Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Does the President's New Advisory Panel Know That Rampant Unemployment Can Lead to Civil Unrest?

Today's Washington Post features two articles, the gists of which conflict with each other. On the one hand, we have the specially picked group of three generals and two advisers summoned to the White House to speak plainly to President Bush (after only four years ... what progress!) about the situation in Iraq, and to address the ISG report. Of course only people critical of the report were invited, but even so, their assessments conflict with each other to a degree. The advisory group agreed on some things: that the President needs to shake up his national security team; that we should not withdraw troops from Iraq, yet; and that we should not engage Syria and Iran as recommended by the ISG. The meetings are described as "carefully choreographed", which is another way of saying that even in the midst of saying he wants a real assessment and blunt speaking from his advisers, Bush seeks to direct the conversation to the path he wants to take by choosing only those advisers who are critical of the report or its conclusions. The advisers apparently agreed that the war was still "winnable", but then even they differed on how exactly to win it. Retired General Keane proposes sending 20,000 more troops to Baghdad for added security, while Retired General McCaffrey says this will achieve nothing. Everyone seems to agree we should train more troops to be trainers of the Iraqis, but there is a general sense even from this meeting that this tiny group of hand-picked advisers is in serious disagreement about how the goal can be achieved.

Experts Advise Bush

In contrast is an article in the same edition which describes a Pentagon promoted campaign to increase job opportunity for Iraqis, whose joblessness rates in some areas run almost 70%.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the top U.S. field commander in Iraq, said that tackling unemployment could do far more good than adding U.S. combat troops or more aggressively pursuing an elusive enemy. He said the project to open the factories and stimulate local economies is long overdue and was born "of desperation."

"We need to put the angry young men to work," Chiarelli said in a phone interview from Baghdad. "One of the key hindrances to us establishing stability in Iraq is the failure to get the economy going. A relatively small decrease in unemployment would have a very serious effect on the level of sectarian killing going on."

To Stem Iraqi Violence

Seems to me that the advisers haven't addressed this fundamental issue in their considerations of the "new way forward" urged by Bush. The most troubling thing about the Bush policy is the promotion of military over alternative forms of seeking his ever elusive "victory". General Chiarelli makes more sense than the advisers and they should consider what he says in weighing our options.

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