Flanked by two former Army retired generals Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) blasted President Bush for “clinging to a failed escalation strategy” in Iraq and “failing our troops and our country.”
One general went so far as to say that active duty military officers were being used as “props” by the Bush Administration.
Reid is scheduled to meet with the White House this week to negotiate the Iraq supplemental spending bill Congress passed before Easter recess that contains a timetable for withdrawal. President Bush has vowed to veto any bill that would cut funding for the troops or dictate a withdrawal date, but Reid said “the President is not going to get a bill that has nothing on it.”
With a banner behind them that said “Support the Troops” and “Transition the Mission” Reid stood with Ret. Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Ret. Brig. Gen. John Johns and said that the surge should be abandoned.
I asked Reid and the generals if they believed the surge strategy had been given enough time to say with certainty that it was not working. Their answers were defiant.
Gen. Gard said “the problem is too little too late.”
“We have the got the right declaratory policy at this point that we should have implemented four and a half years ago,” he said. “Where we are going now is counter- productive. It is detrimental to our national security.”
Gen. Johns agreed. He said he was against the surge because ground combat forces “will always be seen as an occupied force and create resentment.”
Reid told reporters, “If you look at strictly numbers, the numbers of Iraqis being killed, the number of bombs being detonated and a number of American soldiers being killed, averaging a little more than three a day, that should say it all.” (In January, Reid had voted with the rest of the U.S. Senate to unanimously confirm Army Gen. David Petraeus to become Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq. Petraeus is the main architect behind the surge strategy and authored military’s counterinsurgency doctrine in Baghdad last year.)
Gen. Johns said active service military officers, like Gen. Petraeus, were being used as “props” by the administration. “The American people need to be told the truth. The only reason I speak out as a retired officer is the President, as all Presidents do, use the active duty military as props to make it appear that the military is united behind his policy.”
Gen. Johns pointed to an April 16 op-ed written by retired Marine Corps Gen. John J. Sheehan in the Washington Post as evidence of this. Gen. Sheehan had written the piece to explain to the public why he had rejected the Bush administration’s offer extended to him to become their “war czar.”
The position was created to replace Deputy National Security Advisor Meghan O’ Sullivan, who will be leaving the administration soon. The war czar would seek to coordinate the State and Defense departments with a direct line to the White House.
Gen. Sheehan said he did not accept the position because it was unclear how short-term missions in Iraq supported long-term goals and regional interests.
“I concluded the current Washington decision-making process lacks a linkage to the broader view of the region and how the parts fit together strategically,” he said.
The two other officials known to decline the position are Gen. Jack Keane of the Army and Gen. Joseph W. Ralston of the Air Force.
In the press conference Gen. Johns said it would be hard find someone who would accept the war czar position because “there is no articulated strategy that puts Iraq into the context of the overall Middle East policy.”
Gard said the current situation reminded him of Vietnam in the spring of 1965. “Both the then Secretary of Defense and the President knew the war was unwinnable militarily,” he said.
“Just as our own military leadership has said over and over again, the war is not winnable militarily. Well, we had a surge in March of 1965, 20,000 more troops to Vietnam. There had been 24,000 battle deaths in Vietnam. But because the President did not want to be tarred with losing the war we continued on for five more years and 34,000 more combat deaths with an outcome we could have achieved at the time of the surge. We are at a turning point like that now to continue on-to continue when the violence is increasing — we are not getting anywhere militarily. It is foolhardy and we will have the same result.”
The troop surge — an increase of about 21,000 US troops into the Baghdad area — isn’t scheduled to be fully manned until the end of May when the last of the 21,000 will arrive.