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August 23, 2005

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.


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Heather -

...useful post.

though the WH must have someone scanning the blogs daily, the other plans/thoughts/wishful thinking posted on hundreds of other blogs over the last six months must all be way too complicated for the WH to assimilate: your 4 point plan l addresses this intellectual shortcoming.

assuming they are interested in leaving.

oh, and by the way, i had never hit Fafnir’s site before - extremely grateful for the link.

;’ )

On Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, see the oldest of the "highlights" on Mark Madsen's blog, Extended Phenotype,

Great points. We need to set objectives to gain support both at home and abroad. Undefined war can not be won.

Finally, some sanity as opposed to the overheated discussion found in many other places. Thank you, Heather.

By the way, Paul Berman's forthcoming book looks promising as well.

We should have done 1-4 before the invasion and it isn't rocket science to know that. I think Colin Powell was thinking along those lines. But of course he wasn't "man" enough for the neo-cons.

...i sincerely hope the WH is reading this site: yesterday young george reiterated his firm resolve ( Fafnir - what a hoot) to stay in iraq until he's tossed out of office. meanwhile, US General sees light at end of tunnel.


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.

This might actually be the core failing of the "peace movement," and their more centrist sympathizers. You might want to check out Jeff Goldstein's recent post on the topic, in response to some similar grousing by Pandagon’s Jesse Taylor. But this excerpt should at least get you started:

What is astounding about this piece of garbled thinking is not so much its failure to recognize that there actually can be many smaller victories that make up a larger “victory” —and that it’s both possible and reasonable to separate the two for diagnostic or descriptive purposes without having “misapplied” anything; no, what’s truly astounding about Taylor’s piece is its blatant and willful disregard for the facts.

I'm not sure what you think is inconsistent about Bush's statements or why you see the goals expressed in item #1 as inconsistent with one another, but perhaps you'd better clarify your thinking on this business of lesser goals on a critical path before you formulate your next series of questions.

By the way, I think Newt Gingrich is pretty clear that Iraq is but a crucial campaign in a much longer war against "irreconcilable Islam," so you might want to consider what that branch of Islam considers its goal for Iraq, and how best to counter that. Whatever Bush says about the matter, that's the goal.

By the way, regarding the last item: Terror and Liberalism was, in my opinion, the first "great" book of the 21st Century. And that's even without an Index, which is a tedious handicap that could have been easily corrected. Maybe in future editions...

Some relevant pragmatic wisdom from Michael Yon's latest dispatch:

Although the situation in Mosul is better, our troops still fight here every day. This may not be the war some folks had in mind a few years ago. But once the shooting starts, a plan is just a guess in a party dress.

…wow. the silence is deafening.

okay… for all the times I took umbrage with one of heather’s columns:


Overall Goal: the US immediately announces their withdrawal upon the iraqi government being stable and functional enough (with the help of an international peacekeeping force) to effectively deal with any remaining insurgency. this means we also have to immediately petition the UN to provide such a force. in conjunction with this, the US should definitively renounce any intention of using iraq as a long range staging (or short range – iran) area for our troops [(though this will be a tough sell) - i have also heard talk about reducing our embassy presence in iraq and replacing negroponte...apparently he’s considered less than desirable?]. I’m probably out to lunch, but let’s say this can happen within 2 years.

Long Term Costs: first off, the WH has to let the american public know of the total cost of the war and how it intends to pay for it, including our share of the international peace-keeping mission (which should be substantial in deference to heather’s #4 point of internationalism), separate humanitarian aid $$$, etc etc. Next, the administration announces the deposit of an additional 100 billion dollars to be used to reconstruct iraq over the space of 5 years: though that may be low, the environmental damage alone may >cost that much to clean up; i am unsure of this move without some credible oversight, but we just can’t trash the country and then leave. more, i think we have to provide close air support for at least the next two, possibly three years…

Expectations: the administration will announce to the world a new policy - from now on the US intends to hunt down terrorists (using all its special organizations that everyone knows about) based on the israeli model: anywhere, anytime, anyhow, by any means. should an organization within any country’s borders attack the US, the US will hunt them down where they live and remove them as a threat to us. period. no exceptions. we will certainly inform you of our decision and ask if you’d like to help, but…should that sovereign state be actively supporting said terrorist organization, well, there are ways around president ford’s edict and the world knows it: the bottom line is still anywhere, anytime, anyhow, by any means.

other than that, we’re happy to trade with you and…well, what do we want, really, out of the middle east? for israel to be left alone and our uninterrupted supply of oil, right? so, unless the countries in the ME are going at it hammer and tong to the point that it threatens our addiction, what our are options? trade embargos? another invasion we can’t afford or support militarily?

we sure would like the ME to be like us, but that isn’t going to happen, is it?; we would love to see them treat women better, but even the WH doesn’t care much about that; we would love to see democracy spread throughout the region, but that isn’t going to happen, either, (with or without our interference) any time soon. so, I guess, we go back to status quo…and let that be a lesson to you.

Internationalization: big surprise, but I disagree here. has the US gone to the UN with something resembling the above “overall goal”? i sincerely doubt it – had they, and let the EU atone by “taking charge”, i believe we could get a peace-keeping force in a matter of months.

‘course, I thought bush wouldn’t be re-elected, either…

lessons learned: that will be a tough one. young george just committed himself to staying the course until his last day in the oval office while his friends and neighbors are planning on how to withdraw…

that is probably (after we’ve destroyed this lil’ ol’ plan: obviously there are holes here large enough to slide a Bradley through…have fun!) ought to be the very next discussion – taking bush at his literal word, what does the liberal dem running for election in ’06 & 08 have to say about their plans to withdraw us from iraq? the only strong voice I’ve heard so far is hart’s….

…conversely, what will the next liberal dem running in ’06 & ’08 have to say – taking bush at his literal word – about continuing the GWOT in iraq…and iran?

I'm sorry but I just don't see the utility in assuming a determinism that doesn't reflect reality. It's important to devise metrics that make some sense, including public attitudes in the Middle East, terrorist recruitment, benchmarks for democratic/liberal change, etc. But I can't figure out why it's important to voice any of that. If you want an absolute standard we could say we'll pull out of Iraq as soon as there have been no terrorist attacks for six months. But there might still be good reasons to pull out before that, if our military is needed somewhere else or if the Iraqi forces are competent enough to continue the same trend of counter-insurgency victories.

I'm sorry, but I think the objective is obvious. We create the social conditions that reduce the likelihood of terrorist attacks to as close to zero as possible. But that doesn't mean that the number of attacks is the metric by which we measure success, because movement toward a goal need not be at all linear.

What we need isn't some half-baked statement of goals to make us feel secure under the covers, but a Civilian Intelligence System that we can rely on to keep us well informed about the order of battle. All these calls for goals is simply a reflection of the fact that we have no such reliable system in place, so many people aren't very sure what's going on, or even if we're winning. Having deterministic goals in a fluid situation won't help nearly as much as you believe it will.

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