Before the escalation becomes inevitable, it must be made clear that this reckless strategy is being dictated by the White House and not by the military commanders who are being poked, prodded, pushed – and bribed – into backing it.
Again and again and again, President Bush has insisted that he's running the war by listening to his generals, and that he doesn't "make decisions based upon politics about how to win a war," choosing to "trust our commanders on the ground to give the best advice about how to achieve victory." As he put it in the run-up to the midterm elections: "I believe that you empower your generals to make the decisions – the recommendations on what we do to win."
But that's clearly not what's happening.
For months, those commanders, Gen. Abizaid and Gen. Casey, have been unwavering in their opposition to sending more troops to Iraq, arguing that it would increase Iraqi dependency on Washington, lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents, attract more foreign jihadists to Iraq, increase the impression of an American occupation, and, in the evocative words of a senior military official, "be like throwing kerosene on a fire."
Testifying at a Senate Armed Services hearing last month, Gen. Abizaid said unequivocally that he did not "believe that more American troops right now is the solution."
But the surge is moving forward anyway. So much for "trusting and empowering" your commanders. Making matters worse, Abizaid and Casey are providing cover for Bush by caving to White House pressure and acting like they support the move – albeit in the most unenthusiastic terms possible.
"I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea," said Casey last week, speaking like a man who feared that if he actually said that he thought it was a good plan, God would strike him down.
And check out the verbal contortions of the senior Defense Department official who told the New York Times that Casey and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who oversees day-to-day operations in Iraq, were open to "the possible modest augmentation in U.S. combat forces." Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a surge – but nowhere near the honest expression of the military's reported "firm stand" against it.
In October, President Bush said, "You can't fight a war from Washington...You can't make the tactical decisions necessary to win. It just won't work."
He was absolutely right. But that is precisely what's happening with the troop surge plan -- and what has been the modus operandi since the beginning of the war. Don't forget what happened to Gen. Shinseki when he had the temerity to suggest that Don Rumsfeld's pre-war troop levels were inadequate. Shinseki's fate has obviously been a factor in his successors' subsequent acquiescence, and helps explain why the catastrophe in Iraq has been masterminded from Washington every step of the way – the honest advice of our military commanders be damned.
If there were ever a time for America's military leaders to tell us the truth as opposed to keeping their mouths shut (or speaking out of both sides) while waiting for this administration's version of the gold watch – the Medal of Freedom bestowed on those that play the good soldier and go along with the program – this is surely that time.
But the conditions on the ground indicate that Abizaid, Casey, and the rest of the military high command are not going to take a stand against yet another disastrous decision by the White House – which means that it will be up to the Democrats, soon to take control of Congress, to stop this tragic escalation.