Posted by: Kevin | November 4, 2006

What Are Our Choices in Iraq?


Iraq is a mess, no doubt about it.  Naturally, it is the number 1 issue this campaign and Democrats are looking to use it to unseat Republicans in Congress.  The focus, rightly, has been on the failures of the current administration and Congress’ inability to reign in our reckless executive branch.  Too often, the only Republican response has been, “I don’t see the Democrat’s plan to save things in Iraq so why change leadership?” 

As a smart commenter points out here, that would be like saying we should keep Lay and Skilling around because no one else has a good plan to save Enron or that the Titanic just needed a little more time and patience.  There were fundamental flaws in our approach to Iraq (I discussed some of those here).  It requires a deep state of denial to not accept that and not understand the need for a change in leadership.  So what do we do now?  In the absence of James Baker’s forthcoming report, I present my own analysis of the options.

Stay the Course or Adapt and Win

Whatever the current marketing, the administration’s plan boils down to this.  We will maintain the current level of troops, ~150K, and move them around tactically within Iraq to put out fires.  If we commit to this long enough, we will provide enough stability to allow Iraq institutions to get back on their feet.

The problem is that 150K isn’t enough.  It was enough to invade.  During the invasion we could make full use of our superior technology and eliminate the formal resistance we faced.  After the invasion, that technology becomes useless.  The efficiency of bombing becomes virtually nil when faced with an enemy scattered in small groups throughout a civilian population.  The same holds for tanks or any other of our high tech toys. 

As Maxwell Taylor once said, “In a guerrilla war, the bayonet is best, the rifle is second best”.  The situation in Iraq has proved this to be true.  Our infantry is the finest in the world.  They are more than capable handling the insurgents when it comes to blows, but they can’t be everywhere at once.  There are too many critical missions for the number of troops on hand.  As a result, security for the rebuilding effort has suffered and violence in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq is on the rise.

Reload and Do It Right (or Stay the Course on Steroids)

This is the view espoused by Senator McCain.  We need to retrench, get more men in there and do it again the right way.  I don’t know much about this beyond the sound bites but logical it probably includes getting significantly more troops on the ground.  It may also include approaching Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia and making some concessions in order to get their buy-in on a peaceful Iraq. 

I like this approach better than most, because I think a stable Iraq helps to stabilize the rest of the Middle East.  But I worry that we might underestimate the commitment necessary.  We can’t just kick some insurgent ass in one or two battles and send them scurrying back home.  They are home.  It will take a significant influx of troops to start locking things down.  It will also take a lot of time and money. 


We could acknowledge that the civil war is the result of permanent divisions in Iraqi society and move to cut the country in three.  We’d be left with a Shiite south, a Sunni West and Center and a Kurdish North.  Any remaining US presence would be relocated to the Kurdish north, who would need to seize control of the oil fields near Kirkuk.  The Shiites and Sunni’s would likely fall under the sway of Iran and Al Qaeda respectively.

This is, in my opinion, the only option we have if we cant increase the number of troops.  It’s an ugly option because in addition to increasing the power of Iran and Al Qaeda, we’ll be pissing off Turkey as well.  The Turks have no desire to see an independent Kurdish state on their border.  They’ve spent nearly a century repressing the Kurds within their own border. 

Declare Victory and Leave (Sounds Nicer than Cut and Run)

The idea here, is that our invasion is what made Iraq the central stage of the War on Terror, which is true.  If we hadn’t invaded, Iraq wouldn’t be a significant threat to us, which is also true.  So lets leave right now so Iraq can go back to being non-threatening, which is pure fantasy. 

We invaded, the genie is out of the bottle, and now we have to live in a world where failure in Iraq means Iran and Al Qaeda gain significant power at our expense.  We created a power vacuum with the removal of Saddam Hussein, someone will fill it.  More to the point, how can we ever claim the moral high ground again as a nation, if we leave such a mess in Iraq? 

So what is my point in laying these options out?  A careful reading of all of them reveals that each of these options suck.  They suck because the Bush administration has created such a colossal disaster in Iraq, that it will be the work of many years to set this right.  Why should the Democrats get punished by having to campaign on these ugly choices?  We all know who made the mess in Iraq, lets focus on that when we consider who’s to blame for the available plans  to fix it.

Bechtel link from Donklephant


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