Friday, January 05, 2007

The Neocons Are Back! Old Guard War Faction Expected to Influence 2007 Troop Push

In an earlier post I asked "Can the Neocons Get Their Groove Back?" In that entry I reviewed Joshua Moravchik's plan for a neoconservative comeback. Well, one influential faction of neoconservative war hawks never completely went away. According to this Los Angeles Times piece, a key group of early war proponents is advising the Bush administration on troop levels for the much-discussed military surge to stabilize Iraq in 2007:

Ever since Iraq began spiraling toward chaos, the war's intellectual architects — the so-called neoconservatives — have found themselves under attack in Washington policy salons and, more important, within the Bush administration.

Eventually, Paul D. Wolfowitz, the Defense department's most senior neocon, went to the World Bank. His Pentagon colleague Douglas J. Feith departed for academia. John R. Bolton left the State Department for a stint at the United Nations.

But now, a small but increasingly influential group of neocons are again helping steer Iraq policy. A key part of the new Iraq plan that President Bush is expected to announce next week — a surge in U.S. troops coupled with a more focused counterinsurgency effort — has been one of the chief recommendations of these neocons since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

This group — which includes William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard magazine, and Frederick W. Kagan, a military analyst at a prominent think tank, the American Enterprise Institute — was expressing concerns about the administration's blueprint for Iraq even before the invasion almost four years ago.

In their view, not enough troops were being set aside to stabilize the country. They also worried that the Pentagon had formulated a plan that concentrated too heavily on killing insurgents rather than securing law and order for Iraqi citizens.These neoconservative thinkers have long advocated for a more classic counterinsurgency campaign: a manpower-heavy operation that would take U.S. soldiers out of their large bases dotted across the country and push them into small outposts in troubled towns and neighborhoods to interact with ordinary Iraqis and earn their trust.

But until now, it was an argument that fell on deaf ears.

"We have been pretty consistently in this direction from the outset," said Kagan, whose December study detailing his strategy is influencing the administration's current thinking. "I started making this argument even before the war began, because I watched in dismay as we messed up Afghanistan and then heard with dismay the rumors that we would apply some sort of Afghan model to Iraq."

If Bush goes ahead with the surge idea, along with a shift to a more aggressive counterinsurgency, it would in many ways represent a wholesale repudiation of the outgoing Pentagon leadership.

These leaders — particularly former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the departing Middle East commander — strongly resisted more U.S. troops and a larger push into troubled neighborhoods out of fear it would prevent Iraqis from taking over the job themselves and exacerbate the image of America as an occupying power.

The plan the administration appears moving toward envisions an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 troops, the majority of whom would be sent to Baghdad. The increase would be achieved by delaying the departure of Marine units already in Iraq and speeding the departure of Army brigades due to deploy this spring.

The neoconservative group had been the driving force in Washington behind a move against Iraq, even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They saw Hussein as a lingering threat to world security — a view bolstered within the administration following 9/11. And they argued that transforming Iraq into a democracy could serve as a model to remake the Middle East's political dynamics.
Read the whole article, which has a nice discussion of some of the more flip-floppy neonconservatives who first advocated the invasion of Iraq but have now changed their tune on the soundness of the deployment. Also, noted is the foreign policy debate within the conservative movement more generally. Senator John McCain, for example, is not usually lumped in with the neoconservative movement, though he's been one of the most consistent proponents of massive manpower contingents in Iraq.

Various proposals for a military surge this year see a significant escalation in troop levels -- combined with a change in war-fighting tactics -- as the key to reversing the deterioration of security in the country. For my earlier post discussing the Zakaria plan for an increased push in Iraq as a precondition for a strategic redeployment,
click here.

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