Changing Course In Iraq Posted by: Dale Franks
on Thursday, September 23, 2004
Jessica Matthews, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes in today's Washington Post that the Bush Administration needs to change course in Iraq.
Much of her article I disagree with, but she does make some points that bear serious consideration.
The president -- no one less -- needs to state formally and unequivocally that the United States will not maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq, and to repeat it at every opportunity. The phrase "enduring bases" should be erased and the construction of permanent facilities halted. A transparent mechanism that makes clear that no Iraqi oil revenue will touch American fingers should be created, and questions about what happened to that revenue over the past year should be quickly and forthrightly answered. The U.S. Embassy should be drastically cut in size and moved outside the Green Zone (to Camp Victory, for instance) to emphasize that the United States is no longer running the country and that it and the Iraqi government are not one and the same. A statement signed jointly by Iraq's neighbors should pledge the United States and each of them to respect Iraq's territorial integrity within its present borders. And the president needs to address many Iraqis' conviction that elections held under the occupation will be fixed, by saying loudly and often that the United States favors no candidate or party and will accept whatever government Iraqis elect.
The Mideast is a hotbed of conspiracy theories. All too often, the Administration has operated as if no one reasonable could believe such outlandish stories about American intentions. In the real world, however, that's precisely what people believe. The only way to address that is by being as forthright as possible, frequently announcing our objectives, and making our actions match our words. The only way to build trust in such an atmosphere is to be visibly and apparently trustworthy. This is something we have failed to do, secure in the mistaken assumption that no one would actually believe the worst about us. That is dangerously nave.
Regarding events, there are three priorities. Right now, killing Americans is a good job in a country where the unemployment rate may be 60 percent. Every deal with a non-Iraqi contractor that can be broken, therefore, should be, and the dollars and jobs redirected to Iraqis. This is no time to follow the usual practice of using foreign aid to produce economic benefit at home.
Absolutely correct. Anything and everything that we can contract out to the Iraqis should be. We should only use foreign contractors in cases where local sources of goods or services are impossible to obtain.
The other economic priority is to secure a quick agreement with Europe and Russia to forgive most of Iraq's debt.
I'd go even farther than that. If they do not do so, I'd publicly encourage Iraq's new government to repudiate their debts to any country that did not take part in the coalition to liberate them. That would serve two purposes. It would punish those countries like France and Russia that expected to profit off the reign of Saddam Hussein, but were unwilling to overthrow him, and it would be a good object lesson pour encourager les autres about the possible consequences of propping up despotic regimes.
The most difficult and most important step will be to admit as fiction the idea that barely trained and outgunned Iraqi forces, far too few in number and often directed by foreigners to kill compatriots, can control Iraq's spiraling violence anytime soon. More U.S. forces are needed, and needed back in the streets. There is no realistic alternative.
I was, in the beginning, willing to take Mr. Rumsfeld's word that additional American forces wouldn't be necessary to pacify the country. Clearly, that was overly optimistic. It might have been true assuming that American forces were willing to respond to everything up to and including dirty looks with massive, overwhelming firepower, but we opted for a gentler, kinder occupation. For instance, if I'd been running the show, Fallujah would've evacuated, razed to the ground, and sowed with salt. The administration chose a different tack, and Fallujah remains a festering sore.
Now that the Iraqis are putatively in charge, our options are even more limited. With those limits, it seems to me that a larger force is required to provide security, while the training of new Iraqi security forces continues apace.
We cannot retreat from Iraq without the possibility of horrific consequences ensuing. But that doesn't mean that can't change course, even radically, as the situation on the ground calls for it.
Good post, I agree with most of the points you discuss, except two:
1) put as much money into Iraqi hands as possible by giving as many contracting/rebuilding jobs to them as possible.
A good idea in theory, but this has to be balanced against the need to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure quickly. Want it done fast? Hire US contractors. Iraq's culture with regard to work ethic would make the Greeks look good by comparison. Where possible, Iraqis should be hired, but I'd say the need to quickly rebuild the power grid, sewers, roads, etc. trumps the need for local help.
2) more troops are needed.
This argument has been thrown out there ever since we went into Iraq and I still don't understand what it is these extra troops would do besides stand around offering targets for suicide bombers. Anytime the terrorists in Iraq congregate in numbers greater than a handful, they are blown into oblivion, so what exactly are these extra troops needed for? Security? How are are 10,000 or even 30,000 more soldiers/marines going to be able to stop a suicide bomber? Are we going to garrison a couple of soldiers with every family in Iraq? Not trying to be snide -- I'm genuinely wondering what it is you'd have them you do.
P.S. I generally like the new look, but this commenting tool stinks -- can't use line spaces and the paragraphs all run together into one big blurb.
One of our biggest mistakes was to lose the transparency that came with embedding journalists with the troops during the war's initial stages. We need to return to that level of transparency with intensive videotaping of our operations. We can't just claim that the insurgents are using women and children as shields, etc -- we need to show it on video every time it happens. The opposition is kicking our rears, perception-wise, because they have al Jazeera "documenting" the "atrocities". We need to counter that with video of our own, even if we have to assign the troops to shoot it.
One of the big points of all this is to have permanent bases in Iraq. Bases from which US Troops can "civilize" Iraq the same way they civilized Germany. Which is two ways:
1: By our ongoing presence, we guarantee that no one will pull a (violent) coup and overthrow the government No more one party State, no more concern about generals overthrowing a government they don't like. Also, no using the military to conquer other countries (unless, of course, those countries are enemies of the US).
2: By living there and interacting with the Iraqis, we teach them the modes of thought needed to keep a democratic society togther. Not from classes, but by living those ways.
The problem with permanent bases is they appear to be an occupation army - which we were at the end of WWII in Germany. The 'arab street' thinks that precisely what we're setting out to do.
That being said, I agree that having a presence would deter junta's and perhaps mullahs, but it also would continue to draw Jihadi's into Iraq. Hard to determine which makes it more unstable.
First, if the Jihadis want to keep on going to Iraq and killing other Muslims, and thus strongly discredit themselves, that's fine with me.
Second, I don't think the Poles would consider US bases in Poland to be signs of an occupying army.
Third, I couldn't possibly care less about the feelings of the "Arab Street". Besides, having "the Arab Street" learn that the cost of pissing off the US is that you're "occupied" for then next 50 years, well, that sounds like a good idea to me.
The "Arab Street" isn't our friend. I see no reason why we should treat them like they are our friend.
Now, I shouldn't get started on our basing our troops in foreign countries. I do take it as a sign that we're not inherently an evil country. Tradtionally when a country stations troops in YOUR country it's because you are, more or less, a colony. Find some other examples of non-empire builders that set up military bases in a country that has it's own government. There just aren't that many examples historically.
That being said, we do have a responsibility not to be an occupying power. Poland doesn't exactly have the same geo-political situation Iraq does. And, we don't have any business being an occupying power in Iraq past the point where they are standing on their own. I recognize that if we make treaty with them, as we have done in Poland and other countries, it's probable we'll maintain a military presence there.
Can't say I find much to agree with in your third point. That's not our job. I recognize that in a war it's much better to fight in the opponents court than your own. At some point in the next few years, Iraq will settle down. We can't just go around stomping anyone we like on an ongoing basis. We frankly, don't have the national focus to accomplish such a task. We aren't Spartans.
Was with you 'til the Rumsfeld comment. Rumsfeld said we didn't need more troops. You now seem to say we do need more. But, then you go on to argue we should level those who defy American forces. My query is this: Do we really need more troops to accomplish the goal *you've* stated OR are you saying if we're going to play all nicey-nice we *in fact* do need more troops? Are you saying the goal has moved? Thanks for clarifying.
If you do, and you want to win it without turning the Middle East into a parking lot, then we're going to have to turn the failed States of the Middle East into non-failed States. Because so long as the societies remain the pathetic wrecks they are now, they're going to generate terrorists.
In order to end the war (preferrably before a US city gets nuked / gassed / hit with a plague), we have to either kill all those who want to attack the US, or get those who don't want to attack the US to restrain the hot-heads for us. Giving them a shot at worthwhile lives, and promising them they'll lose that shot if they attack us, is the only way I can see to accomplish this.
Greg - nope - I'm for what we're trying to accomplish in Iraq as I view the Muslim would be authority figures as having the view that the 12th Century was a good place to stop social progress. In the process you have to convince the Iraqis we're sitting in the middle of that we really don't want their country as a colony. This then gives them the incentive to club Syrian-Mohammed-the-insurgent-that-hides-next-store-with-the-RPG on the head when he steps out into the street to blow something up. If they believe we're there to stay, and we're not interested in giving them autonomy they can continue to justify cheering for Mohammed-the-insurgent because he appears to be actually working against the people they think are turning them into a colony.
When you have an insurgent population in civilian clothes, the best people for helping root them out are not uniformed troops. The best people for identifying them, and stopping them, are their neighbors. These guys have to eat, they have to sleep, and the locals know who they are, where they buy their coffee and where they're laying down their weary heads after a long day of sniping.
Ensure the Iraqis at large understand we're not there forever, and that we really do want them not to continue to suffer for Saddam's behavior, and the less fundamentally oriented will come around.