The View From 1776

Reviewing Plans for Iraq

      http://www.thomasbrewton.com/index.php/weblog/reviewing_plans_for_iraq/

In his Wall Street Journal column, Bret Stephens reviews the several liberal “plans” for getting out of Iraq and compares their probable results with those of the latest tactics proposed by the administration.


For the benefit of those who are not subscribers to the Wall Street Journal online, the entire article is reproduced below:

Our Options in Iraq

By Bret Stephens
?January 30, 2007;?Page?A16

These are our options in Iraq: We can withdraw troops and equipment as fast as our Galaxys and Globemasters can carry them home (or to Okinawa). This is the Murtha Way. We can cap troop levels at 140,000 and withdraw them no later than Inauguration Day, 2009. This is Hillary’s Way. We can redeploy our forces outside of Iraqi cities, conduct limited training and counterterrorism missions, urge reconciliation among the various political factions and seek diplomatic openings with Syria and Iran. This is the way of Sens. Chuck Hagel and Joe Biden. We can advocate and facilitate the partition of Iraq. This is the (Peter) Galbraith Way. Or we can surge troops into the toughest neighborhoods of Baghdad, Ramadi and Najaf and keep them there indefinitely.

That is the President’s Way. It is going to mean many more American casualties—perhaps as many in the months ahead as we’ve seen over the past four years. It may fail for lack of troops, or insufficient cooperation from the Iraqi government. It could be defeated in the field, or it could succeed—only to be undermined in Washington, much as Gen. Creighton Abrams’s 1972 battlefield victories in Vietnam were. It lacks an endgame. It’s a political loser. But it is the only strategy on the table that aims at victory and has a chance of succeeding.

Consider the alternatives in their turn. The intelligent case for immediate withdrawal is that it means no more Americans need die in a war that is already lost. For Iraq, the consequences of American withdrawal will surely be grievous: ethnic cleansing on a massive scale; the collapse of the current government; the creation of an al Qaeda statelet in Anbar province; a rush by Iran, Saudi Arabia and perhaps Turkey to fill the vacuum; a regional war of Sunnis and Shiites and factions in between; a Mideast nuclear arms race.

Advocates of immediate withdrawal would counter that all this was foreordained by the invasion of Iraq (or at least by the bungled occupation) so it may as well happen sooner rather than later. But what are the consequences of immediate withdrawal for the U.S.? Well, see above, and ask yourself if it’s a price the U.S. can afford to pay. Unless you agree with Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, who sees geopolitical catastrophe as a pathway to redeeming America’s soul, the answer is probably not.

What about Hillary’s Way? Its political convenience is to prevent Iraq from being a millstone around the neck of the next administration, presumably hers. Its strategic virtue is that it offers a window to get things right in Iraq, finally, and the pressure to do so quickly.

But it fails to address the obvious objection, which is that once a date-certain for U.S. withdrawal is set, Sunni insurgents, Shiite Mahdists and outside powers like Iran need only bide their time before moving in. And because of Sen. Clinton’s proposed troop cap, it prevents the U.S. from sufficiently altering facts on the ground to give the Iraqi government a chance to stand on its own. Given the choice between postponed and immediate withdrawal, at least the latter stands to save American lives. Otherwise, the results are the same.

Now take the Hagel-Biden Way, itself mostly a reprise of the recommendations of Jim Baker’s Iraq Study Group. At a hearing last Wednesday of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Hagel waxed pontifical on the subject of “coherence of strategy,” accusing the administration of having no coherent strategy either in the past or for the future. For his pains, and for standing on the right side of opinion polls, admiring pundits have praised the Nebraska Republican as a profile in political courage.

As for the merits of his own strategy, spelled out in a recent USA Today op-ed, that’s another story. With Mr. Biden, the senator wants to redeploy U.S. forces outside of Iraqi cities. He seems to have missed the fact that, except for the politically critical Green Zone in Baghdad, that’s where the troops have mainly been for two years, in keeping with the “light footprint” strategy that everyone now agrees failed. Next Mr. Hagel wants to “transfer responsibility for internal security and halting sectarian violence to Iraqi forces under an appropriately expedited timeline.” Another interesting idea, given how much of the sectarian violence of the past few years has been instigated by elements within the Iraqi interior ministry.

And Mr. Hagel wants to “engage Iraq’s neighbors and the international community to build a regional framework to help support and sustain a political solution and national reconciliation.” Which neighbors would those be? Iran, which mass-produces IEDs and finances the most radical among Iraq’s Shiite groups? Syria, which serves as sanctuary for Baathist holdouts and transfer point for Sunni insurgents? The “coherence” of the Hagel-Biden plan itself rests on the incoherent assumption that the regimes that so far have worked hardest to abort Iraq’s rebirth as a federal and democratic state can now be enlisted to midwife the effort.

Finally there is partition. There is a seductive neatness to the idea that, by dividing Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish states, one cuts the proverbial Gordian knot of the country’s dysfunctional politics. But Iraq’s population isn’t so neatly divided, not least in Baghdad where one in four Iraqis live. How are they to be moved, resettled, compensated and so on?

Proponents of partition argue that such dilemmas are already in the process of resolving themselves, as Shiites and Sunnis abandon previously mixed neighborhoods. This is what logicians call the “Is-Ought” fallacy, and it would have the perverse effect of putting the U.S. behind the very forces of the sectarian aggression that so far we have sought to quell. Nor does it address the long-term question of just what kind of states Kurdistan, Basrastan and Fallujastan would become, whether they’d be viable, and whether they would be hostile or friendly to American interests.

Which leaves us with the Bush Way. It proposes to assume a responsibility—the responsibility for everyday security—the U.S. military relinquished when it first allowed Baghdad to be looted. And it takes as its premise the idea that “national reconciliation” in Iraq can only be accomplished in the absence of chaos. These are the fundamental responsibilities of an occupier. It’s too bad we didn’t do it sooner. That’s no reason not to start now.

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