On Jan. 10, President George W. Bush addressed the nation with the announcement of a major shift in the strategic plan for the escalating chaos that has ensued in Iraq since the American invasion in 2003. Calling the strategy "The New Way Forward," Bush outlined his plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, bringing the total number of American forces stationed in the country to about 150,000.
The reality of the situation is that events have been set into motion in Iraq that a relatively small increase in troop strength simply cannot address, despite Bush's simplistic and misguided belief that a greater military force is the answer to the complex situation in the country.
The societal rifts between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions within the country, held together only underneath the iron fist of Saddam's brutal regime, have become disjointed to a point far beyond the capability of the American occupying forces or the weak Iraqi government to control. Sectarian killings and ethnic cleansing occur on a day-to-day basis, along with revenge attacks for these same occurrences. A 17 percent increase in U.S. forces simply cannot overpower the deep resentments that lead the nation's warring factions to conduct attacks upon Americans and each other.
Troop levels even after the increase will simply not provide the necessary levels to disarm the multiple private militias, end insurgent attacks upon Americans, or stop the brutal sectarian violence that, according to a United Nations report, resulted in the deaths of 34,000 Iraqis in 2006 alone.
Three four-star generals testified about the reality of this fact to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 19, including Gen. Barry McCaffrey (Ret) who said "I personally think the surge of five U.S. Army brigades and a few Marine battalions dribbled out over five months is a fool's errand."
Experts around the world have agreed that the likelihood that the troop increase will bring the hoped-for changes to the desperate situation is extremely slim. In a Jan. 21 Associated Press article, British historian Niall Ferguson, a leading analyst of modern wars, said that, "The only way that this kind of thing ends is that one side wins. It's increasingly hard to imagine a happy power-sharing agreement among Shia, Sunni and Kurds. This one is going to run and run."
The only slim possibility for peace can only emerge not out of a small increase in troops on the ground, but in real progress towards a political compromise between the different groups. Rather than simply increase the American presence and hope the situation improves, Bush must present Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, a figure whose competence has been called into question by some, with real, attainable benchmarks for the Iraqi government to bring the security situation under control.
It is time for the Iraqis to truly take control of their future and an increase in the American presence will only further increase the Iraqi authorities' reliance on the U.S. military to deal with the situation.
There is no doubt that a new strategy is necessary for the debacle that is the Iraq War. Some may argue that it is right to at least attempt Bush's plan purely for the sake of seeing if it works, but Americans and Iraqis deserve better than an ill-conceived notion that has been widely acknowledged as the erroneous path towards improving the situation. It will undoubtedly yield thousands more Americans and Iraqis in body bags.