December 27, 2006
Who is speaking to President Bush this holiday season about his policy in Iraq? After the report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study group, what papers, ideas and reports are influencing the president as he prepares for the opening of the new congress and his State of the Union Address?
And who has a clue about what to do about Iran's nuclear problem?
Certainly one player is the new Secretary of Defense, Robert M Gates. Gates served the current president's father, "Bush 41," as Director of Central Intelligence. In fact, many close to the president view Gate's selection as SecDef as a sign that Bush Senior and his advisors (like former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger) will have greater involvement in forming the next chapter of American foreign and military policy.
Gates served as Director of Central Intelligence from 1991 until 1993. In this position, he headed all foreign intelligence agencies of the United States and directed the Central Intelligence Agency. Dr. Gates is the only career officer in CIA's history to rise from entry-level employee to Director.
During the last three and one-half years Mr. Gates has been the president of Texas A&M University.
Colonel Samuel Gardiner, USAF (Retired) is one of the lesser known thinkers and catalysts of military strategy and thought that the Pentagon, and sometimes the White House, calls upon. Gardner has directed National War College war games for more than 20 years.
"In all these games," says Gardiner, "the American intellectual infrastructure is based on the principle of preventive attack which is the basis of the Bush Administration's security doctrine. According to this principle, the United States went to war four years ago in Iraq. This principle also governs American policy regarding the nuclear armament of Iran."
During the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah last July, Gardiner warned that the battle was the opening round in Iran's military defense of its nuclear program.
"What we have now discovered in the shape of a conflict ostensibly between the State of Israel and the Hizbollah Organization is but the start of an Iranian preventive attack that was intended to protect the continued existence of the Iranian nuclear program. The mullahs in Teheran have outlapped American strategic thinking on the fly by adopting its fundamental principle preventive attack. They are now operating according to this principle in Lebanon. This is the true macro situation everything else represents diversions from the main issue."
A much lesser known policy influencer might be Professor Frederick Kagan. Kagan is a widely published military historian who served as a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point from 1995 until 2005. This assignment put him into close contact with many of the "thinkers" of the United States Army, such as General Barry McCafferty, now himself a professor at West Point.
At West Point Kagan participated in dozens of panel discussions, strategy development sessions and war games. He is currently at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is the author of AEI's most recent "surge plan" would put four additional Army brigades into Baghdad and two additional Marine regimental combat teams into Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, in an effort to curtail Iraqi violence.
Kagan is known to have the president's ear and has briefed several times to administration officials including at the White House.
In a December 21, 2006 USA Today Commentary, Kagan spelled out some of his rationale.
"America faces a critical moment in Iraq. Sectarian violence threatens to destroy Iraq's government and society and what's left of America's will to fight. Yet the consequences of accepting defeat would be horrendous," wrote Mr. Kagan.
If America withdraws before the Iraq Army is ready to shoulder the burden of keeping the peace, wrote Mr. Kagan, "Iran and Iraq's Sunni neighbors would vie for dominance, and the conflict would likely expand throughout the Middle East. Al-Qaeda could establish a base in the ensuing vacuum. Abandoning Iraq to chaos would harm America's vital interests immeasurably."
"It is essential, therefore," says Kagan, " to adopt a new strategy. We must secure Iraq's population and thereby bring the violence under control, abandoning the failed attempt to hand responsibility over to the Iraqis prematurely."
Based on the president's previous statements about "winning" in Iraq, one can see how Kagan's line of thinking may appeal to the president.
Kagan wrote in USA Today, "Let us consider the alternative [to the 'surge' plan]: A defeated Army would have to withdraw under fire, humiliated, watching as the enemy tortures and kills the Iraqis it had worked with and defended. Nothing would break the Army more surely than ignominious defeat."
"The options in Iraq are stark: withdrawal, defeat and regional disaster, or an effort to secure the population to permit the political, economic and social development and national reconciliation needed for Iraq to move forward," wrote Kagan. " The president's determination to win with a comprehensive new strategy isn't stubbornness. It is wisdom."
Well that remains to be seen. What is certain is that the White House and the president are working toward a major, and controversial announcement.
Delaware Senator (and presidential hopeful) Joseph Biden, the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday he would oppose any effort by the president to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq.
"Absent some profound political announcement . . . I can't imagine there being an overwhelming, even significant support for the president's position," Biden told reporters during a telephone conference call Tuesday.
If the violence continues two years from now, "every one of those Republican senators - and there's 21 of them up for re- election - knows that that is likely to spell his or her doom," Biden said.