Iraq: No kidding, please, on good solution
Appeared in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Jan. 3, 2007
We should not convince ourselves that there is a good solution for America in Iraq—it's too hard to get to "good" from where we are today. In fact, our choices ultimately boil down to two equally uncertain options. We've reached the point of decision about which will best serve the nation.
How we got to this point is academic, and we're better off letting the historians revisit the process and the decisions that led us here.
I don't subscribe to the theory that the Iraq invasion was based on premeditated decisions shaped by Desert Storm One indecisions; or that anyone knowingly misled our senior decision-makers. Having sat through discussions with some pretty senior people in Washington as the decisions were being made, I know we all heard the same intel reports and the same assumptions. Some of both were bad, and we now face circumstances that hardly anybody predicted.
We've got what we've got in Iraq, but someday we should circle back and ask three fundamental questions. First, why we didn't take the force we needed to kill the Republican Guard, the same crowd partly to blame for the chaos there today. Letting them slip away during the early days of the war was not smart military strategy.
The second question we should ask is why we disbanded the Iraqi Army and put hundreds of thousands soldiers on the streets—unpaid—to create trouble. Getting rid of Baathist generals and colonels was smart, but having the rest of those soldiers early on could have prevented much of the mischief that developed within months. Guarding borders and infrastructure became much more difficult because of that decision.
A final question is why the Department of Defense insisted on post-war leadership. Our military is really good at security. They're not good at establishing a legal system to support a democratic system, fixing a broken infrastructure, standing up a financial system, reorienting local governments nonfunctional for decades, fortifying an education system, and on and on. These are best addressed by the State Department. Most generals (myself included) don't have the skills to "fix" a broken society.
A better question, however, is where we go from here. We should not kid ourselves, our friends, or the Iraqi people—there are no good solutions.
The boundary conditions are the easiest to address. First, more of the same won't work. America is not willing to endure its current level of discomfort about this war. It's hard to find a town in this great nation that hasn't been touched by the loss of or wounding of sons and daughters.
The other condition is the infusion of massive force—putting our soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines on every corner of that embattled nation. Quite simply, we don't have them. Even if that were the best option, we lack adequate force structure unless we want our sons and daughters to live most of their lives in Iraq. Who wants that?
That leaves a couple options in the middle, neither particularly good. A drawdown is what we all want, but when and what circumstances permit that to occur is a gamble. Do it too early and the chaos continues or resurfaces, and our national prestige and our ability to influence around the globe go south.
The other is to build up forces for some limited period to reestablish stability—not just in Baghdad, but across the country. That's a gamble also. It buys time while reconfiguring Iraq, with the hope of reestablishing stability long enough for the Iraqis to rethemselves from themselves. Nobody knows how long that will take given the conditions now in place. If we're lucky, a few years; if we're unlucky, never.
This is the "no-good-solutions" reality, and the United States must soon choose one way or the other. Either path —drawdown or temporary buildup enroute to a drawdown—is a long way from certain success.
My view: an immediate drawdown is a failure for America. Whatever the circumstances that led to Iraq, this is about our future global leverage, not our past mistakes.
I have had the duty of notifying families that their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, moms and dads, would not be coming home. No military commander or civilian leader wants more of that. And while I believe we shouldn't stay a day longer than we have to, I know a drawdown that is too quick serves Al Quadi only too well and doesn't serve America's interests. The price, paid with our own blood, is too high.
The only remaining option is to try to bring a sense of stability to Iraq for some period of time—and hope the Iraqis want peace even more than even we do. The unfortunate reality is that this option also has a reasonable chance of failure.
But, at the end of the day, we don't have the option of waiting. It's time to make a tough decision—and hope we get it right.