When a house is on fire, would you rather call in the fire brigade or count on bucketsful of water to douse it? President George W Bush apparently wants the world to believe that this is the philosophy behind his controversial plans to send tens of thousands of more troops to Iraq. In a newspaper interview on Monday, he reportedly spoke of increasing the US military’s size worldwide in general, and in Iraq in particular. The argument seems to be that Iraqis cannot overcome their sectarian differences until military action blunts the Sunni-led insurgency.
The Pentagon’s most pessimistic report yet on Iraq indicates that attacks are now at record highs. Shia death squads have eclipsed Al-Qaeda as the most destabilising force there, and insurgent efforts to undermine the Iraqi government appear to be succeeding. This is tantamount to admitting that the US is losing the Iraq war. The President is obviously under increasing pressure from allies and critics, including Democrats and Republicans in Congress, who fear that the army is being stretched too thin. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell even went as far as to say the army was “about broken”. That said, however, Mr Bush need not have written this new prescription for resolving the Iraqi imbroglio. The Baker-Hamilton Study Group on Iraq, in its report, may have advocated removing most combat troops by early 2008, while also suggesting “a temporary increase in forces”. But that is only if “US commanders believe it would be effective”. And more military on the ground is clearly the last thing that many Pentagon generals would want, as they are rightly concerned that such a short-term surge in US presence would only fuel the fighting.
It is still not too late for Mr Bush to acknowledge that troops are only part of the answer, and that modern technology and better intelligence should be preferred to a bigger military. Pulling US troops out of the Sunni triangle and other areas, for instance, could prove to be more effective than augmenting the military presence. In any case, to be effective, any strategy must include efforts to train the Iraqi army and deal with political and economic issues.