Monday, January 22, 2007

Embedding requires (a) more troops, (b) fewer troops, (c) the same number of troops, (d) uh, just send the damn troops (Part Five, Lieberman Project)

Lieberman appeared on Face The Nation on December 3, 2006, less than one month after the election.

LIEBERMAN: The Rumsfeld memo itself is in many ways surprising. He raises
possibilities of doing things such as redeploying our troops which he has always
said that he was against. I must say, Bob, that the one thing he doesn’t raise
as a possibility is to increase the number of our troops there even though
there’s very broad criticism of Rumsfeld for having had too few American troops
in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. That may well be a critical part of
the problems that we’ve been having lately. Incidentally, finally he makes a few
suggestions such as embedding more Americans in Iraqi security forces which most
people now think is a good idea and having more Americans on the border with
Iran and Syria to stop the terrorists from coming in. You know, our military has
been asking for that for years. They didn’t get it. Both of those require more
personnel on the ground in Iraq.

With this statement Lieberman had categorically repudiated his argument in Point Six of his ten point plan that embedding would require fewer personnel on the ground in Iraq. While stopping short on Face The Nation of formally calling for more troops, his continued support for increased embedding, coupled with his newfound conviction that embedding would require more troops, leads ineluctably to the conclusion that Lieberman had decided by early December that more U.S. troops were required in Iraq, weeks before he would leave for Iraq, weeks before he would consult with military commanders regarding troop levels, and weeks before the Bush administration would even present a plan Lieberman could evaluate to determine whether a troop increase was part of a "strategy for success." It has also led to a reasonable suspicion that Lieberman had known this when he delivered his major speech at the East Hampton VFW, and when he waved his plan during the debates as the plan that would bring the troops home.

On the cool, clear morning of November 7th, as Connecticut voters made their way to the polling places, Lieberman's ten point plan was still the definitive statement of his Iraq policy. It advocated a reduction of U.S. troop levels in Iraq through a strategy of embedding U.S. troops in Iraqi military units. It argued, as Lieberman had argued in his WSJ op-ed in November 2005, that embedding was a means of leveraging our forces in Iraq (embedding "makes each unit more effective and acts as a multiplier of our forces" the op-ed had stated). "This will allow more Americans to come home because embedded troops need less outside support," the ten point plan had explained. And, finally, should anyone have wondered whether this strategy to increase the number of U.S. troops embedded in Iraqi units would require more U.S. troops in Iraq, the ten point plan contended "[t]his should be done by redeploying existing troops, not adding new troops to the region."

And so it appears that the circumstances that had changed and caused Lieberman to reverse his opposition to more troops in Iraq were not to be found on the ground in Iraq (where the situation remained desperate, but in the estimation of Gen. Abizaid marginally better than in August), or in the opinion of American military commanders (Abizaid's dissent on the question of troop increases would soon be publicly joined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Casey). It appears that Lieberman's shift from "bring 'em home" to "ship 'em out" resulted from a fundamental reappraisal by Lieberman of the logistical requirements of an embedding strategy. The same strategy Lieberman had promoted as best hope for withdrawal of U.S. troops on November 7th had become a strategy that demanded an increase in U.S. forces in Iraq. By early January 2007 Lieberman had come to believe that this increase, which he had suggested to the skeptical Gen. Abizaid on November 15, 2005 would be a "short term increase in our forces [in Iraq]", would have to be substantial and sustained, as Lieberman's friend and ally John McCain would argue in his joint appearance with Lieberman at the American Enterprise Institute.

The evolution in Lieberman's position on increased troop levels in Iraq was traceable not only to strategic imperatives, but moral imperatives as well. In an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post on December 29, 2006 ("Why We Need More Troops In Iraq") Lieberman said that "failure in Iraq would be a strategic and moral catastrophe for the United States and its allies." He argued vehemently that America had a "responsibility to do what is strategically and morally right for our nation over the long term -- not what appears easier in the short term." And after allowing that "daily scenes of death and destruction in Iraq are heartbreaking and infuriating," he concluded:

"But there is no better strategic and moral alternative for America than
standing with the moderate Iraqis until the country is stable and they can take
over their security. Rather than engaging in hand-wringing, carping or calls for
withdrawal, we must summon the vision, will and courage to take the difficult
and decisive steps needed for success and, yes, victory in Iraq. That will
greatly advance the cause of moderation and freedom throughout the Middle East
and protect our security at home."

It had again fallen to Joe Lieberman to limn for his countrymen the moral implications of a crisis confronting the nation. And, if one can judge by the number of times Lieberman invoked morality in his op-ed, the magnitude of the moral failure should America flinch from its obligation to send more troops to Iraq would be fully 30% as grave as the crisis Lieberman had taken to the floor of the Senate to inveigh against in September 1998, when the nation's moral foundation was threatened by presidential knob polishing in the oval office.

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