Open Floodgates, Pt 1: Plans for Iraq
Posted by Heather Hurlburt
Last week, I promised Ezra Klein that I would do a follow-up to his fabulous post, scolding progressives for getting bogged down in yet more intra-mural hair-pulling instead of discussing the substance of what to do about Iraq.
While I’ve been absorbed in sideshows like Pat Robertson and Hugo Chavez, and watching BloggerBabe take his first steps, the web is bursting out all over with plans for Iraq, from Andrew Bacevich to Juan Cole, Kevin Drum and our own Suzanne Nossel. Ivo Daalder, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bruce Jentleson and Juliette Kayyem have a “get it done or get it right” thread going over at America Abroad. The incomparable Fafnir proposes throwing a big tarp over Iraq, sadly not the dumbest line of reasoning I've heard.
Meanwhile, President Bush goes to the public repeatedly and tells us... well, if it's August 11 we're in Iraq until "the mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete." well, at least that's clear.
But if it's August 22, we're in Iraq until Iraqi forces can "take more and more of the fight to the enemy." What exactly does that mean? Now I can't even tell who is winning the war for the President's ear/mouth.
I haven't got a favorite plan yet, so I'm going to propose four criteria that any useful plan will have to meet:
#1. Tell us the goal. Are we defeating terrorism, standing up an army with a ghost of a chance, waiting for one more round of elections, putting in place the structures of democracy, or just waiting for troopships to arrive. wherever you come out on a timetable for withdrawal, I want a reason for withdrawal. Ideally it should be one that lets our troops and their supporters at home hold their heads up. I don't pretend that is an easy task.
#2. Tell the Iraqis -- and Americans -- the long-term costs. For credibility in Iraq and internationally, we need to be clear: what are we committing to do after we leave? Close air support, as Juan Cole suggests? Border security, to protect our friends in Jordan and Turkey? Financial support for reconstruction, the oil industry? None of the above? What are the implications of all this for our own armed forces? Will a pullout under some of these plans actually take as long as a deployment until 2008/9? Alternately, will troops be pulled out of Iraq only to rest up for Iran?
#3. Tell the region our expectations -- and Americans our expectations about the region. If history repeats itself, we're likely to make a number of more or less vague promises/threats about continued military engagement as we draw down. Various commentators have proposed increased regional engagement as a lever for our exit. But how are we going to work with Iran and Syria, pray tell? What efforts of their to create some kind of stability in the region are we going to tolerate, and what not? What level of instability, chaos and conflict are we going to tolerate?
#4. Come to terms with the limits of internationalization. Noah Feldman has written, and I think he is right, that we should neither expect too much from internationalization nor imagine that is absolves us of moral responsibility for the conflict we started. The UN is neither willing nor able to come in and save us -- and the Iraqis -- from ourselves. Positing internationalization as a central piece of the solution is probably not honest, at least not in the near term and not on the security side.
An interesting counterpoint is Michael Walzer’s assertion that Europeans in particular owe Iraq something for their failure to take the containment regime more seriously and thus build up an effective multilateral wall that the Bush Admin would have found it harder to breach. He is probably right, but that doesn't get us an extra combat division.
#5. Tell the world what we've learned. This is an extra-credit question. I've been reading Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, and I don't buy all of it, but as an effort to make the past four years mean something large and noble it beats what the White House puts out.