As Crikey goes to print, George W Bush is outlining on American television his latest plan for the Iraq war, but enough detail has already appeared in the media for an assessment to be made – and it’s not good.

The bipartisan Iraq study group had recommended that the US commence withdrawing its troops from Iraq this year. Public opinion, as reflected in last year’s congressional elections, seems keen for a faster disengagement – and, if the polls are right, the Iraqis are even more keen, although no-one in Washington appears to be listening to them.

But Bush instead will propose sending an additional 21,500 troops, together with more funding for Iraqi reconstruction and increased Iraqi responsibility for security – although according to The New York Times there will be “no explicit linkage” between the military escalation and making the Iraqi government functional.

It’s hard to find a good word anywhere to be said for the plan. While there is some argument for a large (say 50,000) new influx of troops – although of course it would mean abandoning the pretence that this is not an imperial venture – no-one has any coherent explanation for how 20-odd thousand extra will make a difference.

The neoconservatives are blaming Bush for having messed up their precious crusade, but as with most disasters, there is plenty of blame to go round. Neocon ideology never seems to have been the main influence on Bush’s plans, and now less than ever. His main concern is to save face, and maybe set up a situation where the Democrats can be blamed for losing the war.

That could still happen, since Bush’s critics are as far as ever from settling on their own line. While they oppose sending more troops, many still seem captivated by Bush’s argument that withdrawal from Iraq would be a strategic disaster for American interests.

The contrary argument was well put this week by Andrew Sullivan, who suggests “the upsides of leaving haven’t been fully thought through yet.” Continued military presence just plays into al-Qa’eda’s hands; a sectarian civil war in Iraq, without western involvement, has less, not more, to offer the terrorists.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey