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Campus debates new Iraq policy

Marcela Berrios and Amanda Michaels | Tuesday, January 23, 2007

On Jan. 10, President George W. Bush gave one of the most anticipated and controversial addresses of his presidency, admitting in primetime the mistakes and failures of the American strategy in Iraq while ordering a 20,000-strong troop surge into the war-torn country.

While the President has remained firm in his decision, saying the U.S. needed to “increase support at this crucial moment to help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence,” the announcement sparked nationwide debate, from Capitol Hill to the classrooms at Notre Dame.

Saturday marked the deadliest day for American forces in the last two years, as 20 troops were killed in Iraq.

Notre Dame political science professor Dan Lindley said with instability in Iraq mounting and the possibility of a civil war eruption only increasing, the U.S. will need at least 20 troops for every 1,000 Iraqis to maintain order in the region – a scenario that isn’t anywhere close to the current ratio.

Past estimates said there were approximately six troops per thousand Iraqis, and the President’s recent troop increase will not increase that figure substantially.

“The Iraq war is lost unless the military force on the ground is tripled,” Lindley said. “As this will not happen, and because the Iraqi forces being trained are as much or more sectarian fighters than they are supporters of the central government, the war is likely already lost.”

Lindley dismissed Bush’s plan, saying that a 21,500-troop surge cannot prevent a Shiite-Sunni war or stabilize Iraq.

The prolongation of U.S. efforts there – far from finalizing the conflict – will only temporarily delay an inevitable civil war at the cost of more American lives, he said.

“How fast we leave and what we do with our remaining influence are the relevant issues,” Lindley said. “Winning is not an option.”

However, politicians and professors agree the future of Iraq must be considered as well.

In the Jan. 10 speech, the President said “to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an imaginable scale.”

The Iraq Study Group agreed. The congressional bipartisan panel, charged with the evaluation of the Iraq crisis, released its conclusions in December.

Though it agreed that “a premature American departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and further deterioration of conditions” in the region, it also said medium-sized manpower increments to the Coalition forces – such as the 20,000-troop increase – would not be enough to alleviate the fundamental causes of the Sunni-Shiite conflict.

To make the decision to stay or withdraw even more difficult, theology professor Michael Baxter threw the Christian viewpoint into the equation.

Baxter argued in favor of withdrawal from Iraq, considering the war theologically unjust due to inconsistent purposes and erroneous information.

“At first it was about destroying weapons of mass destruction, but then it became about hunting down al-Qaeda and finally it was about freeing the Iraqis,” Baxter said. “Under these circumstances, any Christian who is involved in the war should refuse to participate any further – and plenty of them are already doing that.”

Christians have not been the only ones to question the American presence in the Middle East.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that approximately 80 percent of the Iraqi population favored an immediate pullout of American forces – but experts predict the President will remain optimistic about his new strategy in tonight’s State of the Union address.

The White House said the President will focus his speech on energy conservation and domestic policy, but his continued support for the troop increase will likely cause the most heated debate.

Supporters of the President’s new Iraq proposals, including potential presidential candidate Senator John McCain, will also have to withstand criticism as the former’s approval ratings have sunk to a dismal 33 percent, said the ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Political science professor Peri Arnold said McCain’s future in American politics depends largely on the outcome, down the road, of Bush’s decision – which will have two years to unfold before the next presidential elections.

“If this turns out badly, McCain will be harmed by his identification with a losing cause and bad decision,” Arnold said.

While Arnold called McCain’s endorsement of the new Bush strategy is “politically very risky,” he noted that the senator is merely remaining consistent with his earlier positions concerning troop increases for Iraq.

Bush’s strategy announcement has generated debate among students, who see the impact they have on this generation’s future – especially for those who know someone fighting the war, or may help fight it themselves.

Senior history major Phil Mauro, who is also a member of the Army ROTC, said he was “happy” to hear of the troop increase, “but even happier to hear about the new effort being put in to reconstruction, as well as the removal of the political barriers which seem often to hinder the effectiveness of coalition forces.”

Mauro, who will be going into the Active Duty Army directly following graduation, may see combat in Iraq one day – and he willingly embraces this call to service.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity to help the people of Iraq rebuild their country, as well as the challenge of combat leadership in the contemporary operating environment,” he said.

Mauro noted that the troop surge does not necessarily increase the chances of recent graduates going to Iraq, and will more likely mean the quicker deployment of units already set to depart and extensions of the tours of duty for those already there.

Speaking as a private citizen and not a representative of the military, Mauro said many of his friends have reacted positively to Bush’s announcement of a troop surge, and he knows several recent Army ROTC graduates and ROTC instructors who have been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I think I have benefited greatly from being able to learn from their experiences [in Iraq],” he said, “And in my opinion, the quality of the ROTC instruction has improved as we have gained more cadre [instructors] who have more recent wartime experience.”