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August 28, 2005

Iraq - 10 things progressives ought to be saying
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

While the public has finally woken up to the Administration's disastrous leadership in Iraq, progressives have not been able to seize the upper hand on Iraq policy. They're caught between the belief that an immediate pullout would bring disastrous results (and undercut progressive national security bona fides), and the difficulty of saying how the war can be corrected at this late date.

In the meantime, the debate on drawdown has narrowed, if you put to one side those calling for a complete, immediate withdrawal.  Within the mainstream debate there are those urging that we set a timetable for drawdown and then do everything in our power to stabilize Iraq before then; and those who favor doing everything possible to stabilize Iraq so that we can draw down sooner rather than later (see Dorgan's comments this AM).  The difference of emphasis matters, but not much. Both groups want major troop reductions next year.

Rather than splitting hairs on drawdown, progressives should be clear and forceful where they can be. The Center for American Progress has done a fantastic memo to the President outlining what we're up against in Iraq.  A great follow-up would say what conclusions can be drawn and what ought to happen next.  Here are 10 things the progressives ought to be saying on Iraq.

1.  This Iraq operation was a mistake - The American public needs to hear it from those progressives who haven't yet admitted it. 

2.  The Administration's actions have brought us to this point - Bad intel, poor planning, inadequate international support, and faulty decision-making all played a part; and the Administration's to blame for all of these.  Whether a hypothetical war, done differently, might've gone better is not the issue.  For those who supported the war, the biggest mistake was trusting an arrogant and blinkered Administration to do such a tough job right.  There's no need to apologize for not calling the problem sooner. Progressives have demanded mid-course corrections at every turn.

3.  We'll never win without a strategy, and the Administration doesn't have one - The Iraq operation has been lurching without direction for months, and none of Bush's public statements have come close to filling the gap.

4.      Any strategy needs to start by facing the facts on the ground - The Administration is in deep denial, and the public is growing uneasy about it.  Acknowledging the strength of the insurgency, the failure to achieve a constitution that enjoys Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish support, and the toll the effort is taking on American troops will not come off as defeatist, since even the most casual observer is painfully aware of all of these.

5.      Any strategy will end with American withdrawal - We never intended to be in Iraq forever, so there's no shame thinking about how and when our men and women come home.  The difficulties we're facing and the absence of an Administration strategy make the question more pressing. 

6.     Our objective is pure and simple: to leave Iraq stable - Security and stability are the main concerns of Iraqis, and the leading U.S. interests when it comes to Iraq's future. They are also prerequisites for liberty and democracy. But rather than utopian visions of Iraqi freedom, our focus is on the precondition for US withdrawal, and that's stability -- meaning a weakening of the insurgency; law and order; a functioning Iraqi authority and a stable dynamic between Iraq's major political forces.

7.      We need to quickly determine how to achieve success - Right now we don't know if the war is winnable.  We should take a finite amount of time -- say through the end of 2005 -- to figure that out.  Doing so should entail the following:

- - a coherent counter-insurgency strategy -  Yet another major lapse in the Administration's conduct of the war has emerged publicly in recent days:  we have no counter-insurgency strategy and the most basic lessons of major past insurgency battles, like Vietnam, aren't being heeded.  A variety of proposals have been forward for counter-insurgency approaches.  The Administration needs to adopt one and fast so that by December we can judge whether its gaining traction or not.

- - an independent audit of the training effort - it's hard to get straight facts on how the training of Iraqi troops is going (estimates of capable Iraqi troops range from 2,500 to 21,000).  Without accurate information, it's impossible to know whether we stand a chance of turning Iraq over to homegrown security forces.  The audit (by the Government Accountability Office or another qualified body) should focus on four questions:  1)  how many Iraqi troops are now capable of keeping the peace and fighting the insurgency?  2) how many more do we need so that the US military is no longer the only thing between Iraq and full-on civil war?  3) how long will it take to get to that number? and 4) what - meaning tactics, resources, equipment - will make it happen faster and more reliably?   The audit should be done by October 30 so that we can judge by late December whether the results are being put into practice.

- - direct engagement of Iraq's neighbors - Iraq's neighbors will play a key part in what happens once we leave.  As Wesley Clark and others have suggested, we ought to be talking to them now about political and economic relationships with Iraq, and about the insurgency.  Even if we get the cold shoulder, we'll at least know we can't count on them.

- - a strict border control regime - This is essential in every scenario, to keep Iraq from being both a magnet and a source of insurgents. Lighting, night-vision equipment, weapons detection equipment and radars are all part of the package, as are cooperation with Iraq's neighbors and ample trained personnel. 

- - expedited reconstruction projects - According to CAP, only $9 of the $24 billion allocated by Congress for reconstruction projects for FY 2003-2205 has been spent.  Security is an impediment, but if our goal is to be out sooner, the pace of reconstruction needs to be stepped up, even if the cost of projects gets inflated due to the need for extra protection.   The Administration should be charged with devising a list of reconstruction projects that deserve priority because they can play a role in getting us out sooner.

8.  Progress on each of these points should be reported monthly - If there's no significant headway being made by year's end once the next round of Iraqi national elections take place, withdrawal timetables may deserve the center stage some are giving them now.

9.  Meanwhile, we need to do a better job supporting our troops and veterans - When it comes to benefits, equipment, schedules, etc.

10.  And keep leveling with the American public - Since the Administration seems bent on keeping the truth from the public, progressives can play a key role making sure the debate is well-informed, and that the public stays engaged.

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» Who You Should Be Reading On Iraq from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
Ackerman, Spence Cordesman, Anthony Clark, Wes Cole, Juan Diamond, Larry Drum, Kevin Fukuyama, Francis Kaplan, Fred Krepinevich, Andrew aka 'Oil Spot' Kristol, Bill McCaffrey, Barry Nossel, Suzanne Plumer, Brad Quinlaven, James Vest, Jason Yglesias, M... [Read More]

» Who You Should Be Reading On Iraq from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
Ackerman, Spence Cordesman, Anthony Clark, Wes Cole, Juan Diamond, Larry Drum, Kevin Fukuyama, Francis Kaplan, Fred Krepinevich, Andrew (aka 'Oil Spot') Kristol, Bill McCaffrey, Barry Nossel, Suzanne Plumer, Brad Quinlivan, James Vest, Jason Yglesias,... [Read More]

» What You Should Be Reading On Iraq from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
Ackerman, Spence Cordesman, Anthony Clark, Wes Cole, Juan Diamond, Larry Drum, Kevin Fukuyama, Francis Kaplan, Fred Krepinevich, Andrew (aka 'Oil Spot') Kristol, Bill McCaffrey, Barry Nossel, Suzanne Plumer, Brad Quinlivan, James Vest, Jason Yglesias,... [Read More]

Comments

Yes, they should. My next question: why don't they? what are they afraid of? and why don't you just use the word Democrats?

1. Life

2. Isn't a bowl

3. Of bullet points.

4. Stop making lists

-- Of the obvious,

-- And the vacuous,

5. And start

6. Thinking.

7. We need real

8. ideas - not another

9. Vapid Executive Summary.

10. Seriously.

The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

It is another unfortunate irony of this war that the proper military strategy (outlined by Andrew Krepinevich in the current Foreign Affairs) is about to gain general acceptance just after it may be too late to work.

Counterinsurgency can only be meaningful if it establishes the control of a government over an insurgent area. The leaders of the people we are training (mainly Shias) seem to want only to control their own territory, not the Sunni triangle.

I think it was DIgby that made the point that it doesn't matter what position the progressives/Democrats take (as long is it isn't pullout right now) since our plan will not be adopted or tested. He thinks we should all get behind Clark's plan, not because it would work, but because by so doing we would be able to campaign on an I-told-you-so-you-should-have -listened to me basis against the Republican candidate in 08.
I think the one point upon which we should all unite is to punish those politicians who still think the invasion was a good idea.

"It is another unfortunate irony of this war that the proper military strategy (outlined by Andrew Krepinevich in the current Foreign Affairs) is about to gain general acceptance just after it may be too late to work."

...nothing ironic about it - try criminal: Krepinevich's original treatise on counter insurgeny ( the basis of the FA article - was published in the mid 80s; it's been publicly suggested as a tatic by several staff officers since 2003, as well as it has been publicly abooted about by the media for as long. all to no avail.

...regarding tyhe post itself - i've been waiting for over a year for a dem to stand up - so far hart has been the lone voice. perhaps i should not credit that overly much as he has nothing to lose.

...but if you think about that last sentence, it does not speak well of every other dem.

...in fact, speaking of the dems, here's their latest stance (2nd article down the page...).

Whether a hypothetical war, done differently, might've gone better is not the issue.


Maybe it's irrelevant to this post, but I hope the liberal hawks will re-think their strategy at some point, and not just put all the blame on Bush, as Michael Signer tried to do the other day.

This war was stupid from the get-go. The State Dep't and the CIA said so. Much of our on the ground intelligence dated from 1918, and even if it had been better, nobody could know for sure how important players like Sistani would behave. How many hawks had even heard of Sistani before the war?

Nobody's calling for a public rending of garments, but it's clear that the elites of both parties have to broaden the mainstream debate if they're going to make better decisions.

The Krepinevich article is all the rage inside coulda', shoulda' woulda' circles, but I think there is reason to be skeptical about his plan.

History is wonderful. And I would certainly agree that among the many failures of those charged with executing this war is a lack of historical perspective. But every war is different, and presents a unique combination of challenges. I'm not sure the Malay emergency, with its jungle-based communist rebels, is the best analogy for Iraq, with its chaotic profusion of town-based groups and competing agendas, and its penchant for suicide bombs and IEDs.

An interesting dynamic should emerge soon in Iraq. Among the many ways in which Sunni Arabs are divided, one is this: some seem determined to reject the constitution at the polls in October, by producing a 2/3 no vote in at least three (Sunni Arab dominated) provinces. Others seem convinced that any participation at all in the US-established political process, even to reject a US-sponsored constitution, is a traitorous legitimation of that process.

Soon these groups will be fighting each other. But the prospect of a political mobilization to defeat the constitiution, defeat the Shiites, defeat the Kurds and defeat US political efforts, could provide a unifying agenda for many Sunni Arabs. And in order to defeat the constitution at the polls, they will have to create the conditions in which a successful plebiscite can be held.

This might help local religious and tribal leaders build the power base they need to pacify their own communities and seize control of the resistance from the more militant and uncompromising mujahedeen. And it might put the US in the awkward position of supporting, quietly and from a distance, the political efforts of groups organized to defeat the constitution we helped write.

If such a movement grows, that is a good thing. At this point, anything that channels poilitical energies and organizing efforts into something resembling normal politics, and away from warfare, would be welcome. A way needs to be found for people to oppose the US, and express that opposition in a way which is not merely symbolic, but poilitically powerful, without pushing the country further into violence. If some powerful political movement grows whose double-edged slogan is "Say NO to US occupation and imperialism! Say NO to violence!", that would be a relief.

Sorry about the extended link. Hope this turns it off.

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