Bush’s ‘surge’ faces heavy opposition

If, as expected, George W Bush next week announces his intention to “surge” some 20,000 additional US troops to Iraq to pacify Baghdad and Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province, he may find himself in a tougher fight than he expected even a week ago. Not only are the new Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress lining up in opposition, but a growing number of Republican lawmakers — even including staunch Bush loyalists — are voicing serious reservations about the idea. “Baghdad needs reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis,” Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who just returned from Iraq and faces re-election in 2008, told the Los Angeles Times this week. “It doesn’t need more Americans in the crosshairs.” Even ret. Lt. Col. Ollie North, a far-right talk-show host who gained fame as the White House coordinator of what became the Iran-Contra affair 20 years ago, reported that recent interviews with officers and soldiers in Iraq persuaded him that adding more troops to the 140,000 already deployed there would be a mistake.

“Not one of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen or Marines I interviewed told me that they wanted more US boots on the ground. In fact, nearly all expressed just the opposite. ‘We don’t need more American troops, we need more Iraqi troops’ was a common refrain. They are right,” North asserted in his syndicated column last Friday. “A ‘surge’ or ‘targeted increase in US troop strength’ or whatever the politicians want to call dispatching more combat troops to Iraq isn’t the answer. Adding more trainers and helping the Iraqis to help themselves is. Sending more US combat troops is simply sending more targets,” North wrote. As some 200 protesters picketed on the street outside on Friday, McCain and Lieberman told an appreciative audience at the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) - which used the occasion to release the latest version of its own “surge” plan, “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq” - that substantially increasing US troop strength was essential to avoiding a potentially catastrophic defeat.

The two Democratic leaders, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, announced in a letter to Bush released on Friday that they will oppose any increase in US troops in Iraq. “This is a great statement,” said Jim Cason, an analyst at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, an anti-war lobby group.

He noted, however, that, short of cutting off funding for the war, Congress has few vehicles for stopping Bush from going ahead with a deployment. “To be successful, the opposition has to include some Republicans, and it’s clear that more Republicans are challenging the president’s Iraq war strategy,” according to Cason, who noted that some Republican aides have reported a substantial rise in anti-war mail from constituents since the Democrats’ victory in the November elections.

Aside from constituent pressure, Republican lawmakers are also likely to be impressed by a recent poll of US military personnel by The Military Times that found that only about one in three officers and enlisted servicemembers approve of Bush’s handling of the war and that nearly three in four said they believe the armed forces are stretched too thin to be e-ffective. —IPS