Wesley Clarke, the retired supreme head of NATO, explains why Bush's "surge" will backfire:
As for the US troops, yes, several additional brigades in Baghdad would enable more roadblocks, patrols, neighbourhood clearing operations and overnight presence. But how significant will this be? We've never had enough troops in Iraq - in Kosovo, we had 40,000 troops for a population of two million. For Iraq that ratio would call for at least 500,000 troops, so adding 20,000 seems too little, too late, even, for Baghdad. Further, in a "clear and hold" strategy, US troops have been shown to lack the language skills, cultural awareness and political legitimacy to ensure that areas can be "held", or even that they are fully "cleared". The key would be more Iraqi troops, but they aren't available in the numbers required for a city of more than five million with no reliable police - nor have the Iraqi troops been reliable enough for the gritty work of dealing with militias and sectarian loyalties. Achieving enhanced protection for the population is going to be problematic at best. Even then, militia fighters in Baghdad could redeploy to other areas and continue the fight there.
What the surge would do, however, is put more American troops in harm's way, further undercut US forces' morale, and risk further alienation of elements of the Iraqi populace. American casualties would probably rise, at least temporarily, as more troops are on the streets; we saw this when the brigade from Alaska was extended and sent into Baghdad last summer. And even if the increased troop presence initially intimidates or frustrates the contending militias, it won't be long before they find ways to work around the obstacles to movement and neighbourhood searches, if they are still intent on pursuing the conflict. All of this is not much of an endorsement for a troop surge that will impose real pain on the already overstretched US forces.
There could be other uses for troops, for example, accelerating training for the Iraqi military and police. But even here, vetting these forces for their loyalty has proven problematic. Therefore, neither accelerated training nor more troops in the security mission can be viewed mechanistically, as though a 50 per cent increase in effort will yield a 50 per cent increased return, for other factors are at work.
The truth is that, however brutal the fighting in Iraq for our troops, the underlying problems are political. Vicious ethnic cleansing is under way right under the noses of our troops, as various factions fight for power and survival. In this environment security is unlikely to come from smothering the struggle with a blanket of forces - it cannot be smothered easily, for additional US efforts can stir additional resistance - but rather from more effective action to resolve the struggle at the political level. And the real danger of the troop surge is that it undercuts the urgency for the political effort. A new US ambassador might help, but, more fundamentally, the US and its allies need to proceed from a different approach within the region. The neocons' vision has failed.