by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
right-wing coalition that led the United States into Iraq earlier this year appears in ever greater disarray amid increasingly heated complaints by friends as well as foes that the U.S. occupation is not going well at all.
The main target is Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, who appears increasingly at a loss to explain U.S. strategy beyond his now-famous admission in a "leaked" memo to his top aides last month that the situation in Iraq -- not to mention the wider war against al-Qaeda terrorists -- will be a "long, hard slog."
That was before Iraqi insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter, killing 15 U.S. servicemen at a single blow 10 days ago, and then destroyed a Blackhawk helicopter late last week and killed 6 more.
Meanwhile, the daily U.S. death count, as well as the number of attacks against U.S. forces, has roughly doubled to some 30 a day since mid-summer, while public confidence in President George W. Bush's Iraq policy continues to erode.
A whopping 87 percent of respondents in one ABC-'Washington Post' poll taken before the Chinook disaster said they feared that the United States is getting bogged down, while public and media discourse is increasingly studded with the dread "V" word -- meaning Vietnam, where 55,000 U.S. servicemen died in a losing cause. An estimated 2 million Vietnamese, mostly civilians, also perished, a fact usually ignored by mainstream commentators.
While military commanders continue to insist that the attacks on U.S. forces do not amount to anything like a strategic threat, their latest reactions suggest a sharp rise in concern, at the very least.
In the past week, for example, the administration announced a dramatic acceleration of plans to recall thousands of Iraqi army troops, police and even intelligence officers to active duty, a strategy that will necessarily mean quicker training than originally contemplated and a much stronger likelihood that former Baathist supporters of Saddam Hussein and other anti-U.S. elements will be back in uniform.
Moreover, U.S. military raids against suspected guerrilla strongholds in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" in central Iraq are now being carried out with much more firepower.
After the Blackhawk was shot down, U.S. warplanes dropped 500-pound bombs on suspected enemy sites near Tikrit and Fallujah for the first time since Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended May 1.
Other reports said that tanks and howitzers were also involved in an assault, in what commanders in the field called "a show of force." There were no estimates of results or casualties.
As more than one commentator has pointed out, such heavy-handed tactics risk undermining the battle for "hearts and minds" in the most troublesome Sunni areas, which Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) chief Jerry Bremer says must become a focus of U.S. efforts.
"These growing attacks against American forces have two clear goals: inflict casualties and force a reaction that alienates the local population," wrote Milt Bearden, a retired CIA officer who oversaw the multi-million-dollar, not-so-covert U.S. war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, in 'The New York Times' Sunday.
"Both are being achieved, as the quick-response raids by coalition troops to seize those behind the attacks fuel Iraqi alienation."
But that is not the only risk of more aggressive tactics. Larger shows of force also demonstrate to the public both here and in Iraq that the insurgency must be taken seriously.
In the face of this development, the administration in general and Rumsfeld in particular, are getting no end of increasingly biting advice, from friendly as well as less friendly sectors.
Ardently pro-Israeli neo-conservatives, the most insistent war boosters in and around the administration before and during last March's invasion, are plainly upset with what they see as Rumsfeld's desperation to reduce U.S. troop numbers in favor of re-activating suspect Iraqis.
In a two-page lead editorial Monday, the 'Weekly Standard' newspaper accused the defense chief, its former hero, for allegedly subverting the wishes of the commander-in-chief.
"The president wants to win, and the Pentagon wants to get out," wrote neo-con Executive Editor William Kristol and Contributing Editor Robert Kagan in their piece called 'Exit Strategy or Victory Strategy?'
The accelerated "Iraqification" strategy, according to the two founders of the pro-Israel Project for the New American Century (PNAC) -- the platform on which the "Attack Iraq" coalition behind Bush's post-Sept. 11 policies was forged -- posed a potential disaster given the likelihood that the force will be almost certainly penetrated by Baathists.
"It takes only a couple of mistakes in background checks to have a disaster," they warned.
Their answer from their safely out-of-harm's-way editorial offices is to sharply increase U.S. troop numbers in Iraq, particularly in Sunni areas, and to increase the size of the U.S. army from 10 to 12 divisions, even at the risk of fuelling public worries that the country is becoming a quagmire, both militarily and fiscally.
Their advice echoed that given by Republican Senator John McCain, who, in a speech to the Rockefeller-funded Council on Foreign Relations last week, charged that the administration's actions, in contrast to its rhetoric, was creating the impressions that "our ultimate goal in Iraq is leaving as soon as possible, not meeting our strategic objective of building a free and democratic country in the heart of the Arab world."
McCain stressed that he believed Washington could still achieve its strategic objective with a greater military commitment, "but not if we lose popular support in the United States."
But that appears to be what is happening, judging by the latest polls, in which Bush is slipping sharply, as well as the increasingly frequency with which the current situation is being compared to the disaster of the Vietnam War in which 55,000 Americans died over a ten-year span.
For their part, the Democrats, most of whom supported the war initially, are behaving cautiously, seeing in the administration's flailing about an opportunity to score political points and attack Bush's supposed unilateralism.
Their leading presidential candidates also agree with the administration, the neo-conservatives and McCain that "cutting and running" is unacceptable because Washington would lose all "credibility" -- another oft-heard but little defined word from the Vietnam era -- in the Middle East and beyond, and leave Iraq to the Baathists and even Islamist extremists.
Their general solution is to internationalize the occupation, both by enlisting thus-far reluctant NATO forces under U.S. command to keep the peace and by handing control of the civil and economic administration to the UN Security Council or some other multilateral body.
But both options were rejected by Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney in September, and the increasing number of bloody attacks by the Iraqi resistance since then makes it unlikely that either the United Nations or NATO members will want to get deeply involved.
November 10, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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