As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.
... Such a proposal, military officials and experts caution, would be a gamble.
... The wild card in the Pentagon planning is Robert M. Gates, due to be sworn in Monday as Defense secretary.
Double down. Up the bet. Raise the stakes. Play a wild card. Texas Hold 'Em for a New American Century. Glad to see the Poker Nation didn't lost its trendy cachet before it could be co-opted as our next official foreign policy.
The only problem with the metaphor and the mindset of the people is that these aren't poker chips they're talking about, not even the really nice 7-gram clay ones. They're human beings in uniforms being thrown into a situation whose likelihood of resolution through military means, we heard just last week, is rapidly declining.
Any chance of success probably would require major changes in the Iraqi government, they said. U.S. Embassy officials would have to help usher into power a new coalition in Baghdad that was willing to confront the militias.
And the strategy also would require more U.S. spending to increase the size of the U.S. military and for an Iraqi jobs program. "You are dealing with an inherently difficult undertaking," said Stephen Biddle, a military analyst called to the White House this week to advise Bush. "That doesn't mean we should withdraw. But no one should go into this thinking if we double the size of the military, the result will be victory. Maybe, but maybe not. You are buying the opportunity to enter a lottery."
Okay, so the setup was that we were planning to fling another 40,000 infantry into the grinder so maybe possibly the Mehdi Army would go away. In a hopeful development, however, the outcome of W's meeting with the Joint Chiefs during the day yesterday actually turned out to be a new strategy of pulling brigades out of combat, transitioning them to advisor and training roles with Iraqi troops.
Administration officials stressed that Bush, under pressure from Congress and the electorate to abandon the United States' open-ended commitment, has made no final decisions on how to proceed in Iraq. But the new disclosures suggest that military planning is well underway for a major change from an approach that has assigned the bulk of responsibility for security in Iraq to more than 140,000 U.S. troops.
The chiefs also want to see a new push on political and economic issues, especially employment programs, reconstruction and political reconciliation, to help quell the problems that have fueled both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite-Sunni sectarian strife, say defense officials and U.S. military officers in Iraq. A new jobs program is considered key to pulling young men from the burgeoning militias.
Pentagon chiefs think that there is no purely military solution for Iraq and that, without major progress on the political and economic fronts, the U.S. intervention is simply buying time, the sources said. They particularly want to see U.S. pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to offer amnesty to Sunni insurgents, approve constitutional amendments promised to the Sunni minority, pass laws to ensure equitable distribution of oil revenue, and modify the ban on members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party taking government positions.
Well, hallelujah. It makes me wonder, though, where all the pokerspeak came from two days ago, and if it was just a ruse to get Bush engaged in the meeting with the Joint Chiefs in the first place.