Incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended that President Bush order an immediate buildup of 10,000 troops in Iraq, with an option of doubling that to 20,000 by spring. The plan is known as “Five Plus Two,” sending five Army brigades into Baghdad plus two Marine battalions into western Iraq. Two of the Army brigades would go into Baghdad starting in January, with the other three on call. The plan comes with a high-level personnel shake-up in the Global War on Terrorism apparatus. Gen. David Petraeus has been named to replace Gen. George Casey as top US commander in Iraq, with Adm. William Fallon, now head of the Pacific Command, to replace Gen. John Abizaid as chief of Central Command. Outgoing Abizaid and Casey have both expressed qualms in recent weeks about boosting US forces in Iraq, with Abizaid warning that an increase of 20,000 could not be sustained for long by the overburdened US military. (CBS, Jan. 6)
Bush has also named Zalmay Khalilzad, currently ambassador to Iraq and formerly envoy to post-Taliban Afghanistan, to replace John Bolton as UN ambassador. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issued an official statement saying it welcoming Khalilzad to his new position. “We’re looking forward to working with him,” said AIPAC spokesperson Jennifer Cannat. (JTA, Jan. 6)
But the shake-up seems to indicate a tilt away from the aggressively pro-Israel neocons and their hubristic plans to reshape the Middle East, and back towards the traditional conservative “pragmatists” who seek stability under authoritarian regimes. Some perceive a questioning of neocon strategy to use the Shiites of Iraq as a strategic pawn to break tradititional Sunni power, and a tilt back towards the traditional Anglo-American strategy of cultivating a centralized Sunni proxy state in Baghdad. From Newsday. Jan. 5 (which strangely fails to mention Khalilzad’s new appointment):
At the beginning of the American occupation, the old order of Sunni domination was demolished. But where L. Paul Bremer, presidential envoy to Iraq in 2003, alienated the Sunnis, pushing them out, an action now seen as having fueled the insurgency, current Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has sought to integrate them into the political process, a strategy many U.S. officials hoped could lead to a way out of Iraq.
Khalilzad, a Sunni of Afghan descent, has met with Sunni leaders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other states to enlist their support in isolating the Sunni insurgents. In November 2005, after U.S. soldiers found Sunnis being tortured in a secret prison run by the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry, he rebuked the Iraqi government.
Shia politicians and analysts say Khalilzad is backing the Sunnis to limit the power of Shias in the government. They say the United States and its allies, concerned about the growing influence of Iran’s Shia theocracy, will never allow an independent Shia government, much less a religious one, to blossom in Iraq.
“We know the U.S. is under great pressure from Arabic and Islamic countries, who are Sunni,” said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a member of parliament with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shia party with strong ties to Teh- ran. “They fear the growing power of the Shia inside Iraq.”
Bush has also announced the replacement of the sinister John Negroponte as National Intelligence director, who is named as deputy secretary of state. The administration insists this is not a demotion. Negroponte served as US ambassador to the UN from 2001 to 2004 and ambassador to Iraq until March 2005 before becoming intelligence chief. He also was ambassador to Mexico, from 1989-93 and to Honduras from 1981-85, where he was linked to Central America’s reign of death squad terror (which was replicated in Iraq as the Salvador option). Negroponte’s likely successor as National Intelligence director is retired Adm. Mike McConnell, director of the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1996. McConnell is now a senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a government contractor and consulting firm. The job of his No. 2 has been vacant since Gen. Michael Hayden became the CIA director in May. (AP, Jan. 4)