Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for December 28th, 2006

Many soldiers say troop surge a bad idea

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Many of the American soldiers trying to quell sectarian killings in Baghdad don’t appear to be looking for reinforcements. They say the temporary surge in troop levels some people are calling for is a bad idea.

President Bush is considering increasing the number of troops in Iraq and embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units. White House advisers have indicated Bush will announce his new plan for the war before his State of the Union address Jan. 23.

In dozens of interviews with soldiers of the Army’s 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment as they patrolled the streets of eastern Baghdad, many said the Iraqi capital is embroiled in civil warfare between majority Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs that no number of American troops can stop.

Others insisted current troop levels are sufficient and said any increase in U.S. presence should focus on training Iraqi forces, not combat.

But their more troubling worry was that dispatching a new wave of soldiers would result in more U.S. casualties, and some questioned whether an increasingly muddled American mission in Baghdad is worth putting more lives on the line.

Spc. Don Roberts, who was stationed in Baghdad in 2004, said the situation had gotten worse because of increasing violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

“I don’t know what could help at this point,” said Roberts, 22, of Paonia, Colo. “What would more guys do? We can’t pick sides. It’s almost like we have to watch them kill each other, then ask questions.”

Based in Fort Lewis, Wash., the battalion is part of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division. Deployed in June, its men were moved to Baghdad from Mosul in late November to relieve another Stryker battalion that had reached the end of its tour.

“Nothing’s going to help. It’s a religious war, and we’re caught in the middle of it,” said Sgt. Josh Keim, a native of Canton, Ohio, who is on his second tour in Iraq. “It’s hard to be somewhere where there’s no mission and we just drive around.”

Capt. Matt James, commander of the battalion’s Company B, was careful in how he described the unit’s impact since arriving in Baghdad.
“The idea in calling us in was to make things better here, but it’s very complicated and complex,” he said.
But James said more troops in combat would likely not have the desired effect.
“The more guys we have training the Iraqi army the better,” he said. “I would like to see a surge there.”

During a recent interview, Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, deputy chief of staff for the Iraqi army, said that instead of sending more U.S. soldiers, Washington should focus on furnishing his men with better equipment.
“We are hoping 2007 will be the year of supplies,” he said.

Some in the 5th Battalion don’t think training will ever get the Iraqi forces up to American standards.

“They’re never going to be as effective as us,” said 1st Lt. Sean McCaffrey, 24, of Shelton, Conn. “They don’t have enough training or equipment or expertise.”
McCaffrey does support a temporary surge in troop numbers, however, arguing that flooding Baghdad with more soldiers could “crush enemy forces all over the city instead of just pushing them from one area to another.”

Pfc. Richard Grieco said it’s hard to see how daily missions in Baghdad make a difference.
“If there’s a plan to sweep through Baghdad and clear it, (more troops) could make a difference,” said the 19-year-old from Slidell, La. “But if we just dump troops in here like we’ve been doing, it’s just going to make for more targets.”

Sgt. James Simons, 24, of Tacoma, Wash., said Baghdad is so dangerous that U.S. forces spend much of their time in combat instead of training Iraqis.
“Baghdad is still like it was at the start of the war. We still have to knock out insurgents because things are too dangerous for us to train the Iraqis,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Anthony Handly disagreed, saying Baghdad has made improvements many Americans aren’t aware of.
“People think everything is so bad and so violent, but it’s really not,” said Handly, 30, of Bellingham, Wash. “A lot of people are getting jobs they didn’t have before and they’re doing it on their own. We just provide a stabilizing effect.”

Staff Sgt. Lee Knapp, 28, of Mobile, Ala., also supported a temporary troop surge, saying it could keep morale up by reducing the need to extend units past the Army’s standard tour of one year in Iraq.
“It could help alleviate some stress on the smaller units,” he said. “It could help Baghdad, but things are already getting better.”

Sgt. Justin Thompson, a San Antonio native, said he signed up for delayed enlistment before the Sept. 11 terror attacks, then was forced to go to a war he didn’t agree with.
A troop surge is “not going to stop the hatred between Shia and Sunni,” said Thompson, who is especially bitter because his 4-year contract was involuntarily extended in June. “This is a civil war, and we’re just making things worse. We’re losing. I’m not afraid to say it.”

Click

Read Full Post »

Defense Secretary Is Wary of Adding More Iraq Troops

WASHINGTON — With President Bush leaning toward sending more soldiers to pacify Iraq, his defense secretary is privately opposing the buildup.

According to two administration officials who asked not to be named, Robert Gates expressed his skepticism about a troop surge in Iraq on his first day on the job, December 18, at a Pentagon meeting with civilians who oversee the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines.

The view of the new defense secretary appears to be at odds with the leanings of Mr. Bush, who is expected to announce a new troop surge when he unveils his new war strategy next month. Mr. Gates met with Mr. Bush Saturday at Camp David after a trip to Iraq, where the defense secretary met with the commander of American forces there, General George Casey. General Casey said he would be open to an increase in troops, but a spokesman for him told the Christian Science Monitor over the weekend that the general had not formally requested more troops.

The view from the military on the troop surge is murky. The Pentagon‘s top generals have been on the record before Congress and in the press for the past two years as saying the current troop levels in Iraq are adequate for the balancing act of standing up an Iraqi military and also fighting off largely Sunni insurgents. At the same time, last June’s Baghdad offensive, which moved troops to Iraq’s capital from other troubled provinces such as Anbar has been widely seen as a failure, as Shiite militias continue their killing spree undeterred. The failure of what was known as “Operation Forward Together” has led to a rethinking of strategy.

Before taking over as defense secretary earlier this month, Mr. Gates had been a member of the 10-person Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker-Hamilton commission. That group has warned against a long-term buildup of forces in Iraq, arguing it would lessen pressure on the elected government in Baghdad to reach a political accommodation there, which the commission says is the only way to stabilize the deteriorating nation.

That’s the way many of the Democrats preparing to take over Congress see things as well. Yesterday, in a conference call with reporters, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, a Democrat of Delaware, said he would launch three weeks of hearings on Iraq in January in part to persuade Republicans to go to the White House to oppose a new troop surge for Iraq.

“I totally oppose the surging of additional troops in Baghdad,” Mr. Biden told reporters yesterday. He also said a majority of his colleagues in the Senate also opposed the push for new troops “absent some profound political announcement, addressing the two overriding issues,” which he said were sharing oil revenues and dealing with largely Shiite factional militias.

Click for more on this story

Read Full Post »

Edwards shoots for White House again

NEW ORLEANS – Former vice presidential nominee John Edwards said Thursday that he is a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, promising “a grass roots, ground-up campaign where we ask people to take action.”

Clad in blue jeans, an open-necked shirt and with his sleeves rolled up, Edwards chose the backyard of a victim of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans’ devastated 9th Ward for his unorthodox announcement.

“We want people in this campaign to actually take action now, not later, not after the next election,” the former North Carolina senator said, sounding as much like a recruiter as a presidential campaigner.

“Instead of staying home and complaining, we’re asking Americans to help,” Edwards said. “Most of the good that has been done in New Orleans has been done by faith-based groups, charitable groups and volunteers.”

Edwards — who is calling for cuts in poverty, global warming and troops in Iraq — chose the site to highlight his signature concern of the economic disparity that divides America.

“I’m here to announce I’m a candidate for president of the United States,” Edwards told NBC’s “Today Show” earlier Thursday, one of three back-to-back interviews by the candidate on morning news shows. “I’ve reached my own conclusion this is the best way to serve my country.”

Edwards, 53, said the difference between his message to voters in 2004 and his 2008 presidential bid is that, “I’ve learned since the last campaign that it’s great to identify a problem … but the way you change things is by taking action.”

And Iraq is one of the biggest issues facing the country.

“It would be a huge mistake to put a surge of troops into Iraq,” Edwards said on ABC’s “Good Morning America. “It sends exactly the wrong signal. We can maximize our chances for success by making clear we are going to leave Iraq and not stay there forever.”

And the next president must restore America’s leadership in the world, he said.

“It’s absolutely crucial that America re-establish its moral authority and leadership role in the world,” Edward said on CBS “Early Show.”

Edwards’ campaign got a little ahead of itself Wednesday and announced his intentions online a day early. His Web site briefly featured the logo “John Edwards ’08″ and its slogan, “Tomorrow begins today” — literally, in this case — before aides quickly removed them.

In his message to supporters, Edwards listed five priorities to change America.

Among them: “Guaranteeing health care for every single American,” “Strengthening our middle class and ending the shame of poverty,” “Leading the fight against global warming,” and “Getting America and the world to break our addiction to oil.”

Edwards has been working to build his campaign ever since he and John Kerry lost a close race to the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004.

The campaign could pit Edwards against his former partner on the Democratic ticket.

Kerry has not said yet whether he will run, nor have other big names like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but Edwards did not wait to find out who will be his competition.

He has positioned himself as a serious contender. He’s been strengthening his ties to labor and other Democratic activists behind the scenes, rebuilding a top-notch campaign staff and honing his skills. The efforts have made him the leading candidate in early polls of Iowa Democrats who will get the first say in the nomination fight.

Edwards’ advisers scheduled a six-state announcement tour between Christmas and New Year’s Day with the hopes that news would be slow and he could dominate media coverage. Over three days, Edwards also planned to travel to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and his home state of North Carolina.

Edwards was kicking off his campaign at one of the few homes in the neighborhood that appears close to being habitable. It belongs to Orelia Tyler, 54, who has been living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer in her yard while her home was rebuilt.

Edwards’ challenge over the next year will be to show that he can keep up with front-runners Clinton and Obama, should they get in the race, in terms of fundraising and support. Unlike officeholders who may run, Edwards does not have a federal campaign account and will have to start raising money from scratch.

He also has hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from his 2004 campaign.

The son of a textile mill worker, Edwards has been on a fast track most of his life despite his up-by-the-bootstraps roots.

A standout law student who became a stunningly successful trial lawyer and millionaire, Edwards vaulted from nowhere politically into the U.S. Senate and then onto the 2004 Democratic presidential ticket — all in less than six years.

In 1998, in his first bid for public office, Edwards defeated incumbent Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., a leading advocate for impeachment of President Clinton.

Edwards began building support for his first presidential bid shortly after arriving in the Senate. He quickly made a name for himself in Congress, using his legal background to help Democratic colleagues navigate the impeachment hearings.

Edwards launched a bid for the Democratic nomination in 2003 and quickly caught the eye of Democratic strategists. Although he won only the South Carolina primary, his skills on the trail, his cheerful demeanor, and his message of “two Americas” — one composed of the wealthy and privileged, and the other of the hardworking common man — excited voters, especially independents and moderate-leaning Democrats.

Edwards’ handsome, youthful appearance also gave him a measure of star quality, one of the reasons Kerry selected Edwards as his running mate.

Click

Read Full Post »


Thursday’s edition of The New York Times includes a story which records the frustrations of some commanding officers in charge of training Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad, who fear that “sectarian ties” may be almost insurmountable in a country where “everyone, to some extent, is influenced” by the Shiite militias.

“I have come to the conclusion that this is no longer America’s war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting,” Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of a military training unit in Baghdad tells the Times.

“A two-day reporting trip accompanying Major Voorhies’s unit and combat troops seemed to back his statement, as did other commanding officers expressing similar frustration,” writes Marc Santora.

Excerpts from article:

The car parked outside was almost certainly a tool of the Sunni insurgency. It was pocked with bullet holes and bore fake license plates. The trunk had cases of unused sniper bullets and a notice to a Shiite family telling them to abandon their home.

“Otherwise, your rotten heads will be cut off,” the note read.

The soldiers who came upon the car in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad were part of a joint American and Iraqi patrol, and the Americans were ready to take action. The Iraqi commander, however, taking orders by cellphone from the office of a top Sunni politician, said to back off: the car’s owner was known and protected at a high level.

For Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of the military training unit at the scene, the moment encapsulated his increasingly frustrating task — trying to build up Iraqi security forces who themselves are being used as proxies in a spreading sectarian war. This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often.

Click

Read Full Post »

Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq


Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” he said a little more than a year after President Bush had launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford “very strongly” disagreed with the current president’s justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney — Ford’s White House chief of staff — and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

“Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “And now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”

In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy.

“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty to free people.” But the former president said he was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.” He added: “And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”

The Ford interview — and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 — took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death. In the sessions, Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with key Bush advisers Cheney and Rumsfeld while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

“He was an excellent chief of staff. First class,” Ford said. “But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious” as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell’s assertion that Cheney developed a “fever” about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. “I think that’s probably true.”

Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. “I don’t think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly,” he said, “I don’t think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.”

Ford had faced his own military crisis — not a war he started like Bush, but one he had to figure out how to end. In many ways those decisions framed his short presidency — in the difficult calculations about how to pull out of Vietnam and the challenging players who shaped policy on the war. Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was “the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew.”

“I think he was a super secretary of state,” Ford said, “but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend.”

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. “Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood,” Ford said. “Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period.” But Ford viewed Kissinger’s dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration’s ability to fully air policy debates. “They were supposed to check on one another.”

That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford’s White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, “I’m making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this” by giving up the post of security adviser.

Kissinger was not happy. “Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this,” Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. “They’ll write that I’m being demoted by taking away half of my job.” But Ford made the changes, elevating the deputy national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to take Kissinger’s White House post.

Throughout this maneuvering, Ford said, he kept his White House chief of staff in the dark. “I didn’t consult with Rumsfeld. And knowing Don, he probably resented the fact that I didn’t get his advice, which I didn’t,” Ford said. “I made the decision on my own.”

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. “Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, ‘I’m offering my resignation.’ Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. ‘Now, Henry, you’ve got the nation’s future in your hands and you can’t leave us now.’ Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew.”

Ford added, “Any criticism in the press drove him crazy.” Kissinger would come in and say: “I’ve got to resign. I can’t stand this kind of unfair criticism.” Such threats were routine, Ford said. “I often thought, maybe I should say: ‘Okay, Henry. Goodbye,’ ” Ford said, laughing. “But I never got around to that.”

At one point, Ford recalled Kissinger, his chief Vietnam policymaker, as “coy.” Then he added, Kissinger is a “wonderful person. Dear friend. First-class secretary of state. But Henry always protected his own flanks.”

Ford was also critical of his own actions during the interviews. He recalled, for example, his unsuccessful 1976 campaign to remain in office, when he was under enormous pressure to dump Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from the Republican ticket. Some polls at the time showed that up to 25 percent of Republicans, especially those from the South, would not vote for Ford if Rockefeller, a New Yorker from the liberal wing of the Republican Party, was on the ticket.

When Rockefeller offered to be dropped from the ticket, Ford took him up on it. But he later regretted it. The decision to dump the loyal Rockefeller, he said, was “an act of cowardice on my part.”

In the end, though, it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.

“Well,” he said, “I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it.”

Click

Read Full Post »


In the latest Evans-Novak Political Report, conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) “aggressive” push for a U.S. troop expansion – or “surge” – in Iraq may be costing the top 2008 GOP contender in the polls, especially when matched against another presumed front-runner, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY).

“The decline in the polls of [McCain], as measured against [Clinton], reflects more than declining Republican popularity nationally in the weeks after the election,” writes Novak in his exclusive report. “It connotes public disenchantment with McCain’s aggressive advocacy of a ‘surge’ of up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq.”

One recent poll shows Clinton – who hasn’t confirmed her intent to run for president yet – pulling ahead of McCain, who recently launched his own exploratory committee website. According to the Newsweek poll, voters with their choices limited to just the pair, prefer Clinton by seven percent (Clinton earned 50% to McCain’s 43%, with 7% opting for “undecided, other”).

Novak warns that unless the expanded U.S. force in Iraq yields quick results, “President George W. Bush’s determination to put more boots on the ground is feared by Republicans as another political burden to bear.”

Yet McCain presses on, despite “the American public’s growing impatience for the end of the war,” Holly Bailey wrote for Newsweek two weeks ago.

Republicans “are growing unhappy with the war,” Bailey reported, including voters in critical states such as South Carolina, where McCain lost to Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries, which essentially marked the end of his last presidential bid.

“Even in conservative New Hampshire,” Bailey adds, citing a state poll, “38 percent of voters now support bringing troops ‘home ASAP.’”

“People are wondering how long this is going to go on,” a Republican Columbia, South Carolina committeeman told Newsweek. “I don’t think a proposal like [a troop surge] is going to get McCain any votes down here.”

But Bailey concluded that, despite unfavorable signs, “some members of McCain’s inner circle are convinced the position could actually work to his advantage, reminding independents of the maverick they fell in love with in 2000.”

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that McCain’s troop push was “personal.”

“John McCain’s public certainty about Iraq masks a more private and potentially wrenching connection,” Elizabeth Williamson wrote. “If more troops go there, as McCain hopes they will, his youngest son could be one of them, taking his place in a line of family warriors that is one of the longest in U.S. history.”

Earlier today, the 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, former Senator John Edwards, stepped into the race, as Raw Story reported, one day earlier than expected due to an Internet mix-up.

Also, Novak’s latest column claimed that freshman Democratic Senator Barack Obama had made up his mind, as well, and would run for certain in 2008, now that security fears based on his race had been “dismissed as a problem.”

Novak added that the Illinois senator’s “strength” was partly responsible for Clinton’s recent statements that she would have opposed the invasion of Iraq, if she had full knowledge of the information which came to light afterwards. Edwards has gone even further, and apologized for his vote to support the resolution in 2002.

Click

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 526 other followers

%d bloggers like this: