When it comes to surging in Iraq, it's "encouraging" out there. So the President tells us ("Yet even at this early hour, there are some encouraging signs…"); so Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the surge commander in Baghdad, tells us ("[It's] too early to discern significant trends, [but] there have been a few encouraging signs…"). No, they're not talking about what Juan Cole calls the "new spate of massive and deadly bombings [that] has spread insecurity and further compromised the Iraqi government… right in downtown Baghdad, within spitting distance of the Green Zone, where the U.S. and the Iraqi government planned out the new security arrangements"; they're referring to some weapons caches found, some under-strength Iraqi units deployed to the capital, a possible small drop in deaths from sectarian violence.
Still, if surge success isn't exactly looming on the horizon, it's clear enough what is: Call it "surge creep." In a way, surge creep has been the story of the Iraq War since the beginning.
Numbers creep: As Tom Ricks has reported in his book Fiasco,when the Bush administration first invaded Iraq in March 2003, its top officials believed that, by August, most American troops would be withdrawn. Only 30,000 or so would remain to garrison a grateful country. That, of course, was four years ago. Today, American troop totals in Iraq are heading back towards 160,000-plus.
The forces for the surge plan alone, announced at 21,500 by the President in January, are already creeping toward 30,000. Recently, the administration "clarified" all this in a piecemeal sort of way. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England explained to Congress that the surge combat units might well need up to 7,000 more support troops. He suggested this in rejecting "a recent estimate by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that the surge would require an additional 15,000-28,000 support personnel." (Keep that figure in the back of your mind, as surge creep continues.) Then Lt. Gen. Petraeus requested 2,200 extra military police for all the detainees he plans to pick up in sweeps of Baghdad neighborhoods. The President signed off on them this week. Whether they are part of those up to 7,000 support troops or not remains foggy; meanwhile Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the commander of American forces outside the surge zone in Northern Iraq, just called for reinforcements for Diyala Province where attacks have risen 30%.
Money creep: The administration supposedly budgeted $5.6 billion for the new surge plan in the capital and al-Anbar Province. But that was January, this is March. Another billion dollars or so has already been added on for those extra "support troops" (that no one had evidently given a thought to a month and a half ago) and--among easy predictions--look for real costs to creep ever higher, as they have done since March 2003.
Time creep: When the surge plan was first proposed in January, then-commanding general George W. Casey Jr. suggested that it might be successfully completed, with Baghdadis "feeling safe" in their neighborhoods, by "the summer, late summer." Soon enough, new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates let it be known that the time estimate had crept into the fall, when, he felt sure, the surge might begin to be "reversed." Now, Petraeus is talking about extending the (rising) surge troop levels into the winter; his second-in-command, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, is already floating the idea of surging into February 2008; and, according to the Washington Post, some commanders under them in Baghdad are "predicting that U.S. troop levels in the Iraqi capital will have to remain elevated until at least the spring of 2008." This sort of time creep--like the numbers creep and the money creep--has been an ongoing aspect of the administration's Iraq for years now.
Blame creep: Finally, we can already see the first little surge of blame creep out of Baghdad. Petraeus, not even a month in the Iraqi capital, has evidently taken a good hard look around and found things not exactly to his liking. He's just held his first news conference and offered his mantra for saving the capital (or at least his own rep): "There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq... Military action is necessary to help improve security... but it is not sufficient." Such comments are already getting him headlines like: "U.S. commander says no military solution in Iraq." Think of the general as carefully beginning to signal his future explanation for the failure of the surge plan. (Those dopes in Washington couldn't handle the politics of the situation.) Remember: If you're going to blame someone convincingly, you have to plant your story early.
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.
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