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June 02, 2005

Iraq and Democracy (theirs and ours)
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last week, I posted about a House amendment calling for the president to submit a plan for troop withdrawal from Iraq.  One DA reader commented: What consequences do you see flowing from such an amendment, were it to be adopted as US policy? How would you justify them as good for Americans or for Iraqis?

I'd like to start to answer that question with a quotation from Richard Holbrooke.  "We need exit strategies--but they must be in the context of getting the job done."  One step forward to that end that would be both healthy for American and Iraqi participatory democracy would be to engage both publics more actively in discussions about the future (theirs and ours intermingled with theirs). Though the amendment may be a clumsy tool, it has started an important discussion in  Congress--the very body that is supposed to have authority over key decisions on war and peace.

I have queried military friends who believe that any mention of an exit strategy is detrimental. But they also agree that this aversion should not eliminate the need for some kind of plan. Well, the amendment doesn't even mention the words "exit strategy".  In order to not fuss about language, let's call it a "blueprint for viable peace" including publicly discussed achievement benchmarks.   One of my military skeptic friends also said "no matter what we call it, there has to be a way to consolidate the process."  This need is especially urgent today because of our leadership's absolute lack of conflict termination planning in the lead up to the war (a colleague with extensive time  in the Balkans named this behavior"calculated inexperience", the cousin of willful ignorance) Most of all, however,  even a generic set of issues as benchmarks will create a more effective American presence, as these items will routinely be integrated into intelligence gathering and planning. 

So in order to not to use divisive language, the discussion could be framed as a question: What would be a militarily satisfactory vision of success in Iraq? In military-speak, what are the "desired effects"?  The Bush Administration actually does have a plan: to create capable Iraqi forces and to move Americans into increasingly peripheral roles.  Yet this needs to be articulated clearly so the American public sees the meaning of the strategy and can understand the challenge that we've undertaken as one that will require long-term commitment and perserverance--but that will also--one day--end.  An example from the past to illustrate: Decades ago,  the promise of nuclear abolition brought nations to the table in support of the non proliferation treaty,  the far distant ideal of nuclear abolition turned the skeptics and potential spoilers into productive participants.  In order for both the American and the Iraqi publics to remain interested and maybe even hopeful stakeholders in the process of democracy, this kind of inspiration is vital. To live free of military occupation is a healthy ideal for the Iraqi people. To support a long-term plan for viable peace in Iraq is a healthy aspiration for the American people. But we still need an intentional plan. The additional benefit of Congress discussing troop withdrawal is that it may be an end-run way to expose the completely inadequate priorities that we allocate for the civilian tools needed for today's wars.  A healthy public discussion will also reveal more clearly the fact that the Iraq conflict, ultimately, will not be solved militarily.  The military knows this--which is why the Defense Department should answer the above questions. Then we'll have a starting point.

A wonderful book that delves deeply into the this topic The Quest for Viable Peace: International Intervention and Strategies for Conflict Transformation was just published by the United States Institute of Peace (although the origins of the book are with the Association of the US Army)  Two out of three of the volume editors have military backgrounds and the contents cover everything from how to make a peace process the guiding principle for all policy decisions during an intervention to how to deal with extremists-- including use of force. One author, British officer Ben Lovelock calls this combination of policy requirements "Fourth Generation Peacekeeping"-- necessary because in today's wars there is no "post" conflict stage.  The violence never stops.  The authors also discuss the four simultaneous and ongoing transformation strategies needed for today's wars:  moderating political conflict, defeating militant extremism, institutionalizing the rule of law and developing a legitimate political economy.

Troop withdrawal amendment or not, the administration would do well to consult this book   I thought one of the authors summed it up well when he clarified some jargon.  "Transition" he said, is what we Americans do to phase ourselves into a less intrusive role. "Transformation" however, is what they (the Iraqis) do. Its when the locals make progress and achieve civil peace. War delivers for the insurgents. How do we help make peace deliver for the Iraqi people? That could be the first sentence of a blueprint for viable peace in Iraq.


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---"[The Bush plan] needs to be articulated clearly so the American public sees the meaning of the strategy and can understand the challenge that we've undertaken as one that will require long-term commitment and perserverance--but that will also--one day--end."--

One of Kerry's few good campaign moments was when he said that we have to make clear to the Iraqis that we will not forever occupy their country, the way we tried to do in Saudi Arabia. Bush had no answer to this, because his plan is to have permanent bases there, and threaten Iraq's neighbors with those bases. Since this is deeply unpopular among Iraqis, Bush's plan is incompatible with Iraqi democracy.

This is an important cause of our failure so far, and it would help if Democrats would point this out, and not pretend that Bush plans to leave someday. He doesn't.

I’ve noted this elsewhere on the site, but it bears repeating: we’re not leaving Iraq. Up to 1/5th of our permanent party troops will eventually be stationed there, much like they once were in Germany.

There have been permanent U.S. bases in Iraq for over a year ( that millions of dollars continue to be poured into every day. Since these bases are essential to the WH’s subtle plan to ‘influence’ the Middle East, it will be a generation before we leave.

Unless, of course, the Middle East runs out of oil. Then we’ll show the area the same concern and care as we have Africa since the early 90s…

The rumour of "permanent bases" is uttered non-sense. It is not militarily viable to stay in Iraq beyond the neccessary period. Of course, this started because military-ignorant people see permanent structures being built. Perhap if those people are at the receiving end of mortar rounds and car-bombs, then they would have an appreciation for permanents buidings and structure. When I was deployed last year, there was not a day go by without being mortared. Civilian!

But I still think we should announced "desired effect" or "measures-of-effectiveness" (MOE). Spell out what teh MOEs are. And state clearly that we will withdraw when the MOEs are achieved. No date, just quantifiable measurement of success.

This is for Lorelei and Mun-Duc (no need to thank me):

"Although Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational forces, it has become apparent that this is now a semi-permanent mission. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region."

-- ---Project for a New American Century's 2000 report, "Rebuilding America's Defenses." Contributors to the report include: Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, "Scooter" Libby, and Donald Rumsfeld.

"We will probably need a major concentration of forces in the Middle East over a long period of time. That will come at a price, but think of the price of not having it. When we have economic problems, it's been caused by disruptions in our oil supply. If we have a force in Iraq, there will be no disruption in oil supplies."

--- Donald Kagan, co-chairman of the 2000 report, "Rebuilding America's Defenses"

"One of the things that is necessary to wind down the insurgency... is for become convinced that we really are going to leave... I urged the administration to declare when I left Iraq in April of 2004, that we have no permanent military designs on Iraq and we will not seek permanent military bases in Iraq.... We aren't going to do that. And the reason we're not going to do that is because we are building permanent military bases in Iraq."

--- Larry Diamond, former employee of the CPA in Iraq

"The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region, senior Bush administration officials say."

-- NY Times, April 19, 2003


Iraq is a poor place for a permanent bases, if one think in military term. All those civilians can strategize all they want, the military reality on the ground speak for itself. Beside, we already have better and more receptive bases in Qatar and Kuwait, where I could eat breakfast without wearing helmet and body armor.

I doubt a CPA employee know what he is talking about. The CPA was a dismayal failure. I did not see them anywhere in Iraq. They did not attend any of the city council meetings or even ventured beyond the safety of the Green Zone. We could have done fine without them.

cal, your post bubbled up a thought i’ve wanted to break surface with somewhere: the invasion of iraq occurred solely (alright, mainly: young george did honestly want to whack saddam for trying to kill his daddy) for the strategic footprint we’re currently building in the region. all other purported reasons, besides being outright lies, were merely cover for our true intentions.

i believe this for two reasons. 1) oil and, 2) oil.

the u.s. geological survey estimated last year that there were about 3,000 billion barrels of "ultimate recoverable resources" left. of those, about 900 billion have been already exploited, another 1,000 billion are "proven" (that is, economically feasible to recover) with the remainder designated "possible" or "probable". the world consumption last year was around 28 billion barrels – probably be the same this year, if not a skootch higher. basic math shows a coming problem ( and here I am ignoring the “we always find more” argument – we will not always find more.)

thus, i believe the current administration made the decision to place us in a position to militarily defend our access to the largest known reserves of available oil (invading russia is not an option). this infers a priori decisions: forcing future administrations to keep a continued presence in the ME or withdraw amid chaos; acceptance of future military costs; WH acceptance of gradually rising world prices; no honest, effective research into alternate energy at the national level and no additional taxation on gas in order to self-ration, to name a but few.

our continued presence in the ME will also obviate or alter long term ‘enemy’ military and terrorist plans. more, it will at least moderately check russia’s aid to iran.

and, it’s not as if there is no precedent for this: the u.s. came out of wwii with a huge system of bases in over 120 countries: nearly 30,000 bases. President Truman declared –

“Though the United States wants no profit or selfish advantage out of this war, we are going to maintain the military bases necessary for the complete protection of our interests and of world peace. Bases which our military experts deem to be essential for our protection we will acquire. We will acquire them by arrangements consistent with the United Nations Charter.” America’s Overseas Garrisons: The Leasehold Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000),

george friedman, of strategic forecasting, inc., a consulting firm that publishes updates on world affairs, made much the same case in may of last year.

min-duc, actually, if you look at a map of the ME you will see that u.s. bases in iraq make perfect military sense, especially in regards to the bases in qatar and kuwait.

I agree with cal.

Iraq has always been in the plan as the first staging area for control of the mid east.

Long before PNAC and Clean Break surfaced the "Green Peril" threat was set up even way before 1992 to become the new enemy after the end of the Cold War by the same actors that brought us PNAC.

While the insurgents fight to get us out we have other "interest" acting to keep us there. The hair-brained scheme by Cheney and friends to seperate Iraq into three seperate states isn't going to happen no matter how hard other parties are working with the Kurds in Iraq to bring this about. Iraq's new government and Iran have now signed a mutual security much for the best laid plans of mice and men. Declare victory and get out or prepare for a widening hundred years war.

Without going into all the known details and endless chit chat expert speculation on this mid east venture let me just say..We won't win this one. Period.

And any one who thinks we will is ignoring the reality of our current military state and the interest of other global powers, not to mention the history of the mid east and how this spreading of democracy is now making the very groups we oppose legimate in seeking control thru the new "democratic" mid east elections.

This entire adventure has been the most ill conceived master of the universe delusion ever started by the US.

---"All those civilians can strategize all they want, the military reality on the ground speak for itself.--- Minh-Duc

Oh I agree it's unworkable, but as long as we have civilian control of the military, it's the civilians' opinions that matter. And even the attempt to build permanent bases can do a lot of damage to the legitimacy of the Iraqi gov't, and any goals we may have of creating a stable society, let alone a free one.

BTW, I didn't have space to mention Wolfowitz's quote that a "huge reason" for the war was so that we could get our military bases out of Saudi Arabia. Given that he judged our existing bases (in Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey) insuficient to contain Saddam, it's unlikely that he will think those bases sufficient to contain Iran, which has a much larger and better equipped army.

In any case, Donald Kagan makes it clear that this is what they're thinking.

What do you do when reality doesn't match the plan (it never does)? Change the plan on the fly. Which is exactly what our American military does better than any other in the world.

Americans and Brits also have excelent reputations for muddling through. That may have been part of the plan. Looks messy. Works pretty good. If you are good at adapting plans and objectives to current situations.

Look back at the history of WW2. Plans were reviewed among the major allies every six months or so to conform to the prevailing situation.

This war is no different.

Lorelei reports one observation that triggers an Alice-in-Wonderland, through-the-looking-glass kind of disorientation: "I have queried military friends who believe that any mention of an exit strategy is detrimental."

Ten years ago, was it not our military friends--the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in fact, led by none other than Colin Powell--who INSISTED on an "exit strategy" as part of the checklist before launching any international military interventions? And when some suggested that this would be detrimental to a mission's success, they were derided as "military-ignorant".

So are exit strategies smart or dumb? And if they're smart, we certainly need some for Iraq.

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