Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Stepping Back from Iraq

Support for Mr. Bush's woebegone war in Iraq is falling like Saddam Hussein's statue. Even Bush administration stalwarts like House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) are beginning to wobble in the mid-leg region.

On one hand, Boehner doesn't like the idea of placing timeline or benchmark restrictions on the Democrat's $124 billion emergency war funding appropriation. "We don't even have all of the 30,000 additional troops in Iraq yet, so we're supporting the president," Boehner says. "We want this [surge] plan to have a chance of succeeding.''

But Boehner's hedging his bets. "By the time we get to September or October, members are going to want to know how well this is working, and if it isn't, what's Plan B?''

Plan B

In March 2007, a group of governors met with Mr. Bush and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace and asked about the backup Iraq strategy. What if the so-called "surge" plan didn't work? "I'm a Marine," Pace told them, "and Marines don't talk about failure. They talk about victory."

As Governor Phil Bredesen (D-Tenn.) recalled the discussion, "Plan B was to make Plan A work."

There's a very good reason why no one in the Bush constellation wants to talk about Plan B. Plan B would look very much like the "redeployment" plan that Representative John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) proposed in November 2005.

Of Murtha's proposals, Boehner has said, "While American troops are fighting radical Islamic terrorists thousands of miles away, it is unthinkable that the United States Congress would move to discredit their mission, cut off their reinforcements and deny them the resources they need to succeed and return home safely."

Boehner has also characterized proposed Democratic withdrawal timelines as "surrender dates."

And yet now, Boehner is asking what Plan B might be. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois said Boehner's concern "has less to do with the troops coming home, and has everything to do with his fear that House Republicans will be sent home.''

Methinks Mr. Boehner is trying to develop a taste for crow pie.

The 25 Percent Solution

In March 2007, Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), once a steadfast supporter of Mr. Bush's Iraq policies, said he could no longer support "tactics that don't equal victory." He also said that General David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, confided that the troop surge only has a one in four chance of succeeding.

Senator Gordon R. Smith (R-Oregon) said, "Many of my Republican colleagues have been promised they will get a straight story on the surge by September. I won't be the only Republican, or one of two Republicans, demanding a change in our disposition of troops in Iraq at that point. That is very clear to me."

As Jonathan Weisman and Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post report, even the most optimistic military officials doubt whether Baghdad will be peaceful by September, but they hope to be able to determine long term trends. (No, I 'm not certain what "long term trends" is supposed to mean. We already have four years worth of trends, and they don't look good.)

Theoretically, though, it shouldn't much matter how things look in September. If September is the deadline, troops should start redeploying. If the surge is working, we don't need to maintain present troop levels. If Petraeus says we need to maintain present troop levels, that means the surge isn't working, in which case it's time to move on to Plan B, which as we discussed earlier will be some sort of redeployment.

Unless, of course, the administration decides on a Plan C that involves further escalation. That sounds a little nutty, perhaps, but I wouldn't rule anything out. Plan C would almost certainly strip Mr. Bush of his remaining support among congressional Republicans who won't want to let their jobs and their party go down with the ship.

My biggest concern is that we avoid the need for a Plan D, a nightmare scenario that William Lind described in March 2007 at Military.com:
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 [of the Mediterranean].

Lind's scenario would be a not at all unlikely sequel to a U.S. attack on Iran. One would think that even the Dick Cheney neocons still in and around the administration understand that, but like I said, don't count anything out.

Ultimately, the timeline debate in Washington was aptly described by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois):
There were always two debates in the debate over timelines to end the war. George W. Bush is hellbent on January 20, 2009, when he walks out of the door, leaving a box stamped "Iraq" for the next president. The Republicans are hellbent on not going through the next election with Iraq tied to their ankles.

Fortunately, I think it's safe to say that the Republicans don't want to face the next election with Iran tied around their necks, either.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


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