“Redeployment.” Even if you can define it correctly, you may not know what its implications are. For starters, it is not a formula for ending the war.
Rep. John Murtha introduced America to the word “redeployment” during his press conference last November, when he spoke about a bill he authored that was designed to prevent the military he loves from becoming “a broken force,” to use General Helmly’s words. Rep. Murtha has never claimed that his redeployment bill was peace-oriented, and if you examine it closely, you can see that its purpose is to change the arc of the war rather than end it.
Now Senator Boxer has introduced a Senate companion to Murtha’s House of Representatives resolution. Both of these call for American troops to be “redeployed at the earliest practicable date.” The phrase “earliest practicable date” is so vague that it allows things to be done whenever the good old boys in Washington decide that they are in the mood. The word “redeployment” means moving troops from point A to point B and/or giving them a new set of tasks. In this instance, it means that some of the forces who are currently on Iraqi soil will be moved to other bases in the region and become part of two new entities specified in the legislation, “a quick-reaction U.S. force” that can be put back into Iraq on a few hours notice and “an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines.”
A number of analysts have pointed out that this proposed redeployment is no more than a vehicle for moving the focus of the war from the ground to the air:
-- … if the troops are pulled back from the front and brought home, the Pentagon plans to replace their combat capability with air power … [This] would probably decrease the number of US casualties and (they hope) ensure the re-election of most of those congressmen and women who will hear the wrath of their constituents … [It is] a strategy that replaces ground combat with death from the air (1)
-- When troops are cut, we'll still be bombing the hell out of the place … the plans call for the air war to be beefed up and kept that way for years to come. (2)
-- … the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower ... while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what. (3)
-- a pullout won't end the war … we're going to leave and increase the bombing (4)
-- The added air power is meant to compensate for any lost punch on the ground (5)
-- … the Pentagon plans to copy Imperial Britain’s method of ruling oil-rich Iraq … A powerful British RAF contingent, based at Habbibanyah, was tasked with bombing serious revolts and rebellious tribes ... The USAF has developed an extremely effective new technique of wide area control. Small numbers of strike aircraft are kept in the air around the clock. When US ground forces come under attack or foes are sighted, these aircraft are vectored to the site in minutes and deliver precision-guided bombs on enemy forces. The effectiveness of this tactic has led Iraqi resistance fighters to favor roadside bombs over ambushes against US convoys. (6)
The Murtha and Boxer resolutions are steps toward repositioning U.S. planes, the troops who fly and service them, and everything else the military needs to bases in nearby Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, as well as on ships that patrol the Gulf. These aircraft would then patrol Iraq’s skies 24/7, looking for “signs of trouble” and dropping bombs whenever any are found. Since the number of troops needed to control Iraq by use of air power is smaller than the number we currently have on the ground, some of them – perhaps as many as 25% -- will be able to come home. However, this is not a formula for bringing peace to the region but for continuing to exercise American control without having our boots on their soil.
Instead of advancing the cause of ending the war and ushering in an era of peace, it allows the U.S. to continue managing Iraq’s affairs by using a new technique.
This is not a substitute for ending the carnage.
But there is more bad news. One of the things this resolution does accomplish is to provide a convenient way for politicians to continue to play politics with the war. Because its provisions entail a lowering of troop levels, congressmembers who sign on as co-sponsors can make themselves appear to be in favor of peace, though actually all they are supporting is a change in the war’s strategy. (Troop levels will have to be reduced regardless of any action congress may take because, as Murtha and others have pointed out, the only way to sustain the current number of troops would be to have a draft, which no one wants to advocate at this time.) In addition, the chatter about redeployment has taken the spotlight off of other, better proposals pending in congress as well as off of any serious discussion of what the end game will look like and when it will start. Most insidiously, if this passes, it will become harder -- not easier -- for congress to pass true peace-oriented legislation in the future. For example, they will have a more difficult time mandating a timetable in any future bill, as they will already be on the record on that topic as a result of having passed the Murtha and Boxer resolutions. It may also become more difficult for them to direct that steps be taken toward ending the conflict, call for peace talks with combatants, or direct the future course of the war because it is difficult to be certain whether the redeployment bills cede decision-making power about these issues to the Pentagon.
Last year, a few peace groups endorsed the Murtha bill before they understood what it actually entailed. Let’s not make that mistake again. This year, let’s tell congress that the only redeployment we want is the one that brings the troops home.
Pat Gerber (email@example.com) is a San Francisco editor, cartoonist, and peace activist.