Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane would surge even more troops into Iraq than President Bush called for, but said putting the Iraqis in the lead 'makes no sense.' Keane was speaking Jan. 18 on Capitol Hill. (Rob Curtis / staff)
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Four retired generals had little positive to say about the plan to surge more troops in Iraq at a Jan. 18 hearing before the full Senate Foreign Relations Commitee. Among them: William Odom, a retired Army three-star whose last tour of duty was as director of the National Security Agency. (Rob Curtis / staff)
Joseph Hoar, a retired Marine four-star and former chief of U.S. Central Command, believes a serious attempt to engage diplomatically with Iraq's neighbors is key and said it is time to get U.S. forces out. (Rob Curtis / staff)
President Bush says his plan to stabilize Iraq is the best plan out there. But even one of the men who helped think it up says it has a fundamental flaw.
The first wave of "surge" troops soon will arrive in Iraq as part of Bush's plan to send in about 21,500 more troops. When they get there, they'll be working alongside Iraqi forces, but the Iraqis will have the lead in stabilizing Baghdad.
That's a big mistake, according to retired Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief, who advised both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on an Iraq strategy that was strikingly similar to the one Bush announced. Keane, whose plan called for more than the 21,500 U.S. troops Bush is sending to Iraq, worried aloud recently that the chain-of-command issue is a critical one.
Putting the Iraqis in the lead for the Baghdad surge "makes no sense to me. I don't understand that," Keane told senators Jan. 18.
Keane, who gave his name and support to a plan penned by Frederick Kagan, a senior expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, published earlier this year, said Bush's plan means Iraqis and Americans will be working alongside each other on the same streets — but with separate commands. Until now, many Iraqi forces, even when they're in the lead, are effectively under U.S. command. Under the new strategy, they'll be going it alone.
"We don't have unity of command, therefore you don't have unity of effort," Keane told a Senate panel. "Every time we do something like that ? we have military problems."
Keane appeared at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing designed to showcase alternative approaches to the Bush plan. Scrambling to come up with a specific plan of their own, Democrats have polled senior experts and academics at think tanks in Washington, as well as former military commanders.
Democrats believe the open-ended commitment Bush is making in Iraq, which includes only ill-defined "benchmarks" and no timeline to withdraw troops, is not a new strategy at all. Indeed, Bush's plan does not say when the Iraqi government must meet its goals or what happens if they fall short, other than to say that they'll be "reminded" of their obligations, in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
This comes at a time when U.S. confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is on the wane. Many U.S. officials say they are not sure the Shiite leader even wants to create a central government that will share power, let alone oil revenues, with the Sunni minority that now forms the backbone of the insurgency.
Bush's plan aims to create stability in Baghdad in order to allow the necessary political reconciliation and economic healing to take hold and spread outward.
Democrats and many military experts believe Bush should do just the opposite — begin withdrawing U.S. forces as a way to ensure that the Iraqis stand up on their own, said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.
The Iraqis must see the U.S. withdrawing forces before they get serious, he said, adding that this alternative "seems to be a lot more attractive" than Bush's plan.
Keane appeared with Barry McCaffrey, a retired Army four-star; Joseph Hoar, a retired Marine four-star and former chief of U.S. Central Command; and William Odom, a retired Army three-star whose last tour of duty was as director of the National Security Agency.
Other than Keane, who despite his concerns still believes the Bush plan will work, the panel of retired generals had little positive to say.
McCaffrey thinks success will come to Iraq only with a robust effort to equip Iraqis forces with Humvees, helicopters and other tools they need to fight their own insurgency — along with better economic and political efforts.
"I personally think the surge of five U.S. Army brigades and a few Marine battalions dribbled out over five months ? is a fool's errand," McCaffrey said of Bush's surge plan.
Hoar said he believes a serious attempt to engage diplomatically with Iraq's neighbors is key and said it is time to get U.S. forces out.
"In the Marines, we say, ‘When you're in a hole, stop digging.'" Ë