President Bush this week acknowledged that the news from Baghdad isn't all that good. In truth, it hasn't been very good since the Americans took it in April 2003, then stood by watching as the mobs looted and burned to celebrate their new freedom.
The president said he was sending additional American troops to bolster the failed efforts by some of the 30,000 Americans already there, as well as by the Iraqi army. Their sweeps through a chaotic capital city of 11 million have done nothing to put a lid on an ever-growing sectarian violence that daily kills scores, if not hundreds, of Iraqis.
Bush said the reinforcements for Baghdad would be taken from other areas of the country.
That's called robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it's the greatest enemy of success in counter-insurgency warfare, which is based on providing security and stability for the civilian population of a town or a district.
For the first two and a half years of our occupation of Iraq with a force too small by half, it was the administration's recipe for failure. The insurgents took over wide swaths of western Iraq and ran cities such as Tal Afar with an iron Islamic fist, flying their banners and slaughtering those who opposed them or those who were of a different tribe or sect.
An American task force would sweep in and clear the area, not without considerable collateral damage, encourage the locals to stand against the insurgents, hold the ground for a week or two weeks, and leave. The insurgents and the jihadists would flow back in and take revenge against anyone who'd even nodded at the invaders.
The climate changed for the better only when American units such as the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and its innovative commander, Col. H.R. McMaster, came to town, cleared out the insurgents and stayed.
The administration will say that the Baghdad reinforcements will be drawn from areas where the Americans already have handed over primary control to the Iraqi army, and thus are no longer needed.
That's disingenuous in the extreme. There's a Sunni Muslim majority in most of the contested areas, and the Iraqi army and police are overwhelmingly Shiite. It's the presence of American units that keep them from becoming part of the problem by taking revenge against their age-old enemies. When the Americans leave, the fear factor grows swiftly.
There are suggestions that the new difficulties in Baghdad will halt any drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, thought to be aiming for a total force of 100,000 or less by Election Day in November.
That target may not be reached, but the drawdown is real. There were more than 160,000 American troops in Iraq last December. Today there are 127,000. Not enough Americans to cover the all the bases in this deadly game. There never were, from the start.
It's foolhardy to think that another American brigade, 2,500 to 3,000 troops, is going to make much of a difference in the fetid alleys and squalid slums of Baghdad, the most dangerous city in the world.
It's not just the suicide bombers any more. Now it's the death squads that suddenly appear in a Sunni or Shiite neighborhood, or a mixed neighborhood, and unlimber AK-47s and RPGs to slaughter dozens or scores of men, women and children whose only sin is that they believe differently in the same God.
The security forces of the new, weak Iraqi government vanish before the killing starts and reappear only after it's done—except for those who participate in the slaughter or facilitate it. Some of those come from the government's Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry.
A couple thousand more Americans on the streets of Baghdad won't contribute much, except to the number of Americans being killed and wounded there. But the places they left are going to miss them in the worst way.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with his new way of war—high-tech weapons taking the place of soldiers on the ground—began this war with half the number of U.S. troops needed for the job and no plan to secure the peace.
It's the soldiers and Marines who are still there, many on their second or third combat tours, who continue to pay the price for poor leadership, half-baked tactics and no strategy worthy of the name.
Say a prayer for them tonight, and every night. That's more support than they'll get from the halls of power in Washington.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.