists trend is the one trend among the Shiite religious parties that most credibly can claim a large, popular base. Nothing has changed in the internal politics of Iraq to make Maliki's calculus any different. I don't see any objective reason why he would suddenly play ball.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The Democrats seem timid for a number of reasons, in really going after President Bush's Iraq policy. However, with this call for an escalation of the war, it seems they've gotten a little bit more backbone. What do you think the Democrats could effectively do to reverse President Bush's Iraq policy at this point?
CHRIS TOENSING: Well, they should certainly stop the surge, they should certainly block the funding for the surge. Even if that is partially symbolic. In other words, even if the Bush administration actually starts deploying these troops before the Congress can get the funding measures through, I think the political symbolism of that would be powerful. But they should go further than that. Ultimately, they should stop passing the supplementals and passing the war appropriations bills entirely, so that over time, the military presence in Iraq is simply defunded and the war has to wind down for that reason. That's what the Democratic party should do. Certainly if they put the interest of the country ahead of their political fears, that's what they would do.
I think there's a fair to middling chance that their electoral fortunes also depend on taking such a strong stance. I think that just as many people are coming to Washington, D.C. in a couple weeks (Jan. 27th) to demonstrate against the Democrats and their insufficiently antiwar stance as are coming to demonstrate against the escalation itself. Contact Middle East Report by calling (202) 223-3677 or visit their website at http://www.merip.org
Related links on our website at
on the Jan. 27 national anti Iraq-war protest in Washington
United for Peace and Justice at www.unitedforpeace.org
- Peace Action at www.peace-action.org. www.mfso.org
- "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," by Frederick W. Kagan
- "Iraq Study Group Report"
- Bring Them Home Now at www.bringthemhomenow.org
- Military Families Speak Out at www.mfso.org
- International Answer at www.Internationalanswer.org
-War Resisters League at warresisters.org
- Iraq Veterans Against the War at www.ivaw.org
- American Friends Service Committee at www.afsc.org
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between
The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio
stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at
http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was
featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio
newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Jan.
26, 2007. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna
Manzo and Scott