Orin Kerr recently proposed a useful simplified framework of possible outcomes in Iraq:
1) The U.S. beats back the insurgency and democracy flowers in Iraq (call this the “optimistic stay” scenario),
2) The U.S. digs in its heels, spends years fighting the insurgency, loses lots of troops, and years later withdraws, leading to a bloody and disastrous civil war (the “pessimistic stay” scenario);
3) The U.S. decides that it’s no longer worth it to stay in Iraq, pulls out relatively soon, and things in Iraq are about as best as you could hope for, perhaps leading to a decent amount of democracy (optimistic leave), and
4) The U.S. decides that it’s no longer worth it to stay in Iraq, pulls out soon, and plunges Iraq into a bloody and disastrous civil war with the bad guys assuming control eventually (pessimistic leave).
Speaking only for myself, I’m entirely confident that we could achieve outcome 4, believe that staying the course will continue to lead to outcome 2, and can scarcely imagine outcome 3. What about outcome 1? Is it achievable?
There’s been some good discussion among some war supporters who believe that the situation in Iraq is dire, but salvageable. They aren’t spending a lot of time flailing against a stab in the back from the press or from tricksy liberals. They’re disturbed by the dialing down of expectations, and by official talk of troop withdrawls. See Charles and von at Obsidian Wings, Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard, Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch (also here).
Here’s Greg, speaking as well as anyone:
Bottom line people. For the forseeable future Iraqi forces can only supplement U.S. forces, not replace them. Or we risk losing this war (Yes, rampant sectarian violence is a ‘loss’). If we really are lucky enough to turn some corner, and it really looks like we can pull 30,000 guys out in late ‘06, well God Bless. But cheap talk that sounds suspiciously like a timetable for pulling out men without regard to conditions on the ground provides, to use a Rumsfeld phrase, a ‘lifeline’ to terrorists and insurgents. So whoever is emitting such signals out of DoD needs to shut up. Now. If they can’t, the President must exert leadership and force them to. His recent comments about staying the course in Crawford are to be welcomed. We’ll see if they did the trick. If not, and such noises keep seeping out of DoD—again, he will need to exert leadership. And if it is Rumsfeld, in the main, making such noises (as I strongly suspect and as is much of the Washington scuttlebutt)—it is yet another reason he should be fired….
How can we be talking about troop pull-outs when, in the capital city itself, the mayor is sacked in some putsch, one cannot drive safely from the airport to downtown, and dozens of Shi’a police recruits are massacred by Sunni insurgents? Again, this is in the capital itself. Not to mention there is a roiling insurgency throughout the strategically critical Sunni heartland (as well as recent, and very alarming, moves towards Shi’a autonomy in the south of which more later)? Was this pull-out talk perhaps meant as some tactical signal to the Sunnis that they need to start playing ball or we will leave them to the bloodthirsty revenge-minded Shi’a? Absurd. Again, an Iraq characterized by large scale sectarian killings will be a strategic defeat for America, as well as a massive moral failure.
There’s a well-known prayer that asks for the courage to change the things that can be changed, the serenity to accept the things that cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference. I find myself short on all three.
I believe that Greg is right about the consequences of letting Iraq collapse into civil war. It’s terrible to contemplate. A civil war or a failed state could lead to tens of thousands of deaths, maybe more. It would be a moral travesty and a terrorist breeding ground. It would make a mockery of the goal, however idealistic, of transforming a bloody dictatorship into a stable, democratic, normal country. “Serenity” hardly seems like the appropriate response. When I look at the situation through the eyes of an idealistic war supporter, some of the vitriol is easier to understand; they’re appalled at war opponents who would abandon the people of Iraq to this fate.
So it seems unthinkable to declare victory and come home. Having said that, “what we must do” has to be constrained by “what we can do.” Imagine a village living in the shadow of a live volcano. Serenity is not an appropriate response to the threat of an eruption, but neither is a program of virgin sacrifice. Neither steely-eyed resolve nor spine-stiffening prose poems about the nobility and admirable selflesness of the virgins will do much good.
(This metaphor breaks down quickly, of course. No amount of virgin sacrifice could possibly stop a volcano, whereas there’s still hope that we might be able to prevent catastrophe in Iraq. And I hope that I am not misinterpreted- I mean no criticism of the members of our military, who really do exhibit nobility and selflessness. My brother is a Captain in the Army, and I’m immensely proud of him. However, I’d guess that the themes of pro-sacrifice pundits would sound awfully familiar. “Would you tell the mother of one of our brave virgins that her child died in vain?” “If these anti-sacrifice elites have a plan, let’s hear it.” “This talk of pulling out does nothing but anger the volcano god.” “Anti-sacrifice activists, it saddens me to say, are objectively pro-eruption.”)
What steps could be taken to save Iraq from catastrophe?
If the argument starts, “If we had a draft”, there is no argument. It’s like saying, “If everyone biked to work”. Under no circumstances will Congress authorize a draft to provide soldiers for a two-year-old, unpopular war. For similar but much more intense reasons, we’re not going to get an influx of troops by coming to NATO or the UN on our knees. It just isn’t going to happen. Under no forseeable circumstances will the lame-duck Administration push for a draft, after two years of angrily insisting that we have all the troops we need. The folks I’m quoting above are very critical at Donald Rumsfeld, who has amply earned it. Rumsfeld should have lost his job much earlier for his role in prisoner abuse scandals, for his lack of planning, and for his unsuitable arrogance:
Rumsfeld’s personal contempt for many of the senior generals and admirals who were promoted to top jobs during the Clinton Administration is widely known. He was especially critical of the Army, with its insistence on maintaining costly mechanized divisions… One witness to a meeting recalled Rumsfeld confronting General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, in front of many junior officers. “He was looking at the Chief and waving his hand,” the witness said, “saying, ‘Are you getting this yet? Are you getting this yet?’ ”
Unfortunately, President Bush has not shown the any sign of displeasure with Rumsfeld’s performance. I’d be perfectly happy if Rumsfeld was kicked out and made the scapegoat that allowed the Administration to admit error. I’ll believe it when I see it.
I can see the moral appeal of steadfastness in Iraq. Having said that, we are losing at current troop levels, and I don’t see that changing. The mayor of Baghdad was deposed by an armed Shiite militia, and we just shrugged. Death squads roam the streets, torturing and killing civillians. The unemployent rate is somewhere around 30-50%. Official Iraqi police are accused of ethnic cleansing, while many of our best efforts turn to disappointment:
For much of last year, the soldiers of the First Cavalry Division oversaw a project to restore the river-front park on the east bank of the Tigris River. Under American eyes, the Iraqis planted sod, installed a sprinkler system and put up swing sets for the Iraqi children. It cost $1.5 million. The Tigris River Park was part of a vision of the unit’s commander, Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, to win the war by putting Iraqis to work.
General Chiarelli left Iraq this year, and the American unit that took over had other priorities. The sod is mostly dead now, and the sidewalks are covered in broken glass. The sprinkler heads have been stolen. The northern half of the park is sealed off by barbed wire and blast walls; Iraqis are told stay back, lest they be shot by American snipers on the roof of a nearby hotel.
Even if it is a good idea, I’m not sure whether it’s possible to maintain our troop levels without a draft. It was retired General Barry McCaffrey who said, “The Army’s wheels are going to come off in the next 24 months.” As of July (when plans were announced to reduce this number), 41% of the troops in Iraq were National Guardsmen, which ought to be cause for alarm. Recruitment is down, and I doubt that any realistic set of reecruitment incentives will lead to the military we’d need for an indefinite stay.
The best hope has to lie in an Iraqi force that can handle its own security. I can’t intelligently speak about how much progress we’re making on that front. There are nominally 171,000 Iraqi troops of one sort or another, who deserve all the support we can give them. However, a recent Pentagon report said that “only a ‘small number’ of units are capable of fighting the insurgency without American military support.” American military leaders have to hold back information from Iraqi troops during some joint operations out of fear of insurgent infiltrators. Here’s Frederick W. Kagan, AEI resident scholar:
The United States is engaged in creating a force of light infantry in Iraq that will ultimately number nearly 250,000 troops. This force will be well suited to conducting patrols in fixed locations, maintaining a presence in threatened areas, doing searches and sweeps, and performing high-end police functions. As more of these troops become available, we can expect improved intelligence and less friction between U.S. forces and local Iraqis. And although we can also be sure that these forces will be less effective than professional American soldiers and will suffer from conflicting tribal and sectarian loyalties and corruption, it will be generally true that the more such Iraqi troops there are on the streets the better.
But this light infantry force does not constitute an army. It will not be able, whatever its numbers, to conduct a counterinsurgency by itself for many years, and it will not be able to do so at all unless certain critical deficiencies are remedied. For example, it appears that efforts to establish Iraqi logistical elements are lagging badly behind the formation and training of light infantry units. Iraqis thus rely on coalition logistics when they must move from their home bases—or, more commonly, they simply do not move from those bases at all. Their transportation assets are minimal, and so they lack the ability to project their forces within Iraq. As a result, they would not be able to concentrate force rapidly in particularly violent areas or to destroy insurgent concentrations quickly. For as long as these conditions hold, the U.S. military will remain an essential part of the struggle against insurgency in Iraq.
It is also important to understand that the current Iraqi forces rely heavily on the availability of responsive U.S. airpower. They do not have their own organic fire support (artillery or aviation), and so must wait for the American soldiers embedded within their formations to call in coalition air support when they run into any sort of serious opposition. The combined operations of Iraqi formations with embedded U.S. trainers and coalition troops have been excellent preparation for the Iraqis and have gone a long way toward creating a meaningful indigenous light infantry force. But they are also conditioning the Iraqis to rely on a capability that only a significant U.S. presence can provide.
I’ve mulled this over, trying in vain to come up with an original angle, or at least a conclusion about the least worst option. I can’t do much better than to encourage you to read the links and discuss.