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Bush greeted the Baker-Hamilton proposals with the gratitude of someone who had just received a box of rotting cod. He never much liked the internationalists (although or perhaps because his father is a charter member). By Christmas, it was clear that he had not only rejected a staged withdrawal in the mold of Baker-Hamilton but was ready to up his bet and throw even more troops at the problem. He began executing his pivot quietly. First, after reassuring Americans that he would ask for more troops only when the generals requested them, Bush amended that promise and hinted that he would merely listen to what the generals were saying. Bush next sent his new Pentagon boss, Robert Gates, to Baghdad to see whether the Iraqi commanders needed more troops. Bush then turned to his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, to hack this new way out of the Iraqi jungle.
So far, the Hadley-run hunt for a new military and diplomatic approach has earned mediocre marks from inside and outside the White House. Wider-ranging alternatives were not explored in any depth, said several foreign policy experts who met with Hadley in December, and talks with Iran and Syria were ruled out of the question. A dismayed Administration official who has generally been an optimist about Iraq described the process as chaotic. "None of this," he predicted of the surge and its coming rollout, "is going to work."
What Is the Mission?
Not long ago, the goal of U.S. forces in Iraq sounded straightforward: liberate the country and turn it over to the Iraqi people. Now U.S. strategy is a vast, many-headed monster: disarm or kill the insurgents, hunt down al-Qaeda, rebuild the electrical and energy grids, establish civilian order, work with political parties to speed a stand-alone government, keep an eye out for Iranian influence and try not to get killed in the process. According to Kagan, the newly enlarged forces would reorder those priorities and make protecting the Iraqi people Job One. How? With what retired Lieut. General David Barno, who helped Kagan and Keane write the plan, calls "classic counterinsurgency tactics: soldiers going house to house in every block, finding out who lives there, what they do, how many weapons they have, whom they are connected to and how they can help or hurt." Only by winning the trust of the people, the thinking goes, can the U.S. overcome the insurgents. There is a big debate about how many troops would be needed to execute that mission successfully. Some experts think 100,000 might be the right number; Keane and Kagan say it can be done with 35,000, which is about the limit that would be available. It does not appear that the White House will be sending that many.
How Do the Generals View the Idea of a Surge?