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CURRENT ISSUE:  January 22, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 2Oakland, CA

Bush’s plan for troop surge elicits
support, concern among Catholics

Crosses set on a hill in Lafayette recall U.S. service men and women who have died in Iraq. The hill was the site of an evening demonstration against the war on Jan. 11 attended by several hundred people. Similar anti-war demonstrations were held in Washington, Boston and New York after President George W. Bush announced that he would increase U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Catholic Army chaplain who was stationed in Iraq and a Christian Iraqi-American military adviser said they stand behind U.S. President George W. Bush’s most recent plan to send more troops to Iraq.

But three international policy experts contacted by Catholic News Service sharply criticized the plan and questioned whether it can succeed.

“If this is what the leaders are asking for, then that’s what they need,” said Father Brian Kane, who served as an Army chaplain for the 67th Area Support Group at Al Asad Airfield, in the Iraqi Al Anbar region.

Father Kane said the White House’s goals for the Iraqi government to ease sectarian violence and stabilize the country are “a positive step” and a “healthy direction.”

The Iraqi government “needs to show the world that they are capable of taking care of their own country,” he said.

Using such goals, about which Bush did not elaborate, will enable Americans to evaluate the Iraqi government’s progress, and they also act as “a reassurance to the U.S. people that we are preparing to turn things over to the Iraqis,” he told CNS from Wahoo, Neb., where he has been a teacher at St. John Neumann High School since he returned from Iraq in September.

Father Kane said he believes “when a nation is at war it should not be divided in its resolve to support the troops who are in harm’s way.”

In his address to the nation Jan. 10, Bush made no specific mention of penalties for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for promises not kept. Bush said he plans to send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq, but he set no time limit for the deployment or for when he plans to totally withdraw troops.

Pauline Jasim, a military bilingual and bicultural adviser in Baghdad, Iraq, said it was “about time Washington realized the (number of) troops were never enough, and more troops are needed in Baghdad.”

The Iraqis, particularly in Baghdad, “were ecstatic when more troops were transferred to Baghdad last August; they had hoped Baghdad would be cleaned up,” she told CNS in an e-mail Jan. 10.
However, Jasim said Iraq has “lost all hope in its government, coalition forces and the world.”

“The secular and the educated population has fled. ... They have become the most hopeless people in the world, stranded in the neighboring countries,” she said.

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, editor of the national Catholic magazine America and director of the U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace 1991-98, said the plan “seems to me too light on the troops” to achieve the goal of sufficient security for a transition to Iraqi control.

More importantly, “it ignores the diplomatic elements altogether,” he said.

He said in Bosnia-Herzegovina the allied forces sent in one soldier for every 50 civilians to establish security. Increasing U.S. forces in Iraq from about 130,000 to 150,000 does not come close to the ratio needed, he said, noting some have estimated it would take about 350,000 to 400,000 for an effective occupying force.

The expansion will come by extending current troops’ stays and sending others back into Iraq early, he said, and “the military is being stretched extraordinarily thin.”

He said the Bush plan ignores the Iraq Study Group’s call to look at the situation in Iraq as a regional problem, and the administration continues to try to isolate Iran and Syria, two major actors in the region, instead of drawing them into diplomatic negotiations.

Maryann Cusimano Love, a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America, Washington, and an expert on terrorism, said Jan. 11: “This is primarily a political battle about winning hearts and minds. And the military measures that he presented last night don’t do anything to address the underlying problems in Iraq and, I’m afraid, are unlikely to succeed.”

She called it a belated response to the problem that not enough troops were committed in 2003.
“It’s four years too late,” she said. “I think he recognizes now that there should have been more troops at the get-go, but that doesn’t mean that more troops are the answer now.”

She said Bush’s claim that an additional 21,500 troops will provide enough force to hold neighborhoods once they are cleared “is simply factually incorrect. When you look at the size of the Iraqi population and the size of the insurgency versus the size of U.S. troops, this just doesn’t add up. We had a much more intensive commitment in Kosovo, and that was a long, hard row.”

Gerard F. Powers, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for Peace and head of the bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace 1998-2004, said there “are some positive proposals” in the Bush plan and “the stated goal is the right one -- a united, stable, nonsectarian government.”

But he said the “modest increase in troops” announced by Bush is another case of “willing the ends but not the means.”

“We’re in a real hole” because the United States does not have the troops needed to establish security for civilians in Iraq, he said.

“It would only be feasible if the United States were able to convince other nations, get the international community involved in a serious way. And it’s probably too late for that,” he said.


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