Whether the surge succeeds, fails or fall somewhere in between, there's no need to plan ahead to the next step because it's too soon to tell what that next step might need to be. We can't predict now what things will look like in the fall, when U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus is scheduled to report on the surge progress to Congress. So there's no sense revisiting alternate plans proposed in late 2006--they'll be irrelevant in 2007. Kagan tells us we especially don't want to revert to that darn old Iraq Study Group (ISG) proposal. It won't make any sense at all come this fall, according to Kagan.
But then, when it comes to not making sense, Fred Kagan is in a league of his own.
In January 2007, when he published Producing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq, Kagan stated that "Other courses of action have been proposed. All will fail." He especially condemned the idea of increasing imbedded trainers for Iraqi forces and engaging in diplomatic talks with Iraq's neighbors, and pretty much everything else the Iraq Study Group (ISG) proposed.
On Sunday, Kagan hit the political chat show circuit to bolster support for his escalation strategy, which was interesting timing.
We Got Your Plan B Right Here, Mister
On Monday, Washington Post writer Michael Abramowitz reported that the recommendations of the ISG, once all but summarily dismissed by the administration, are being looked at again by both the White House and congressional Republicans. Lawmakers from both parties plan to introduce legislation soon that will make the ISG's 79 recommendations official U.S. policy. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) says the ISG's recommendations are "gaining more support in the Congress because the situation in Iraq is not going as well as we had hoped."
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), one of the bill's sponsors, says, "My sense among Republican Senators is we know very well that the current course is not a sustainable course over a longer period of time. If we drift into September, [the president] may not be able to find a bipartisan basis to support a long-term limited interest in Iraq."
Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the ISG, says that Washington officials "don't know what to do… They don't have a framework. They are looking. They are searching. Something has to follow the surge [of U.S. troops to Iraq]--they are interested in our proposals as a framework for policy."
Put another way, "they" desperately need a Plan B to pull out of their sleeves when Petraeus comes to them in September with nothing in his hand but his hat.
But the truth be told, they need more than a Plan B. It may well be that come September, the ISG's recommended diplomatic, economic and rebuilding measures will be overcome by events on the ground, especially if the surge increases the scope of violence throughout Iraq, and U.S. troops find themselves in the middle of a Hobbesian cross-fire for which even deluded ideologues like Fred Kagan can't suggest a "victorious" solution. Plan C will look very much like the "redeployment option" that Representative Jack Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) proposed in the fall of 2005. (Come fall of 2008, the administration won't credit Murtha for this idea. They'll call it a "containment strategy," and hope nobody remembers that's what we called the strategy we conducted for the decade between Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.)
Unfortunately, Plan C may not be enough to cover the likely contingencies. If we let Kagan and the rest of the neoconservative cabal push us down Plan A far enough and long enough, we'll need a Plan D like the one that William Lind described at Military.com in March 2007.
America now has an army…of more than 140,000, deep in Persia (which effectively includes Shiite Iraq, despite the ethnic difference). We are propping up a shaky local regime in a civil war. Our local allies are of dubious loyalty, and the surrounding population is not friendly. Our lines of communication, supply and retreat all run south, to Kuwait, through Shiite militia country. They then extend on through the Persian Gulf, which is called that for a reason. If those lines are cut, many of our troops have only one way out…up through Kurdish country and [Turkey] to the coast.
Lind outlines two plausible catastrophe scenarios, either or both of which could dictate such a dire retreat strategy. In the first, Shia militias would target and disrupt our vulnerable supply lines between Baghdad and Kuwait. In the second, Iran, probably in response to a U.S. attack, would shut down the Persian Gulf. As Lind says, "Both of these threats are sufficiently real," and the old military virtue of prudence suggests that plans should be made to react to such contingencies.
There's not an ounce of meat in Fred Kagan's strategies or in his arguments. I spent enough time as a tactical and operational planner during my military career to know that anybody who says, "All other plans but mine will fail" and "we must stick with my plan whether it works or not, and not make plans for what to do if it doesn't work" should be shown to the front gate. That Kagan spent 10 years as a professor of military history at West Point makes me shudder at the damage he may have done to the long-term intellectual integrity of the Army officer corps. That some our most senior policy makers still listen to him is a leading symptom of the critical level our national insanity has reached.
That GOP legislators appear to be standing up to Mr. Bush and his neocon inner circle may be a harbinger of more rational policies and strategies ahead. But it's no guarantee that Congress can put what one active duty four-star military officer allegedly referred to as "the crazies" back in their box.