Monday, August 29, 2005

Striking the right note on Iraq

It is clear that something very odd is happening in the brain of George W. Bush. A lot of ink has been spilled about that, and rightly so, but more ink needs to be pressed into duty to discuss how we can make the best out of a bad situation in Iraq.

General Wesley Clark and some of the best bloggers are working at that. The General has written an Op-Ed in the WaPo, had a guest spot on Meet the Press and now is the guest blogger of the week at Talking Point Memo, LINK.

In his post this morning, the General wrote of the need to develope and reveal a sustainable strategy for Iraq, LINK. He also complimented the blogosphere for acting as a vanguard in the policy debate.

The Cunning Realist brought the following to the blogo-table on Sunday, LINK.:
The goal for our military right now should be the four R's: rest, regroup, retool and recruit. For now, however, I agree with the Bush administration that a phased withdrawal should coincide with the training and readiness of Iraqi troops. That's precisely why there must be a measurable standard for this training, as well as public accountability for those responsible for overseeing it.

In Clark's words, in Hagel's words from last year (which I explored here) and in the words of TCR, we have the same criteria. Measurable goals, accountability and sustaining the fighting force. Sustaining that force requires a buy-in from both the military and the civilian sides. That buy-in will only come with direct, honest planning.

Sustaining a military force is nothing new. Theodore Roosevelt used a developing, modern navy to reinforce the Monroe Doctrine in 1902. Preservation is the key to martial conduct, both in wars and in diplomacy. Preserve your own army, Sun Tzu wrote, to sustain your martial potential.

In the newest edition of Foreign Affairs, Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. articulates sustainable progress in Iraq. He stresses the need to promote security and reward peaceful regions. He also raises the question: will the administration level with the American people about the real impact and risks in this war, or will simplified mantras rule the debate to the peril of this great nation?

Krepinevich writes that the present strategy is one of slugging the insurgency with our superior military, but that the focus ought to be peace, prosperity and security. With secured regions and more Iraqi troops, he wrote, we can then expand the secure space on the map, depriving the insurgency of their support that is derived from intimidation and hopelessness.

At present, our sweeping operations with no lasting defense of restive cities result in "little or no enduring improvement in security once U.S. forces withdraw from the area," he wrote. (FA Sept/Oct 2005 p. 88)

For this reason, Krepinevich argues that the best course of action is to set smaller, realistic goals in order to set up and expand safe areas. Then, leave a footprint to develop the local infrastructure in those towns.

"Withought a clear strategy in Iraq, moreover, there is no good way to gauge progress," Krepinevich wrote. "Senior political and military leaders have thus repeatedly made overly optimistic or even contradictory declarations." (FA p. 87)

Honest discussions must begin now among the populus and lead by the elected or military leadership to decide if we are willing to wage this war in order to win it. Krepinevich wrote:

But it would require a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties in the short term, and an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq, albeit at far lower force levels then are engaged at present. If U.S. policy makers and the American public are unwilling to make such a commitment, they should be prepared to scale down their goals in Iraq significantly. (FA p. 89)

Only through reconstruction and security can the "hearts and minds" be won in this war. It seems Moqtada al Sadr realizes this, Telegraph/UK LINK.

Sadr is often pictured in posters and montages with Hizbollah leaders and in a tactic adopted by the Lebanese group in the 1980s he has also sought to boost his popularity by adopting a welfare scheme for the poor and building new schools.

Food and clothes were provided to Shia refugees who in recent weeks have fled to Najaf from Tal Afar, near Mosul, where Sunni insurgents have been forcing Shia families to leave at gunpoint.

It is a bid for ''hearts and minds'' that appears to be working.

"I was against him but have understood the fact that he is working for the sake of the people," said Abu Mohammad, 48, a shopkeeper in Kufah. "That is why everywhere Sadr gets stronger." In recent local elections in the city's Abasiya and Huriya districts, both of which had shown little enthusiasm for Sadr in the past, representatives promoting his policies won 60 per cent of the vote.

An effective "hearts and minds" campaign will provide substantial benefits for the United States. First, it can be expected to boost morale for both the citizenery and the soldiery in the States. Second, it will countervail successful work done by al Sadr, the Badr Brigade/SCIRI, and the Iranian government to rest influence from the central governing body. Best of all, it will actually improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis -- which is one of the myriad reasons we hear as a justification for this war.

This work can only be sustained with candor and vigor matching the importance of the job. In Krepinevich's conclusion, our country must choose between Even a strategy that "will require at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars and will result in longer U.S. casualty rolls..." or "creating an ally out of Iraq's next despot." (FA p. 104)


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