William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Sometime late last week, amidst more of the same in Iraq, amidst Congressional resolutions, new poll numbers, and anti-war protests, the Secretary of Defense woke up to realize that the surge is really a trickle.
Robert M. Gates told reporters on Friday that he was looking for ways of speeding up the arrival U.S. forces in Iraq.
Earlier in the week, the anti-Rumsfeld was saying that if all went well in Iraq, maybe we didn't even need to send all 21,500 troops programmed. If all went well, we might be able to bring some home by summer, Gates and the outgoing Iraq commander, Gen. George Casey said.
Regardless of politics and the Washington talk show, we are supposed to have confidence in this well thought out plan for Iraq when the Secretary is already making adjustments and changes?
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said he was pressing the military services to find ways to speed up the deployment of more troops to Iraq.
"We are going to see if the timetable and the dispatch of the brigades can be accelerated," Gates said.
Let's see: We are in the fight of our lives, where failure isn't an option, and yet the prime architect of the new, new strategy is already admitting that he made a mistake in the design.
Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the incoming Iraq commander, told the Senate last week that he needs all the troops he can get. Hearing that message, and watching which way the wind was blowing, Gates now is contradicting himself this way and that.
"As long as he [Petraeus] feels he needs them, they're all going to flow" to Iraq, Gates told reporters on Friday.
That's definitive, as long, that is, as nothing different happens next week to change his mind.
Gates is already at odds with the true believers, inside and outside the military, who are concerned that the premature talk of withdrawing troops, perhaps by summer, undermines a winning strategy. Their argument is that additional deployments should be open-ended and that an 18-month window is needed to turn around the security situation. Their worry is that the insurgents and militias will just lay low if the surge is indeed shown to be a short term smoke screen, presenting a picture of stability and progress while just waiting to resume their activities once U.S. forces start leaving.
Meanwhile, writing in the Post this morning, national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley says that the surge isn't THE new strategy. The strategy, he says, is composed of the many steps that the United States and Iraq are taking to positively deal with the near anarchy - my words - on the ground, particularly in Baghdad.
Hadley reiterates what Americans haven't quite understood yet: "Training and supporting Iraqi troops will remain our military's essential and primary mission."
The surge is exposed for what it has always been, a political sledgehammer to beat Congress and the American people into submission, while on the ground it is a feather of force, a symbol of change.
Gates cites "logistical constraints" and personal turbulence as the major impediments to getting more soldiers and Marines into the fight.
That's it? We wouldn't want to disturb the family life of American forces in order to get the war over once and for all?
And meanwhile, Mr. Secretary Sensitive wants to abandon the Rumsfeld (and traditional) style of the formal news conference for more informal around-the-table meeting with reporters.
The messages here are all over the place: American sons and daughters are continuing to die, America is fighting wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere in the shadows, and our Secretary of Defense chooses Oprah.
Note to readers: You might want to check out an appearance I made on the NPR show "On the Media" talking about the surge and the strange reporting of the same by the national media.By William M. Arkin | January 29, 2007; 8:39 AM ET