The Baghdad surge plan, announced by the president on Jan. 10, calls for the new U.S. soldiers to be embedded with Iraqi forces, who will take the lead. But while the U.S. troops would report to American officers, their Iraqi counterparts, in an apparent sop to national sovereignty, would report to Iraqi officers. The potentially disastrous result: two separate and independent command structures within the same military operation.
"I know of no successful military operation where you have dual command," McCain told Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last Tuesday. Petraeus, heralded by the Bush White House as the man who would make the surge work, signaled his agreement, telling McCain, "Sir, I share your concern."
These concerns threaten to deprive Bush of the support of many of the outside military experts who originally championed a plan for escalating the war by surging troops into Baghdad. The American Enterprise Institute's Frederick Kagan expressed his fears in an interview Friday about putting the Iraqis in charge and establishing two separate chains of command. "This is a major issue," he said. "In any military operation, dual chains of command are a problem. I think the administration has made a mistake."
The decision reeks of political expediency. Bush has spent a lot of time trying to convince us that he's making all his decisions after consulting with commanders in the field, but it's hard to believe that anyone in the military told him, "You know what we need? A decentralized command structure."
There are plenty of reasons why this is a bad idea. But I found this telling:
National Public Radio:
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says he wants more military hardware from the United States. President Bush is providing more money for items like armored Humvees and BlackHawk helicopters, while the Iraqis want more unspecified firepower. The Pentagon is reluctant to give them too much weaponry, fearing it will fall into the wrong hands.
"I think we have shamefully ignored this requirement," retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey told NPR, pointing out that the iraqi forces have no tanks or artillery. Here's my question; if the iraqis are supposed to be 'taking the lead' here and defending their own country, why will they only be lightly armed?
Simple. We don't trust them. Many iraqis (and not all, that's media hype) are polarized along sectarian lines. It's not a real big surprise to learn that the military is just as partisan as the rest of the population. With the government becoming tighter and tighter with Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (the executioners at Saddam Hussein's hanging chanted 'Muqtada! Muqtada!'), it's not a huge leap to imagine US supplied tanks and artillery being used in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the sunni minority.
So we have a redundant command structure. I read someplace that the reason that a nuclear launch requires two keys is because one person may have a crisis of conscience -- it's the last chance for cooler heads to prevail. Where the iraqi military will be inclined to be more supportive of its more brutal allies, the US -- in control of the actual heavy weapons -- won't have the same impulse. The US military has the second key.
But we're going to leave eventually (that's what we keep hearing, anyway). And, when we do, the iraqi army will be supplied with tanks and artillery and helicopters and other toys that genocidal crazies just love.