More Directions on Iraq

Back in December of last year I hosted something I referred to as a “blog colloquium”, “Directions on Iraq”. At that time I attempted to recruit contributors who could present practical alternatives other than slogging through for dealing with the situation in Iraq. I received several dozen polite refusals (and a good number of tacit refusals as well), some of which were, I suspect, from folks who absolutely rejected the idea of just sticking it out. I hope I’m not mischaracterizing the consensus view of those who did contribute by saying that they considered the consequences of our simply leaving Iraq as sufficiently bad that it was not an acceptable alternative.

My own views haven’t changed appreciably since then:

I’m not interested in counting political coup or peripheral skirmishes with the press or other bloggers. I am interested in the welfare of my country and that of the people of Iraq. I think it’s clear that events in Iraq are very, very serious and not trending in a positive direction nearly fast enough if at all.

Things look worse now if anything. Despite that, or, possibly, because of that I’m seeing a number of proposals for dealing with the consequences of acknowledging defeat in Iraq, three just today. The first of these I’d like to consider was published in the Washington Post and is by Steven Simon and Ray Tayekh of the Council on Foreign Relations. Would I be exaggerating if I characterized their position as “Surely, it can’t get a good deal worse in Iraq than it is now!“? Mssrs. Simon and Tayekh downplay the likelihood of unmanageable negative effects and propose a three-pronged approach to “preserving U.S. power and position in a post-Iraq Middle East”:

  1. Contain Iran by holding out a package of carrots and sticks. I’ve proposed such a thing myself.
  2. Tamp down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by “nudging” both the Israelis and Palestinians to “take risks for peace”. I have no opinion on this subject and can only point out that administrations over the last 40 years have had little success in resolving the conflict and it’s hard for me to see how that will be improved under the signfiicantly increased stress that the events of the last six years have produced.
  3. Return to realiism by which I gather they mean a rejection of the idea of democracy promotion in the Middle East and a re-assertion of support for the present authoritarian regimes there.

The second proposal, an op-ed by Andrew Bacevich in the LA Times, suggests that change in the Muslim world will only proceed in its own good time, that timeframe is probably not tolerable by the non-Muslim world, and that the prudent alternative is quarantine:

Yet coexistence should not imply appeasement or passivity. Any plausible strategy will prescribe concrete and sustainable policies designed to contain the virulent strain of radicalism currently flourishing in parts of the Islamic world. The alternative to transformation is not surrender but quarantine.

This strikes me as an elaboration of the Israelis’ “Wall” strategy for dealing with the Palestinians. I have my doubts as to the practicality and political acceptability of this but I would remiss if I didn’t observe that it would probably be more practical to quarantine ourselves than much of the rest of the world. Dr. Bacevich, too, characterizes his position as realism but I think it’s actually closer in practice to isolationism.

The third proposal is from former Virginia governor and present Republican presidential candidate James Gilmore and it takes the form of an open letter to President Bush. Here’s the core of the letter:

I urge that we define our goals in terms of America’s national interest, and let the people of Iraq take care of their national interests. The United States has a stake in preventing a government from emerging that is expressly hostile to us, such as in a coup inspired by al-Qaeda. The United States has a stake in not permitting the invasion and occupation of Iraq by any of its neighbors. This can be done through a military assistance program and diplomatic initiative. Beyond this, the responsibility for peace and order of the country rests with the Iraqi government, which can make a specific request to the United States for assistance like any other country of the world.

I have a good deal of sympathy with this position. But to it he adds a proposal for an “over the horizon” force to be used in case of emergency, similar to the proposals of John Murtha, among others. I find this part of his proposal particularly incredible. What, other than re-invading and re-occupying Iraq, can be done by an “over the horizon” force that can’t be done from 20,000 feet? What would a president ordering such a thing say to the American people?

My fellow Americans,
I was wrong; you were wrong; the people who said that very bad things would happen if we left Iraq were right.
Now, boys, over the top!

I just don’t find it credible. When we leave Iraq, we’re gone and we won’t be back for a generation or more if ever come what may.

Nonetheless I’m glad to see additional points of view being offered and genuinely hope they’ll be given some serious scrutiny. So, discuss away!

6 comments… add one
  • What, other than re-invading and re-occupying Iraq, can be done by an “over the horizon” force that can’t be done from 20,000 feet? What would a president ordering such a thing say to the American people? …

    I just don’t find it credible. When we leave Iraq, we’re gone and we won’t be back for a generation or more if ever come what may.

    I think you mis-understand the reason for an “over the horizon” force. The reason for the OTH force isn’t to inject it into combat situations in politically unstable environments. We can ALREADY inject our military into such situations. (Remember how fast we got to Afghanistan after 9/11? And that was about as remote a spot as one could find.)

    The OTH force would serve two other purposes: first, for the political class to show that it isn’t simply wussying out, but that they’re serious about fighting; second, as a salve for the guilt that the American polity would feel for having abandoned the Iraqis. Some rationale would be found for not using such a force in Iraq, regardless of the situation.

    Or am I simply being too cynical?

  • PD Shaw Link

    The first sounds like a reheated Baker/Hamilton Comm’n proposal.

    The second doesn’t define “quarantine” so I have no idea what that means. I think it would poll well.

    The third suffers mental contradictions. Its advocates complain about the arrogance of the American occupation, but see no apparent difficulty in small, repeated incursions over national boundaries. Its advocates also complain that going in light in Afghanistan allowed the bad guys to escape to Pakistan. Is Pakistan over the horizon?

    I have no directions to give. I suspect that the surge will have middling outcomes within the political timetable and will be followed by some “go long” strategy of American garrisons with about 50,000 troops for training, to prevent international meddling and to support Iraqi troops in some of the larger military operations.

  • mannning Link

    Dave–you seem to have abandoned this thread without further comment, both here and at OTB. Why is that?

  • The thread seemed to have ended at both sites. BTW I’m in substantial agreement with the comment with which you closed the thread over at OTB. As I said to someone last night, it’s my belief that regardless of what platform they run on, what their stump speeches say, what their constituents want, or what the polls say, the first tier presidential aspirants won’t remove U. S. troops from Iraq.

  • mannning Link

    Thanks for the reply.

    It is now “merely” a degree-to-which question as to how many troops will be stationed there for the long haul, in my opinion. The key is Iran. We now have been told that the surge has been completed at 30,000 more troops.

    With any real surge success, the rationale for adding yet another 30 thousand “to finish the job” will be in place. If the surge isn’t quite up to snuff, but shows promise, the rationale for adding 30 thousand more troops will be in place, “to finish the job.” There will be some of both: successes and promise.

    One real bad step by the Iranians, and the rationale for adding more troops…..etc. etc. ….until we have the force in Iraq thought needed for the eventual attack on Iran and its consequences. I look to February 08 as the deciding month.

  • Steven m, Link

    There is no simple solution to the Iraq question and to start withdrawing troops would be crazy in my oppinion there needs to be at least 350,000 troops there but to suggest that would be political suicide. The only real feasible soultion would be to install a dictatorship/regime that is favorable to America’s interests. only than would an exit strategy be possible. The government in Iraq has proved they are unable to govern themselves without the assistance of the United States and if we leave with that government in place the country would end up collapsing.

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