"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;"
– King Henry V at the siege of Harfleur, Act III, Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s "Henry V"
Iraq is not France and Baghdad is not Harfleur. And George W Bush is not Henry the Fifth. The rumor is that George W Bush is enamored of the notion of a "surge" in Iraq – a "surge" that will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq. It is all very manly. The word itself invokes a powerful rush of strength, a rush of victorious energy, a rising tide of manliness – in short, very George W Bush.
After the Iraq Study Group cut Mr. Bush from his secure "stay the course" moorings by making the fantasy of "progress" in Iraq unsustainable, a change in direction at the White House was inevitable. Waiting in the wings were the neo-conservatives with their pet theory of neo-colonialism at the barrel of a gun. Building upon their first disaster in Iraq, some neo-conservatives are finding their inner-Kissingers in full bloom. Just like Kissinger, who has yet to quench his appetite for war crimes, the neo-Kissingers are also finding a willing, albeit less discriminating, ear in the Oval Office.
If the U.S. were to keep its troop levels constant over the next 18 months, the manpower available to perform all of these critical tasks would increase dramatically as Iraqi forces became available to handle basic security functions.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Bush administration favors such a course. Repeated rumors–including a report about U.S. plans to withdraw, leaked by the British Ministry of Defense recently, and statements by the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq–indicate that the administration would prefer to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq as Iraqi forces become available in larger numbers.
Understandable though that desire is, it is wrongheaded. Now, above all, is the moment when determination and perseverance are most needed. If the U.S. begins pulling troops out prematurely, it runs the risk of allowing the insurgency to grow, perhaps becoming what it now is not–a real military threat to the government.
If, on the other hand, Bush stays the course and pays the price for success, the prospects for winning will get better every day.
Mr. Kagan, always an advocate of more troops in Iraq, was more concerned about Mr. Bush paying the price for success than our troops paying the price for Mr. Bush’s "success".
Mr. Kagan has been hawking his "surge" idea for a while now. In the spring of this year Mr. Kagan proposed a two-phase plan for "victory":
With an additional 7 brigades devoted to active combat operations, it should be possible to conduct clear-hold-build operations in two phases, totaling perhaps 12 to 18 months of significant combat, followed by a longer-term commitment of substantially smaller numbers of "leave-behind" forces. The general concept of the operation is to move from the outside in.
The first phase of the operation would clear the three river valleys except for Ramadi. U.S. forces would advance town by town from the upper Euphrates, upper Tigris, and upper Diyala rivers toward Baghdad, clearing and holding as they went and leaving behind a significant ISF presence, leavened with U.S. forces, to consolidate.
When clearing operations were completed, the ISF troops that had participated would remain in place to consolidate, supported by about 5 American battalions (2.5 brigades). That would leave about 9 battalions (4.5 brigades), in addition to those already deployed in Iraq, to continue active operations in the second phase: clearing Ramadi and the southern suburbs of Baghdad, and beginning to clear Baghdad itself.
It may be that the fastest way to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis and draw down American forces is not a steady decline of troop numbers. Instead, the fastest possible "exit strategy" may require one last surge effort to bring the insurgency down to a level that the indigenous forces can handle on their own. [Emphasis added by me.]
He is old school – he believes that a determined local population can be "pacified" by an occupying power if the right amount of force is applied and the right number of locals are killed. Unfortunately, history is replete with examples of insurgencies that have outlasted the occupying power’s will to fight. Mr. Kagan and his neo-Kissingers would argue that if only the occupier would have stayed longer and been more brutal, the outcome might have been different. If only.
My hope is that not a single American soldier has to lose his or her life in the service of armchair ideologues like Fred Kagan and their pet theories. It appears that the joint chiefs are making an effort to put an end to this hair-brained scheme called a "surge". Let us hope they succeed.
While the press has been obsessed with the "surge", the International Crisis Group released their proposal for rescuing Iraq from the abyss. In a report entitled "After Baker-Hamilton: What to Do in Iraq" the ICG lays out 27 recommendations that deserve serious attention. However, the report was released with barely any press attention at all.
I will have a more detailed post on the ICG report tomorrow, but for now, I wanted to give the report some airtime on the blogosphere.
While the ICG report agrees with the ISG report that the situation in Iraq is dire, it takes issue with the ISG recommendations for not going far enough:
Slowly, incrementally, the realisation that a new strategy is needed for Iraq finally is dawning on U.S. policy-makers. It was about time. By underscoring the U.S. intervention’s disastrous political, security, and economic balance sheet, and by highlighting the need for both a new regional and Iraqi strategy, the Baker-Hamilton report represents an important and refreshing moment in the country’s domestic debate. Many of its key – and controversial – recommendations should be wholly supported, including engaging Iran and Syria, revitalising the Arab-Israeli peace process, reintegrating Baathists, instituting a far-reaching amnesty, delaying the Kirkuk referendum, negotiating the withdrawal of U.S. forces with Iraqis and engaging all parties in Iraq.
But the change the report advocates is not nearly radical enough, and its prescriptions are no match for its diagnosis. What is needed today is a clean break both in the way the U.S. and other international actors deal with the Iraqi government, and in the way the U.S. deals with the region: in essence, a new multinational effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi constituents.
A new course of action must begin with an honest assessment of where things stand. Hollowed out and fatally weakened, the Iraqi state today is prey to armed militias, sectarian forces and a political class that, by putting short term personal benefit ahead of long term national interests, is complicit in Iraq’s tragic destruction. Not unlike the groups they combat, the forces that dominate the current government thrive on identity politics, communal polarisation, and a cycle of intensifying violence and counter-violence. Increasingly indifferent to the country’s interests, political leaders gradually are becoming warlords. What Iraq desperately needs are national leaders.
As it approaches its fifth year, the conflict also has become both a magnet for deeper regional interference and a source of greater regional instability. Instead of working together toward an outcome they all could live with – a weak but united Iraq that does not present a threat to its neighbours – regional actors are taking measures in anticipation of the outcome they most fear: Iraq’s descent into all-out chaos and fragmentation. By increasing support for some Iraqi actors against others, their actions have all the wisdom of a self-fulfilling prophecy: steps that will accelerate the very process they claim to wish to avoid.
The report’s recommendations are novel because they put three issues squarely on the table: the withdrawal of American troops and American bases, movement from fighting the insurgency to protecting the civilian population, and stepping away from supporting one group over another in Iraq’s civil war. These three issues, it seems to me, are essential ingredients of any stable future for Iraq.
The report offers recommendations for Iraq, for its neighbors, for the international community and for the United States. Among its recommendations are some urgent steps that United States should take to stem the violence:
18. Adopt a less aggressive military posture in Iraq by:
(a) redirecting resources to a program of embedding U.S. troops in Iraqi units; and
(b) moving away from fighting the insurgency to focusing on protecting the civilian population, and in particular halting blind sweeps that endanger civilians, antagonise the population and have had limited effect on the insurgency.
21. Avoid steps to engineer a cabinet reshuffle aimed at side-lining Muqtada al-Sadr, which would further inflame the situation.
23. Free and compensate Iraqi prisoners detained by the U.S. without charge.
24. Compensate Iraqis who have suffered as a result of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign.
26. Abandon the super-embassy project and move a reduced embassy to a more neutral location.
27. Publicly deny any intention of establishing long-term military bases or seeking to control Iraq’s oil.
The recommendations are aimed at fostering reconciliation and shifting to a less belligerent posture. In that they are the exact opposite of the "surge" approach. While the ICG recommendations may save lives, the "surge" is guaranteed to take lives, both Iraqi and American.
The goal of the ICG report is the stabilization of Iraq and the reduction of the American footprint in Iraq. These twin goals can serve as the underpinnings of a strategy to extricate ourselves from George W Bush’s mess and avoid the "surge" that leads to the quagmire of Kaganistan.