Ready or not, here escalation comes

READY OR NOT, HERE ESCALATION COMES…. For about a month, Bush administration officials have maintained the fiction that the president had not come to any conclusions about whether to send thousands of additional troops to Iraq, and that while a change in policy was in the works, Bush hasn’t decided what that change would be. The claims always seemed far-fetched — every source and leak kept whispering that an escalation was on the way.

In case there was any lingering doubt, the whispers are getting louder.

White House officials say a troop “surge” almost certainly will be the centerpiece of Mr. Bush’s new strategy for Iraq to be unveiled mid-month. But while administration officials have gone to great lengths to emphasize that the extra troops will be in Iraq only temporarily, there is no clear definition of how long that might be.

Several Democratic and Republican lawmakers who endorsed the increase say they want the extra troops in Iraq for just three to six months. Senior military commanders believe the extra forces can be sustained in Iraq for only six to 12 months before logistical and manpower strains become untenable. Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, has told associates that 12 months is needed to ensure a substantive effect.

Echoing Gen. Schoomaker’s concerns that Iraq’s militias would simply wait out a three- or six-month surge and then resume their violence, a report by military historian Frederick Kagan argues that the troops should be in Iraq for at least 18 months. The U.S. has about 140,000 troops in Iraq, and the additional forces could total as many as 20,000.

Similarly, the BBC reports today that, in a speech to be delivered in the middle of next week, Bush will “reveal a plan to send more US troops to Iraq to focus on ways of bringing greater security, rather than training Iraqi forces.”

The next question, of course, is whether anyone in the U.S. will approve of such a move.

The troops don’t seem to care for the idea. Neither does the public. The Joint Chiefs aren’t enthralled with the proposal, and new Defense Secretary Robert Gates apparently has some concerns of his own.

On the Hill, while congressional Democrats are nearly universal in their opposition to escalation, the list of high-profile Republican opponents, or at least skeptics, has grown considerably in just the last three days. Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Chuck Lugar (R-Ind.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) are all expressing doubts, if not outright opposition.

It’s hard to characterize this has a partisan, ideological fight when so many Republicans are joining the vast majority of Democrats in criticizing the president’s approach.

For what it’s worth, AEI resident scholar Frederick Kagan, a leading proponent of escalation, told the WSJ, “If we surge and it doesn’t work, it’s hard to imagine what we do after that. But we’re already in a very bad spot, and if we don’t do anything defeat is imminent.”

Does this mean he’ll support withdrawal if this new escalation does as poorly as the last one?