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Surge in troop strength? (01/14/2007)
By John Edstrom

Minnesota's senior senator, Norm Coleman, held a teleconference with various Minnesota media last Thursday. He wanted all of us to know that he was not supporting President Bush's policy of a "surge" in troop strength in Iraq. One of the first questions from the audience was whether Coleman was pulling a "switcheroo" in order not to share the fate of Mark Kennedy (badly defeated Republican Senate candidate) in the last election.

Not exactly Minnesota nice, but a fair question. I think it is accurate to characterize Sen. Coleman's stance as opposing a change of direction in Iraq war strategy, not willing to suggest an alternative, and by default favoring a status quo which everyone now, including President Bush, has acknowledged as ineffective. Coleman, I guess, thinks we should pursue the president's political objectives but not the military ones.

But that is what we are doing now, unsuccessfully. Will we make this strategy work by wishful thinking? No one disagrees that political compromises have to be worked out, subsequent reconciliation to occur, and the Iraqi infrastructure and economy rebuilt. But for any of this to happen, the violence and chaos must be quelled first. By doing nothing, we admit and accept defeat, and the total waste of the blood and treasure spent thus far. If that is the case, better to withdraw from Iraq immediately so that no more lives and money will be wasted in a lost cause.

The Democratic party establishment, joined by some Republicans, want the war to be over, but don't want to be the ones to declare defeat; they prefer that George Bush do the job. But he won't. He says the price of defeat is too high and wants to change direction by sending additional troops, and forcing "benchmarks" on the Maliki government, among them, various political compromises between Shi'a and Sunni, the provision of more competent and reliable Iraqi troops, and a crackdown on Sadr and his Shi'a militia. Economic as well as military assets will be applied to the task.

Is 21,000 additional U.S. troops enough for the job? Is it too late to redeem the situation by a switch in strategy? Obviously, we won't know until it's tried. There is much sentiment against an "escalation" " (the word has such delicious connotations for old lefties for whom the debacle in Vietnam was a high point in life) " but what, in fact, is at stake, and what at risk? Much is being made of U.S. casualties and, of course, each one is a tragedy for the individuals and families. But it must be remembered that this country is at war, one thrust upon us, not sought out.

Iraq may be a "bridge too far" as some would have it, but leaving there will not end the war, but prolong it against a strengthened and emboldened enemy. There will be more casualties down the road, and we may not have the luxury of disengaging, or fighting on someone else's soil with only combat troops in harm's way.

If our presence in Iraq were accomplishing something, the losses would be acceptable and sustainable; according to the Brookings Institute, 894 killed in ‘04, 743 in ‘05, and 755 last year. Compared to the butcher's bill in any of our previous wars, we are fighting this one on the cheap, callous as that may sound.

And sending additional troops, if they are sufficient, may well make those who are there more, not less, safe. For all the talk of Americans caught in the cross fire of a civil war, it is the Iraqis who are doing the lion's share of dying, increasingly so. If Baghdad can be pacified, the American death toll will go down, not up.

This is the change of direction that the president's critics have been demanding. Strangely enough, it puts us closer to being gone from that Godforsaken place, for it will either work, or prove that there is nothing more to be done.



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