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What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called "the Salvador option"—and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November’s operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency—as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time—than in spreading it out.
Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)
On the topic of John Negroponte, check out this article from Sobaka from a couple months back.
He made his name in Honduras because he made it officially a shiny, happy, little bit of Scandinavia down south of the border even though its ruler was openly discussing making the place more like Argentina back when the military ran that place.
Try and catch Negroponte on this or any other point, and he's got you nailed. Remember, he claims he doesn't believe death squads operated in Honduras. Sure, it's like saying that, in spite of a complete lack of manufacturing facilities at the North Pole, you believe Santa's elves make all the toys up there, but it's all a matter of belief. Show him the proof, and he can disbelieve it. Honduras remains a happy little square on a Candy Land board, as long as you talk to Negroponte.
Andrew Sullivan drops this quote from the pro-war Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting) consultancy:
The issue facing the Bush administration is simple. It can continue to fight the war as it has, hoping that a miracle will bring successes in 2005 that didn't happen in 2004. Alternatively, it can accept the reality that the guerrilla force is now self-sustaining and sufficiently large not to flicker out and face the fact that a U.S. conventional force of less than 150,000 is not likely to suppress the guerrillas. More to the point, it can recognize these facts: 1. The United States cannot re-engineer Iraq because the guerrillas will infiltrate every institution it creates. 2. That the United States by itself lacks the intelligence capabilities to fight an effective counterinsurgency. 3. That exposing U.S. forces to security responsibilities in this environment generates casualties without bringing the United States closer to the goal. 4. That the strain on the U.S. force is undermining its ability to react to opportunities and threats in the rest of the region. And that, therefore, this phase of the Iraq campaign must be halted as soon as possible.
As Kevin Drum says:
Is there anybody left who still thinks we can win in Iraq? Anybody, that is, aside from George Bush, who apparently lives in a cocoon and refuses to allow bad news to pass through his doors? It sure doesn't sound like it.
Even if election turnouts aren't so bad I still can't see anything but a downward spiral for Iraq.