Washington (SPX) Jun 08, 2007
President George W. Bush's new "war czar" admitted Thursday to past misgivings about Bush's surge of US troops into Iraq, as Democrats lacerated White House policy on the blood-soaked country. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, who was nominated by Bush last month to oversee the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Iraqi authorities and other US agencies needed to step up alongside the US military.
"I expressed concerns in the policy development phase... that this not be simply a one-dimensional surge," the three-star army general, 54, told his Senate confirmation hearing.
The surge climaxing this month would "likely have only temporary and localized effects" unless it was accompanied by "counterpart surges" by the Iraqi government and civilian US government departments, Lute said.
"We are in the early days and time will tell," he added, while insisting that the United States must prevail in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Senator Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic contender in the 2008 presidential race, summed up criticism that Lute was being placed in an "impossible" position to fix administration policy in Iraq.
She said that Bush's influential and hawkish vice president, Dick Cheney, continued to run a "parallel operation" on Iraq.
"We can only hope that you will be listened to when others of us have been ignored for a number of years now," Clinton told Lute.
Bush nominated Lute in mid-May as a deputy national security advisor to "be the full-time manager" of White House strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lute, who is now serving as director of the Joint Staff, was selected after several prominent retired generals turned down offers or overtures to become the White House's "war czar."
He said the job was "a major personal challenge" but stressed: "If confirmed, I will give the president my straightforward, candid and personal advice."
Lute won general backing from the members of the Senate's armed services committee for his nomination, even as many questioned the need for the job in the absence of a change of heart by Bush on Iraq.
"Wake up," said Republican Senator John Warner, querying Lute's appeal for American patience with the fledgling democracy in Iraq. "We're paying a heavy price for them to establish this government."
Both Democratic and Republican senators were skeptical about the appointment of yet another policy advisor for Bush along with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and military chiefs.
Hadley came in for biting criticism after Lute said he would advise Bush "directly" on policy towards Iraq and Afghanistan, in effect bypassing the top White House security aide.
Democrat Jack Reed said that Hadley was therefore redundant and should be "fired," and described the new "war czar" job as "another public-relations play rather than a significant change in strategy."
Committee chairman Carl Levin said Lute was in the "unenviable position" of bringing "coherence to an incoherent policy" on Iraq.
The surge was failing to quell the bloody insurgency, Levin said, and added: "Baghdad is burning while the Iraqi politicians refuse to accept responsibility for their country's future."
Lute said early results of the surge were "mixed" and described Iraqi progress on security as "uneven so far."
Bush announced in January that the United States was deploying more than 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, bringing the total to 160,000 by this month.
US General David Petraeus, commander of allied forces in Iraq, is due to report back in September on the surge's impact as many Democrats agitate for an early withdrawal of US troops.
Lute said that without progress by Iraq's government to reconcile warring Shiite and Sunni factions, "I'd share the view that we're not likely to see much progress on the security situation."
Al-Qaeda was emerging as the number one security threat in Iraq, he said, adding that he would press Pakistan to do more to eliminate "safe havens" for Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters along its border with Afghanistan.
earlier related report
Some of the press accounts of the surgeon general's study, "Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) IV; Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07," also reported the more detailed findings from its chapter on "Battlefield Ethics." The information became more disconcerting; the problems were clearly more serious and pervasive than the executive summary indicated:
"Only 47 percent of soldiers and only 38 percent of Marines agreed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect."
"Well over a third of soldiers and Marines reported torture should be allowed, whether to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine ... or to obtain important information about insurgents. ..." Some 28 percent of soldiers and 30 percent of Marines reported they had cursed and/or insulted Iraqi non-combatants in their presence. Nine percent and 12 percent, respectively, reported damaging or destroying Iraqi property "when it was not necessary." Four percent and 7 percent, respectively, reported hitting or kicking a non-combatant "when it was not necessary."
The study also reports that only 55 percent of soldiers and just 40 percent of Marines would report a unit member injuring or killing "an innocent non-combatant," and just 43 percent and 30 percent, respectively, would report a unit member destroying or damaging private property.
It is notable that these are the responses the survey team received; there are probably more soldiers and Marines who may have been reluctant to respond completely and accurately to an Army questionnaire on such sensitive topics. Therefore, the data recorded should be regarded as a floor, not a ceiling.
Regardless of just how frequent the abuse may be beyond the survey results, these are descriptions of behaviors that can only alienate the Iraqi population against the U.S. military presence there, and against any among that population, including its politicians, who welcome or even tolerate our presence. It is not just that we are not winning; we are helping the enemy. When the historians explain why America lost the war in Iraq, this study should be prominent evidence.
Reacting to the surgeon general's devastating study, our coalition commander in Iraq, U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, said he was "very concerned" and that he had been writing "a memorandum to our leaders and to our troopers to discuss these kinds of issues and to note that we can never sink to the level of the enemy." It is the kind of reaction one might expect from a politician being careful to offend no one, except Iraqis, or perhaps a bureaucrat who believes memoranda make the world go around.
If he read the entire study from the surgeon general, Petraeus probably hopes that no one else reads it. The study seeks to explain the reasons for our troops' abusive behavior, and that explanation casts devastating illumination on the logic of this war. It also provides a prospective explanation for why the "surge" of American troops in Iraq, which Petraeus has accepted as his mission, can only make things worse.
Page 38 of the surgeon general's study states that "soldiers who screened positive for a mental health problem (anxiety, depression or acute stress) were twice as likely to engage in unethical behavior (i.e., abuse of Iraqi civilians) compared to those soldiers who did not screen positive." Subsequent pages make the same point about Marines.
What causes the "anxiety, depression or acute stress" that can result in the abuse? For Army personnel, deployment tempo is a major factor: "Soldiers deployed to Iraq more than once were more likely to screen positive for acute stress," notes the report. And perhaps even more significantly, given the rotation schedule in Iraq: "Long deployment length (described as one year) continues to be the top concern for ... soldiers."
The study recommended extending the period of time soldiers spend at home with their families to 18-36 months, while also decreasing the length of deployments in Iraq to under one year.
As the study noted, Marines typically deploy to Iraq for six or seven months, and the study found that "because of shorter deployments, Marines tend to have fewer deployment concerns" and the resultant stress from that cause. But the Marines engaged in the same "unethical" behavior toward Iraqi civilians. The study made it clear that Marines share other conditions with soldiers, especially involvement in combat.
Next: Levels of combat involvement.
(Winslow T. Wheeler is the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)
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Center for Defense Information
Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
An Escalating War Surges Forward Into The Sands Of Iraq
Washington (UPI) June 07, 2007
More than four months into the "surge" strategy the statistics of U.S., insurgent and civilian casualties reveal an escalating war that may be entering a decisive "tipping point" phase. The Pentagon claims that since January, U.S. forces have killed or captured more than 20,000 insurgents. Although this figure is impressive, it suggests that the total number of active insurgents has risen dramatically from the top level of only 20,000 in U.S. military estimates during much of 2005 and 2006.
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