Blog - December 3, 2005

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Preface: The current President Bush has made several bad mistakes with respect to Iraq, mistakes that would have already defeated a poorer nation. These largely seem to be due to a combination of idealistic goals plus an unfortunate inability to know how to accomplish them. And though he has stated that he will learn from his mistakes in the handling of “Katrina,” he still seems unable to do so in the case of Iraq except with respect to some with regard to "infrastructure" reconstruction and training of both U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Our President is, moreover, Commander in Chief of a military establishment whose Army has not learned how to fight terrrorism or insurgency. The only soldiers who know how are a minority of our forces in Iraq -- parts of our Special Forces, Marine Corps, Green Berets, Seals and Rangers. It's not only the Iraqi Army that's on a learning curve. Training and retraining of hundreds of thousands for soldiers takes a long time. Anyone who pretends that the time we have to "win" in Iraq is virtually unlimited (allowing no timetable) is delusional.

With democratic elections and the establishment of a “permanent” government coming up in Iraq starting on May 20th, it is critical that we don’t continue to make the type of mistakes that turned Vietnam into a losing quagmire. We have a President who has gotten us into a box but who is unable to think “out of the box.” Yet, this is also a President whose main goal most of us share – supporting the spread of democracy worldwide. So let’s seek to help him rather than wash our hands of him or crap all over him. Let’s enter the debate on Iraq with open minds, many questions and some new ideas. Remember: “The greatest enemy of an open society is a closed mind.”

One tendency we need to get away from is one that elected Mr. Bush -- the tendency to think that, just because we are the most powerful nation on earth and the President is the most powerful person in that nation, that he or we can get things to go our way, even in another nation 6,000 miles away whose people may not like us. Almost like spoiled children, we’re terribly surprised and disappointed when things don’t go our way, and we’re tempted to pick up our marbles and leave the game.

In the case of Iraq, we need to recognize that there are various contingencies that will affect the outcome of our intervention – there is no straight line strategy to success. In fact, there’s a large possibility that things can go to hell in a handbasket there no matter how many lives we sacrifice and no matter how much money we spend. On the other hand, we also need to recognize that building democracy and a new economy in Iraq amount to a historically crucial undertaking and that there is a lot of good work going on to help achieve these goals. Most Americans in Iraq recognize this even though most Americans in the U.S. and most media worldwide do not.


Along with having a much clearer idea of what it means to “win,” we need to understand that falling short of accomplishing all our objectives is not losing. If we want to be the “city on a hill” envisioned by our forefathers, as most recently expressed by Presidents Reagan and Bush, and if we really want to spread freedom and democracy worldwide, then we need to be able to learn from our mistakes and move on to apply the lessons elsewhere for many decades to come, both within our own country as well as others. A good general knows that, sometimes, a sensible “retreat” is necessary if we are to live on to fight (and win) another day. President Bush ran on a platform adverse to “nation building,” but that is exactly what we are trying to do in Iraq without really knowing how. Let’s remember, therefore, what the wise man says about experience: “It may not be worth what it costs us, but it’s what we have to pay for it.”

With these considerations and the following "underlying assumptions" in mind, what would an alternative strategy look like?

Underlying Assumptions

* Americans support the President’s overall goal of democratization in the Middle East and elsewhere, contingent upon ways and means.

* Before we can move forward, we need to clearly recognize and acknowledge the many mistakes we have made thusfar, and how we can overcome them.

Key Elements of a Better Strategy:

** National debate on Iraq: Let’s get our questions answered so that, as a nation of concerned citizens, we can see how best to move forward.

** Timetable: To be set by, and/or negotiated with, the new Iraqi government by the end of June, 2006.

** Sacrifice: Forgo tax cuts, sell war bonds, mobilize American volunteers, increase American forces in Iraq by at least 100,000 select troops (as noted under "Increases") to help the new Iraqi government get established and significantly increase security for its people during its first year in power.

** Quid pro: U.S. Army and air forces to “stand down” as Iraqi security forces “stand up.” This implies withdrawals commensurate with the numbers of Iraqi forces that our officers and trainers report to be “battle ready.”

** Increases: In Special Forces, Green Berets and Rangers to be “embedded” with Iraqi units and in Iraqi communities, more and better equipment for Iraqi forces; more and better training, more and better translators, more and better development development assistance, including that from other, international sources.

** Contingency forces: Quick counterforce strike capabilities in neighboring countries and on carriers offshore, so drawdown of conventional forces in Iraq is not interpreted as “cutting and running” from Iraq.

** Contracting: Increased contracting of private contractors selected from among Iraqi and other international sources, “coalition” and non-coalition.

** Accountability: Monthly reporting of a broader set of performance-benchmarking “metrics,” of both current status and changes over time; encouragement of more independent and investigative journalism, participant's observations and stories reporting progress, or lack of progress, towards achievement of goals and objectives.

** Investment: Provide partial guarantees to encourage additional foreign direct investment in Iraqi ventures by Iraqi expatriate communities.

** American volunteer efforts: Encourage and facilitate the involvement of more Americans in the efforts to rebuild and develop Iraq.

** International cooperation: More to be negotiated as deals are negotiated, without expecting that others countries need necessarily “buy in” to our goals and objectives.

Postscript: It is only from the perspective of a long time-frame -- of several decades -- that the goal of “winning the war on terror” looks to be practically the same as the goal of “spreading democracy around the world.” Right now, one of the major reasons we need to set a timetable for our involvement in Iraq is that we are so tied down, consuming so much there in American lives and treasure, that we are in danger of neglecting other commitments, both at home and around the world, including the domestic war on terror, building democracy in Afghanistan and eliminating WMDs actually in the hands of rogue nations.

As Congressman John Murtha stated in his testimony that catalyzed a debate on Iraq -- one that should now involve the American people, not only government officials -- a timetable will also serve to “incentivize” the war in Iraq; that is, it would impel Iraqis to prepare to take responsibility for the security of their people, and to do so more rapidly. After all, successful training is more a matter of motivation than of money.

The claim that negotiating a timetable would undermine the war effort by sending a “the wrong signal” to terrorists is mistaken. For months, the media have been reporting that the Pentagon has a plan for reducing the presence of American troops in Iraq. Major newspapers characterized the President’s “strategy” as providing a formula for draw-down of American troops later in 2006. All major political parties involved in parliamentary elections have called for a timetable. So did the Arab League “Reconciliation Conference” in Cairo. So, Americans who call for a “timetable” are not giving anything away to terrorists that has not already been given away by others, including their country’s own leaders. To assume otherwise is to assume that terrorists don’t pay attention to the media. We know that they do. Both terrorists and our own government are playing media games, to such an extent that we are told that the war in Iraq will be lost in the media.

The greatest source of hope at this point is the Iraqi people. They have already put us to shame with their voter turnouts of 58-70%-- under threat of death or bodily harm! When was the last time we saw such high turnouts of voters in the U.S.? If a new government is formed that is representative of the Iraqi people, including the Sunni minority AND the new Constitution is finally amended to guarantee minority rights, then we should be able to declare victory, negotiate a timetable for withdrawal with the new government, and begin to bring our troops home.

More Blog Entries
December 4, 2005 - May 19, 2006 - A Run for Congress in 2006?
December 3, 2005 - ALTERNATIVES to the BUSH43 STRATEGY ON IRAQ
June 12, 2005 - On Bill Clinton
June 7-12, 2005 - On ?Social Class?
June 7, 2005 - Washington State Governor
June 1, 2005 - The European Constitution and Democracy
February 2005 - Blogging in Baghdad to a high security beat
January 21, 2005 - Security Training Prior to Departure for Iraq
Jan. 19th to 28th - Highlights of training by the Department of State (DS)