Brainstorming An Iraq “Super-Surge”March 28, 2008
Last night I took a few hours to watch FRONTLINE “Bush’s War” on the PBS site. My reaction was mixed. Part of me felt vindicated for some of the things that I’ve been posting here in the Chamber and elsewhere, another part felt angry at people like Cheney and Rumsfeld, and yet another part felt just…depressed (which is probably the overriding feeling, but I do encourage everyone to watch it in case you’ve missed it).
I gave myself a few hours to digest what I had just watched, and although there was quite a bit of material that I was already familiar with, this documentary chronicled the entire Iraq adventure in a way that I hadn’t yet seen. This led to a small epiphany on my part concerning what to do next, and I figured I’d just throw it out here for debate, so bear with me ’cause there may be some flaws in my thinking.
The proposals coming from the presidential candidates for our course of action going forward in Iraq have pretty much fallen into two main categories. McCain is politically wedded to the strategy he championed (the “surge”) in a way that would put him in the same position as Bush insofar as he’s going to keep up the “stay the course” mantra, and has even gone as far as to say that he’d support a permanent American presence in Iraq long after the period of shooting stops (and if it takes 100 years, so be it). On the other side, Clinton and Obama have rejected the notion of an open-ended commitment, and while the rationale behind a responsible withdrawal may bounce between a few concepts, the end game is the same: leave Iraq for the Iraqis as soon as reasonably possible. Critics on both sides have, rightly or wrongly, argued that McCain’s plan is untenable in the long run while the Obama/Clinton plan is a recipe for eventual chaos and genocide.
Other options for Iraq have gained much less steam. For example, former presidential candidates Sens Brownback and Biden have proposed a sort of soft partition. This proposal has probably been less popular because, the way I see it, it involves undoing a lot of what has been done already and is essentially going back to the drawing board in many ways. That, and there is reason to believe that the idea isn’t popular amongst the Iraqis themselves.
So, I enter another proposal, one that I will call the “Super-Surge”, based on a few facts/assumptions gleaned from the documentary and elsewhere:
-Before the invasion, Gen Shinseki stated the opinion before Congress that success in the months after Saddam’s regime fell would require “several hundred thousand” troops, while people like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz urged a much smaller number. The eventual plan was somewhat of a compromise, but today, it is pretty much considered conventional wisdom that one of the major errors in the mission was that there weren’t sufficient forces to keep the peace during that critical timeframe.
-The “coalition of the willing” was never much of an actual coalition, as 98% of the troop commitments came form the U.S. and Britain. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for President George H.W. Bush and a leading figure in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, believed from the very beginning that attacking Iraq would dissolve any kind of coalition we had built in the aftermath of 9/11, and more recently suggested that the best hope for pulling the country from chaos would be to turn the U.S. operation over to NATO or the United Nations — which, he said, would not be so hostilely viewed by Iraqis.
-The doctrine of “clear, hold, build” had shown itself to be successful on the micro scale in the city of Tal Afar. Originally credited to Col. H.R. McMaster, it eventually became the rough blueprint for the “surge” in that it simply took more troops to employ such a strategy. Or, in the words of McMaster himself, when asked if additional troops would help the mission:
Yeah. I think one of the critical elements of improving security is the number of forces you have to be able to carry out that security mission, along with the other missions that you have. Securing the population is obviously first and foremost. And this is a mission … for American and coalition forces working alongside Iraqi forces.
The other mission is to develop Iraqi security force capability, … and that takes a lot of soldiers and Marines to carry out that effort: to train these forces, to help them organize and then to introduce them initially in the context of multinational operations where we operate alongside them until they develop the ability to operate on their own.
Also, just securing critical infrastructure, lines of communication — I mean, there are a lot of demands on our forces, and our soldiers and Marines are just doing an amazing job with multiple tasks simultaneously. So I think additional forces will certainly help. Is it the answer in the long term? No. The answer in the long term is still very much the same: that the Iraqis have to develop their own ability to provide the kind of security that is necessary such that economic development and political development can proceed. …
-The current troop surge will come to an end for logistical reasons. In fact, the troop drawdown is right around the corner:
A senior Pentagon official said earlier this week that the US “surge” is likely to end in July with more troops in Iraq than the 132,000 who were there before five extra combat brigades were sent in more than a year ago.
-Staying in Iraq until the shooting stops (and beyond), as McCain has suggested, is likely to be financially untenable. The estimates for the cumulative cost of the war have been projected to be as high as $3 trillion. And although many nations have a significant stake in a stable Iraq, the United States has taken on the vast majority of the burden in terms of monetary sacrifice.
So, you toss some of these things into a pot and stir. I’m left with a few questions.
Is it too late to deploy a peacekeeping force of “several hundred thousand” troops to stabilize Iraq, or has that ship sailed? If not, then…
Is it too late to bring together a meaningful coalition to share the burden of the effort, or have those bridges burned? If not, then…
Could a new, charismatic, inspiring and internationally popular U.S. president (*cough*Obama*cough*) bring together the nations of the world to address the issue? If so, then…
Would it work in a way that would ultimately save Iraq from descending into chaos, prohibit the formation of a terrorist safe haven, and allow the troops to come home a lot faster than the current proposals? If so, then…
It’s something to think about.