Bush Sends GIs to his Private Fantasyland
To listen to Bush’s speech on Wednesday, you would imagine that al-Qaeda has occupied large swathes of Iraq with the help of Syria and Iran and is brandishing missiles at the US mainland. That the president of the United States can come out after nearly four years of such lies and try to put this fantasy over on the American people is shameful.
The answer to “al-Qaeda’s” occupation of neighborhoods in Baghdad and the cities of al-Anbar is then, Bush says, to send in more US troops to “clear and hold” these neighborhoods.
But is that really the big problem in Iraq? Bush is thinking in terms of a conventional war, where armies fight to hold territory. But if a nimble guerrilla group can come out at night and set off a bomb at the base of a large tenement building in a Shiite neighborhood, they can keep the sectarian civil war going. They work by provoking reprisals. They like to hold territory if they can. But as we saw with Fallujah and Tal Afar, if they cannot they just scatter and blow things up elsewhere.
Bush could not help taking swipes at Iran and Syria. But the geography of his deployments gives the lie to his singling them out as mischief makers. Why send 4,000 extra troops to al-Anbar province? Why ignore Diyala Province near Iran, which is in flames, or Babel Province southwest of Baghdad? Diyala borders Iran, so isn’t that the threat? But wait. Where is al-Anbar? Between Jordan and Baghdad. In other words, al-Anbar opens out into the vast Sunni Arab hinterland that supports the guerrilla movement with money and volunteers, coming in from Jordan. If Syria was the big problem, you would put the extra 4,000 troops up north along the border. If Iran was the big problem, you’d occupy Diyala. But little Jordan is an ally of the US, and Bush would not want to insult it by admitting that it is a major infiltration root for jihadis heading to Iraq.
The clear and hold strategy is not going to work in al-Anbar. Almost everyone there hates the Americans and wants them out. To clear and hold you need a sympathetic or potentially sympathetic civilian population that is being held hostage by militants, and which you can turn by offering them protection from the militants. I don’t believe there are very many Iraqi Sunnis who can any longer be turned in that way. The opinion polling suggests that they overwhelmingly support violence against the US.
Read all of it here.