The widespread doubts within U.S. military and intelligence circles that George W. Bush’s Iraq War “surge” can succeed were underscored when one of the plan’s architects, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, was one of three generals to rebuff a White House offer of a new job dubbed “war czar.”

In December, Keane and neoconservative scholar Frederick Kagan promoted the idea of a U.S. military escalation in Iraq as an alternative to the growing consensus in favor of a phased withdrawal of Amercan combat forces.

At the time, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group was advocating a troop drawdown combined with a stronger commitment to training Iraqi forces and renewed talks with Iraq’s neighbors. But Bush bristled at the implied criticism of his work as “war president,” declaring: “This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever.”

Bush countered the momentum behind the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations by latching onto the Keane-Kagan “surge” idea. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the two commanders then overseeing the Iraq War, Generals John Abizaid and George Casey, resisted the “surge,” Bush ousted Abizaid and Casey and overruled the Pentagon brass.

In January, Bush unveiled the “surge,” which not only would send about 20,000 more U.S. combat troops into Iraq but called for stationing some of them in Iraqi police outposts throughout Baghdad. War critics accused the President of throwing away more American lives out of stubbornness and ego.

With the “surge” now about halfway in place, the U.S. military reports that the number of American soldiers who have died in and around Baghdad over the past seven weeks has nearly doubled. And that was before the renewed opposition from radical Shiites and the latest upswing in street-to-street fighting in Sunni neighborhoods.

When the summer temperatures start exceeding 100 degrees, the scattered American troops living in police stations will face other challenges, avoiding dehydration and staying supplied. One seasoned observer of Iraq told me that the idea of scattering U.S. soldiers to police outposts is madness.

Keane’s refusal to serve as a “war czar” who would coordinate administration policy in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is another sign of the doom and gloom that surrounds Bush’s latest plan.

The Washington Post reported that Keane was one of three retired four-star generals who declined the post. “It was discussed weeks ago,” Keane said in confirming his rejection of the offer.

Retired Marine Gen. John Sheehan was another four-star who rebuffed the White House. “The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going,” Sheehan told the Post. “So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, ‘No, thanks.’”

After getting calls about the "war czar" post from national security adviser Stephen Hadley, Sheehan said he checked around to get a sense of the administration's direction.

"There's the residue of the Cheney view -- 'We're going to win, al-Qaeda's there' -- that justifies anything we did," Sheehan said. "And then there's the pragmatist view -- how the hell do we get out of Dodge and survive? Unfortunately, the people with the former view are still in the positions of most influence."

The third general rejecting the job offer was identified as retired Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston. [Washington Post, April 11, 2007]

Three Branches

The rejection of the White House from representatives of three service branches suggests how prevalent the doubts about Bush’s war policies are. But Keane’s refusal to coordinate administration support for his own idea is perhaps most telling.

Many military and intelligence analysts see the “surge” as little more than an escalation of Bush’s “stay the course” approach that has led the United States deeper and deeper into the Iraqi quagmire, with nearly 3,300 American soldiers now dead along with possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

To these critics, the “surge” is less a change in military strategy – as Bush presents it – than a shift in political tactics, dangling a repackaged war plan before the American public to buy time so the President can secure another $100 billion from Congress with no strings attached.

So far, the major U.S. news media mostly has fallen into Bush’s trap by promoting every statement from Iraq that purports to show progress, much as happened during the early phases of the war when the administration’s happy talk went largely unchallenged.

The Washington press corps also hasn’t challenged Bush when he asserts that the “surge” is a case of him following the advice of his field commanders and that the Democrats are interfering with what the generals want.

The American people “don’t want politicians in Washington telling our generals how to fight a war,” Bush said at an April 3 press briefing, scolding congressional Democrats for seeking a gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq.

The polite Washington press corps rarely notes that Bush was the politician in Washington “telling our generals how to fight a war,” that he simply removed senior commanders who disagreed with him.

It now appears that Bush is even having trouble finding a retired military leader to become “war czar.” Not even the guy who helped invent the “surge” wants the job.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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