A First? All 7 ‘NYT’ Columnists — From Left to Right –Agree on Something (The ‘Surge’)

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By: E&P Staff

With Paul Krugman today hitting President Bush’s plan to dramatically increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq — which he labels a “surge” but others call an escalation– this completes perhaps a first: All seven regular opinion columnists at the paper (Krugman, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Herbert and Frank Rich) are in agreement on a vital issue.

Brooks, in a bit of a surprise, had come out against the “surge” on Sunday, joining his colleagues on this. Friedman, a firm supporter of the war until recently, also attacked the idea last week. “Iraq has become a quagmire of the vanities,” Krugman, an opponent of the war from the beginning, declared today.

Among the many newspaper columnists questioning President Bush’s plan to send 20,000 or more fresh troops to Iraq are quite a few conservatives breaking with the White House on this.

Oliver North, for example, attacked the idea in his syndicated column on Friday and on Sunday, in the Washington Post, George Will commented that the “surge” idea is basically too little and too late, and will only lead to a “protracted” U.S. struggle. The column is titled, “Surge, or Power Failure?”

On the same day, Brooks at The New York Times commented, “Unfortunately, if the goal is to create a stable, unified Iraq, the surge is a good policy three years too late.” Its chance for success is almost nil, he explained.

George Will identified a “better policy” as Richard Nixon’s decision to announce a phased pullout from Vietnam: “The announced policy of withdrawals gave the U.S. some leverage to force the government in Saigon ? not a paragon, but better than the government in Baghdad today ? to recognize that the clock was running on its acceptance of responsibility for Vietnam’s security,” Will writes.

He closed with the following.
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Based on experience in the Balkans, an assumption among experts is that to maintain order in a context of sectarian strife requires one competent soldier or police officer for every 50 people. For the Baghdad metropolitan area (population: 6.5 million), that means 130,000 security personnel. There are 120,000 now, but 66,000 of them are Iraqi police, many ? perhaps most ? of whom are worse than incompetent.

Because their allegiances are to sectarian factions, they are not responsive to legitimate central authority. They are part of the problem. Therefore even a substantial surge of, say, 30,000 U.S. forces would leave Baghdad that many short, and could be a recipe for protracting failure.

Today, Gen. George Casey, U.S. commander in Baghdad, is in hot water with proponents of a “surge” because he believes what he told The New York Times: “The longer we in the U.S. forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq’s security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias. And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq’s problems, which are at base their problems.”

Baghdad today is what Wayne White ? for 26 years with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, now with the Middle East Institute ? calls “a Shiite-Sunni Stalingrad.” Imagine a third nation’s army operating between ? and against ? both the German and Russian forces in Stalingrad. That might be akin to the mission of troops sent in any surge.

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