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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 10th, 2007 - 00:25:04

Focus is on Bush's new strategy
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 10, 2007, 00:16

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By this evening, George W. Bush's "New Way Forward" is likely to become public. It is likely to consist of a troop "surge" designed to help quell the "insurgency" and sectarian conflict within Baghdad and the surrounding area with the help of Iraqi forces.

It is also expected to include programmes to boost jobs and reconstruction. Most experts believe it is too little too late. Some say an anticipated increase of 20,000 US troops would be a provocation resulting in further bloodshed. Others contend they will be sitting ducks.

General Wesley Clarke told the Independent that "US troops have been shown to lack the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to ensure that areas can be 'held', or even that they are fully 'cleared'."

The policy is a slap in the face for American voters, who made their disillusionment with the war in Iraq crystal clear during the November mid-term elections when the Democrats took control of the House and the Senate. The Democrats have made their opposition to a surge known.

At the same time, it is thought the Democrats won't dare to deplete the administration's war chest for fear of being labelled unpatriotic. Yet if they offer tacit agreement to the plan, they risk angering their own antiwar base. Cindy Sheehan and friends are already on the warpath, or rather peace-path, heckling Democrats to stick to their pre-election promises.

Sticking to his guns

It seems likely that Bush will get away with sticking to his guns, literally. It doesn't matter that most Americans and Iraqis, according to polls, want closure on this failed enterprise that has cost so much in lives and treasure.

It doesn't matter that a growing number of top generals, think tanks, pundits and even Republican politicians want out. And as for the painstakingly drawn up Iraq Study Report, written off as a surrender document by the right-wing media, that was a no-go from the get-go.

Bush and his new top commander in Iraq, General David H. Petraeus, who unlike his predecessor is a devotee of the surge theory, are in the minority. The "surge" is unpopular with just about everyone, so what could be the president's motives behind his pursuit of this course?

There is a range of theories. The most simplistic is the president's ego is too big and too fragile to admit failure by walking away. It could be that Bush is steeped in denial, neoconservative ideology or messianic musings to the extent failure isn't an option.

In any case, all he has to do is appear to enthusiastically stay the course for the next two years when he can hand the mess over to his successor to clean up. Thus, he may escape a possible place in history as the worst US president ever.

Moreover, as long as the nation is kept at war, the commander-in-chief is unlikely to face impeachment for misleading the country over Iraq's touted WMD and links to 9-11.

The above are cynical analyses, which may or may not hold water. But here's what we do know.

The US is massing a large naval and air force in this region. On Saturday, three Virginia-based amphibious assault ships began their journey to join the USS Dwight Eisenhower, the USS Boxer and the USS John C. Stennis. The ships have little part to play in quelling the Iraqi resistance, so what are they doing here?

Nuclear bunker busters

A much-quoted article in the Sunday Times may contain a clue. Quoting Israeli defence force sources, the article says Israel is planning to use nuclear bunker busters against Iran's Natanz uranium processing plant and conventional weapons to destroy nuclear facilities at Arak and Isfahan.

Israel was quick to deny these claims, even as Israeli military strategists suggest force may be the only way to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

In the event Israel was foolhardy enough to take such an aggressive step, Iran has already vowed to retaliate against both Israel and its ally, the US, which could explain the contingent of 20,000 American naval and aviation personnel based on carriers and warships in the neighbourhood.

A planned strike on Iran by either Israel or the US, or both, could also account for the troop "surge" in Iraq, which in this case would be geared towards taking on pro-Iranian Shiites, such as Moqtada Al Sadr's Mehdi Army or Abdul Aziz Al Hakim's Badr Brigades.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has already been ordered to purge the police and army of sectarianism and crackdown on Shiite militias. Asked to turn on his own religious Dawa Party supporters, it's no wonder he's in a hurry to quit the job.

Al Maliki and his colleagues are also preparing to hand Iraq's oil over to Western oil companies for a 30-year period under a controversial new law concocted by the US. Once again, the Iraqi people's interests are being sold down the Tigris.

Excuse the cynicism again. But, frankly, Bush's reluctance to walk away from Iraq isn't really surprising when one looks at the big picture. Blood may be thicker than water but obviously it isn't nearly as thick as black gold or as alluring as permanent bases, designed to facilitate America's regional dominance for decades to come.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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