Even Joint Chiefs oppose troop buildup


Richard Moore

Original source URL:


White House, Joint Chiefs At Odds on Adding Troops
By Robin Wright and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 19, 2006; A01

The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, 
with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous
disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar 
with the intense debate.

Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight 
months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy 
review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being 
discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said.

But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does 
not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because 
of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for 
the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity 
because the White House review is not public.

The chiefs have taken a firm stand, the sources say, because they believe the 
strategy review will be the most important decision on Iraq to be made since the
March 2003 invasion.

At regular interagency meetings and in briefing President Bush last week, the 
Pentagon has warned that any short-term mission may only set up the United 
States for bigger problems when it ends. The service chiefs have warned that a 
short-term mission could give an enormous edge to virtually all the armed 
factions in Iraq -- including al-Qaeda's foreign fighters, Sunni insurgents and 
Shiite militias -- without giving an enduring boost to the U.S military mission 
or to the Iraqi army, the officials said.

The Pentagon has cautioned that a modest surge could lead to more attacks by 
al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal
for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops, the officials 

The informal but well-armed Shiite militias, the Joint Chiefs have also warned, 
may simply melt back into society during a U.S. surge and wait until the troops 
are withdrawn -- then reemerge and retake the streets of Baghdad and other 

Even the announcement of a time frame and mission -- such as for six months to 
try to secure volatile Baghdad -- could play to armed factions by allowing them 
to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs have warned the White House.

The idea of a much larger military deployment for a longer mission is virtually 
off the table, at least so far, mainly for logistics reasons, say officials 
familiar with the debate. Any deployment of 40,000 to 50,000 would force the 
Pentagon to redeploy troops who were scheduled to go home.

A senior administration official said it is "too simplistic" to say the surge 
question has broken down into a fight between the White House and the Pentagon, 
but the official acknowledged that the military has questioned the option. "Of 
course, military leadership is going to be focused on the mission -- what you're
trying to accomplish, the ramifications it would have on broader issues in terms
of manpower and strength and all that," the official said.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal 
deliberations, said military officers have not directly opposed a surge option. 
"I've never heard them be depicted that way to the president," the official 
said. "Because they ask questions about what the mission would be doesn't mean 
they don't support it. Those are the kinds of questions the president wants his 
military planners to be asking."

The concerns raised by the military are sometimes offset by concerns on the 
other side. For instance, those who warn that a short-term surge would harm 
longer-term deployments are met with the argument that the situation is urgent 
now, the official said. "Advocates would say: 'Can you afford to wait? Can you 
afford to plan in the long term? What's the tipping point in that country? Do 
you have time to wait?' "

Which way Bush is leaning remains unclear. "The president's keeping his cards 
pretty close to his vest," the official said, "and I think people may be trying 
to interpret questions he's asking and information he's asking for as signs that
he's made up his mind."

Robert M. Gates, who was sworn in yesterday as defense secretary, is headed for 
Iraq this week and is expected to play a decisive role in resolving the debate, 
officials said. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's views are still open, 
according to State Department officials. The principals met again yesterday to 
continue discussions.

The White House yesterday noted the growing number of reports about what is 
being discussed behind closed doors. "It's also worth issuing a note of caution,
because quite often people will try to litigate preferred options through the 
press," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters.

Discussions are expected to continue through the holidays. Rice is expected to 
travel to the president's ranch near Crawford, Tex., after Christmas for 
consultations on Iraq. The administration's foreign policy principals are also 
expected to hold at least two meetings during the holiday. The White House has 
said the president will outline his new strategy to the nation early next year.

As the White House debate continues, another independent report on Iraq strategy
is being issued today by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based crisis
monitoring group that includes several former U.S. officials. It calls for more 
far-reaching policy revisions and reversals than did even the Iraq Study Group 
report, the bipartisan report issued two weeks ago.

The new report calls the study group's recommendations "not nearly radical 
enough" and says that "its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis." It 
continues: "What is needed today is a clean break both in the way the U.S. and 
other international actors deal with the Iraqi government, and in the way the 
U.S. deals with the region."

The Iraqi government and military should not be treated as "privileged allies" 
because they are not partners in efforts to stem the violence but rather parties
to the conflict, it says. Trying to strengthen the fragile government of Prime 
Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not contribute to Iraq's stability, it adds. 
Iraq's escalating crisis cannot be resolved militarily, the report says, and can
be solved only with a major political effort.

The International Crisis Group proposes three broad steps: First, it calls for 
creation of an international support group, including the five permanent members
of the U.N. Security Council and Iraq's six neighbors, to press Iraq's 
constituents to accept political compromise.

Second, it urges a conference of all Iraqi players, including militias and 
insurgent groups, with support from the international community, to forge a 
political compact on controversial issues such as federalism, distribution of 
oil revenue, an amnesty, the status of Baath Party members and a timetable for 
U.S. withdrawal. Finally, it suggests a new regional strategy that would include
engagement with Syria and Iran and jump-starting the moribund Arab-Israeli peace

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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