Monday, November 20, 2006

"New Plan" on Iraq

There's been a couple of notable headlines with regards to Iraq, coming out in front of the upcoming release of the Baker Report. First, Henry Kissinger said that, "Military Victory in Iraq is 'Not Possible.'" Of course, if you read a bit deeper, he also states that an immediate withdrawal 'would be disastrous.' And if you dig a little more deeper, you find, as Bobby points out, that Kissinger's definition of 'military victory' is a rather interesting one: ""If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible." [bold added for emphasis]" Paraphrasing Bobby a bit, what Kissinger is basically saying is that it's irrelevant whether victory in and of itself is possible because the political will of the countries on our side (namely, our own) is faltering and will not support the war for the amount of time it takes to win. This is, of course, largely the fault of the President for failing to engage the American people, but that's a post for a different day. In any case, you should go read that post over at Bobby's place that I linked to above, it's got a lot of good information and food for thought and I'll be referencing it later as well.

On to the next piece of news: "Pentagon study narrows down Iraq options." The three options are, in a nutshell: "Go big, go long, or go home." Send more troops for one last push, lower troop levels but stay longer, or simply withdraw. First, I"ll just state that this is kind of a "duh" moment, in the same sense that it would be if I said that your three options at a poker table were to check/call, bet, or fold. It's rather obvious. Second, I'm a little worried because the way this is being spun is that all three options are equally viable as far as the Pentagon is concerned and that there are no real severe consequences of any of the three actions. Of course, I'm certain that the report lays out, in no uncertain detail, just exactly what the consequences, positive and negative, of all three actions would be. But it's unlikely we'll actually hear those reported. (Appears that I was wrong on this point; see link to BBC article near bottom of the page.)

Finally, we have the upcoming Baker Report. I have to be honest, I'm not particularly hopeful for this Report. First, let me just say that whatever the Report recommends will be heartily embraced by the President and both parties in Congress. Everyone's looking for a way out, and the Baker Report offers that. I should emphasize that anything else I say about the report is pure conjecture and educated guessing. The Report has been rather closely guarded, and the information we've been getting out about it has been spotty, very open-ended, and sometimes contradictory. I should also add that, while there is a Commission, in reality this report is probably going to largely written by the two leaders: James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton.

That said, let's get into the problems I am forseeing with the Baker Report. First and most fundamentally, the Report is going to be written from a realist point of view. The problem with this is that the war we're engaged in cannot be approached from that realist point of view. This is a long war, a war in which internal affairs of countries actually play a bigger role than their external actions, and a war in which ideology matters. All three of these things are anathema to a realist. Realists crave stability over all else. More specifically, realists value stability in the short term regardless of the long term consequences. Witness 1991, when we avoid a chance to take out Saddam because it would upset our "allies" in the ME, and it would be too chaotic. 12 long years later, and we go back in to finish the job at much greater cost and with much lower support among the Iraqi people, due in part to the fact that we sold them out in '91 (another Baker creation). Realists don't care how a country treats its own people; all they care about is how that country acts externally towards our country.

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking won't get very far in today's world. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are both "allies" of the United States. We aren't at war with either country, and we cooperate with both of them on counter-terrorism efforts. Yet on 9/11, most of the hijackers came from one of these two countries. Most of al-Qaeda's top leadership is either Saudi or Egyptian. Why? These countries are outwardly on "our side," yet their population seems to harbor a deep hatred for the United States. A couple of things must be true: first, with the rise of transnational organizations and 4th GW, we can no longer use a country's outward statements and actions to truly gauge the overall feelings/opinions of their people. Second, regardless of what the government says, there must be some kind of correlation between the way a government treats their people and the people's opinion, and more importantly, actions toward the U.S.

This brings me to the third failing of realists in today's world. To a realist, it does not matter if a country is democratic, liberal, theocratic, totalitarian, or zen utopia. All that matters is, as I stated above, the way that country acts externally. Unfortunately, as I've shown above, this isn't the case in today's world. In fact, since internal government actions are just as, if not more, important as external actions, it stands that the kind of government a country has and the society that form of government is based on are quite important. The more repressive a government, the more violent the people will tend to be in their actions.

But really, all this realist vs idealist talk is a discussion for another post. I just wanted to discuss a bit of background as to why I think the realist direction U.S. foreign policy appears to be heading in is the wrong direction, since it appears that realism will be the main thrust of the Baker Report.

So, on to specifics. First, the commission will probably recommend that we engage Iran and Syria in order to help Iraq become "stable." So in order to help one country become stable, we're going to start talking with two enemies of this country, enemies who also have been actively working for the past 4 years to help destabilize the very country we hope they can help us make stable. Head spinning yet? As far as I'm concerned, the only "talking" we need to be doing with Iran and Syria is of the "assured destruction" kind. The report will probably also recommend a big increase in U.S. troops for "one last effort" that, in combination with a "shut-down" of the Syrian and Iranian supply lines, would leave the country in some form of stable condition, enabling U.S. troops to withdraw with honor, mission accomplished. Of course, this is like putting gauze on a massive arterial might stop the bleeding for a bit, but it's just a band-aid solution. The supply lines will inevitably open again, the insurgency will restart, and Iraqi security forces will be unable to deal because they aren't fully trained up yet. But, you say, U.S. forces will be in a QRF located in Kuwait/Turkey/Kurdistan/somewhere where they won't be shot at and will be able to respond. I think Fred Kagan dealt with that fantasy appropriately.

So in exchange for short term stability and being able to "close the book," so to speak, on the Iraq problem, we'll get an emboldened Syria and Iran and a failed state right in the center of the ME. Basically Lebanon from the Taif Accords (a great Baker "success story") to the Cedar Revolution, increased by several orders of magnitude.

In stark contrast to the political view, we have the reality of the situation from the professionals: "A US military review of strategy in Iraq is likely to back a limited troop increase focused on training, officials have told the Washington Post. Senior defence officials said a review panel appeared to favour an option dubbed "Go Long", the paper reported." This has been the plan since the beginning, but most people have no idea.

Anyway, I'll let Bobby have the last word. Here's what he had to say:

"I've long since come to the conclusion that what is needed is not more American troops, but fewer troops-- albeit strategically assigned to the Military Transition Teams (MiTT) as advisors embedded in the Iraqi Security Forces, backed up by three to five Brigade Combat Teams for quick reaction response and deliberate operations, and supported by the incomparable firepower of the US airforce (to turn the tables-- fast-- in a decisive engagement). If you combine the MiTTs with the expansion of interagency Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT)-- like my own-- which are charged with overseeing reconstruction and development of infrastructure, building the capacity of Iraqi political and administrative institutions to stand on their own, and maintaining information superiority at the lowest levels, and (for that matter) an overhauled and proactive information operations campaign that is supported by kinetic operations (and not vice versa), and-- oh by the way-- the proliferation of improved counterinsurgency operations and tactics in an organization that still has too many who think that we can use kinetic operations to achieve victory through the application military force alone, well, then I think we'll be on to something.

But what do I know."

Well, a helluva a lot more than most of the policy makers in this country, it seems.