A new book by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward has put the Bush White House on the defensive. Released Monday Sept 8, the book makes allegations that the Administration spied on individuals within the Iraqi government. Mr Woodward conducted two interviews in the spring with President Bush, and argues in the book that Mr Bush was largely detached from decisionmaking in Iraq.
But one issue that Mr Bush weighed in on, in defiance of the "commanders on the ground," was the so-called troop surge of thousands of new soldiers in 2007. The book alleges that many of the Administration's military advisors in Washington and the Army commanders in Iraq were opposed to sending large numbers of new troops. Unreported so far was the role that the draw-down by other coalition members had on the decision to send new American soldiers into Iraq.
The Defense Department has consistently exaggerated the number of members in the "Coalition of the Willing," with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stating in August 2006 that 35 countries had contributed troops. Between 21 and 26 nations actually had soldiers in Iraq at that time, some contingents numbering less than 10 individuals. The number of troops has fallen by at least 17,000, including the further losses this past month as a result of withdrawal of the entire contingent of 2000 Georgian troops following the Russian invasion of their country.
British troops have declined from a peak of 45,000 to 4000 currently. Japanese soldiers were withdrawn in July of 2006, the Italians in November 2006, and all of Slovakia's troops last December. The remaining foreign soldiers are largely confined to base, to avoid casualties. The US is thought to have paid nearly $2 billion, mostly to Poland, to support these contingents of foreign soldiers.
Only seven other countries--Bulgaria, El Salvador, Romania, South Korea, Australia, Poland and Britain--have 100 or more troops remaining in Iraq.
If the US troop increase has merely replaced the disappearing coalition contingents, how can the decrease in violence be explained? One likely explanation for the seeming pacification of Iraq over the past 12 months is the massive additional funds provided at US taxpayer expense to pay off the Sunni militias, man-by-man at about $300 per month.
In this light, the US 'surge' may have been largely incidental to the decreased violence in Iraq, since the increased troop presence has mostly just replaced the loss of soldiers from other countries. Although it could be argued that buying the allegiance of the various combatants is an intelligent expenditure, if it spares American lives, the question that looms large is whether this represents a stop-gap measure by the Administration until after the US Presidential Election takes place in two months.