Wednesday, March 16, 2005

So, Who's Bluffing Who?

Blah, blah, blah Iran. Yada, yada, yada Syria. Yack, yack, yack North Korea.

Some tin pot dictator is going to call Bush's bluff one of these days. And it isn't going to be pretty. Because Bush isn't going to be able to respond to any other credible military "threat" anywhere else in the world. He's stretched the U.S. military about that thin.

When Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced yesterday that Italy will begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in September, hot on the heels of Ukraine making a similar announcement, the first thought that came to mind was "who's going to supplement the coalition of the heretofore unwilling?" In the short term, it would appear that the U.K. is the only viable option for support. An AFP report this morning confirms that Britain will likely be asked to fill gap in Iraq left by Italy:

More British troops will probably be asked to go to Iraq to help fill the void left by Italy's proposed withdrawal of its 3,000 troops there, a British military expert said.

..."There's no doubt whatsoever that the embryonic Iraqi security forces are really not capable of controlling the area -- they need coalition forces to support them," he said.

"It's going to leave a big hole, there's no doubt about that. My gut feeling is that it's going to be hard to find a contingent to replace them.

"I think it's almost impossible for the Americans to produce another 3,000 extra troops.

"We're probably going to be asked to help to fill the gap," Heyman said.

It's hard to see this happening - someone's doing a lot of wishing. Tony Blair is up for election, and committing almost 40% more British troops to the quagmire would be political suicide for Blair. He's been under enormous pressure from his own government to set a timetable for withdrawal. Public support for continued U.K. involvement in Iraq is dropping precipitously. Blair is undergoing a public grilling unlike anything George Bush has yet faced (or will ever face).

So, it's a legitimate question - who's going to replace Italian and Ukrainian troops? Not the U.S., that's for sure. The manpower isn't there. When Montana's Governor is basically begging for rotational return of Montana National Guard troops because he's fearful of what's going to happen during wildfire season this year with over 50% of the Guard in Iraq, it's hard to see where Rumsfeld is going to cover the deficit of troops as other countries hit the exits. When the U.S. Army misses its recruiting goals by 28%, it becomes even less clear.

Iraqi troops taking over? In Iraq? What a concept. But don't count on it. A GAO report to the House Government Reform Committee indicates that desertion rates of Iraqi National Guard and police is nearly as high as recruitment rates:

Ministry of Defense reports exclude the absent military personnel from its totals. According to DOD officials, the number of absentees is probably in the tens of thousands.

It's a zero sum game. Plus, the Iraqi Army is (metaphorically speaking) equipped with peashooters to fight an insurgency armed with 150mm Howitzers.

How the Bush administration has gotten away with covering up the rapidly deteriorating U.S. military readiness situation is a mystery that is about to be forced into the light of day by the continued disintegration of the coalition. At that point, every tinpot dictator in the world will understand that George W. Bush isn't about to win the World Series of Poker anytime soon.