At the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes says President Bush is leaning in favor of a proposal by retired General Jack Keane and AEI’s Fred Kagan (and a host of others, mostly from AEI) which calls for a major surge in combat forces to win in Baghdad and dramatically improve, within the next 18 months or so, the prospects for overall victory.
In terms of priorities, the proposal makes securing the Iraqi population (rather than training the Iraqi forces or bolstering the current Iraqi government) the top U.S. objective in Iraq. This would certainly focus on our enemies inside of Iraq, but it wouldn’t do much about Iran and Syria — which the proponents concede are a problem, though one whose urgency they downgrade on the rationale that these countries are contributing to, but not controlling, the violence in Iraq.
Leaving that aside, the interesting proposal is silent on what I wager would be its steepest challenge: declining political support for the war here at home (including an antiwar media sure to exploit the increased U.S. casualties that would be inevitable in any renewed offensive). To be fair, the Keane/Kagan plan is offered as a military proposal — these guys are not purporting to do politics. But they are calling for more troops, more spending, and more commitment. All those things would be necessary to any victory strategy — and I applaud them for insisting that we have to win. We oughtn’t underestimate, though, how tall an order it will be for a president whose popularity is down to rally an Iraq-weary country.
Among the residual benefits of focusing on Iran and Syria would be the potential for building political support: (a) we haven’t tried it yet so people mightn’t be as dismissive as they will likely be about other ideas for fixing Iraq, and (b) Iran and Syria have been so brazenly provocative that people might be more receptive to the argument that we have to do something about them. But, alas, it does not appear things are moving in that direction.