I was invited to join a National Review Online Symposium on the New Strategy for Iraq. The questions were: Did the president say what needed to be said? Will it help? Also participating in the symposium are: Peter Brookes, Clark Judge, Clifford D. May, James S. Robbins, Joseph Morrison Skelly, and Nicholas J. Xenakis.
I only had 200 words (and used 300), and reprinted my response below. After the NRO segment, I will clarify a few points in case there are any questions. The plans is comprehensive, and properly addresses all three problem areas: military, political and economic.
My major concerns are: is the Maliki government serious about tackling Sadr and the Shia miitias, are we deploying enough forces to do the job, will Syria and Iran be dealt with in a meaningful fashion, and will the civilian arm of the government live up to its commitments to deploy with the Brigade Combat Teams at the provincial level? All of that being said, the plan on paper looks good. I believe General Petraeus is the right commander to execute this policy. As always, our military is up to the task, our success or failure in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere depends on the will of our political leaders and the nation.
From the NRO Symposium:
President Bush articulated a comprehensive and intelligent strategy to turn the tide in Iraq. The new strategy deals with some major shortcomings in the Iraq theater over the past few years: lack of pressure on the Iraqi government to take charge of security and rein in Muqtada al-Sadr and the militias; restrictive rules of engagement; the absence of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program program, which puts cash in the hands of combat commanders; the absence of a public campaign against Iran and Syria; lack of involvement of State, Commerce, and other important U.S. institutions at a provincial level. The new Iraq strategy provides solutions to these problems.
Questions still remain. Are 17,500 U.S. troops enough to secure Baghdad? Are we devoting too few forces to Anbar? Will the Iraqi government follow through on its pledge to deal with Sadr and the militias? Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has balked in the past, but his recent statements have been encouraging. Will Iran, which is rightfully a charter member of the Axis of Evil, be dealt with meaningfully? The strategy towards Iran and Syria appears to be largely defensive, although the public announcement of the deployment of carrier battle groups and Patriot missile batteries sends a strong message. Will the changes in the rules of engagement include ending the dangerous and demoralizing “catch and release” program, where arrested insurgents are freed and allowed to return to the streets, where they continue committing attacks due to an overly generous military justice system? Are State, Commerce, and other civilian agencies truly committed to success in Iraq? Their commitment to date has been paltry, and the U.S. military has shouldered the burden of reconstruction the country.
On Sadr and the Mahdi Army: We’ve created this monster, and now its time to put it down. We failed by not taking the opportunity to kill Sadr after his Mahdi Army was roundly defeated in the Najaf uprising in August of 2004. Sadr was allowed to regenerate and rebuild his militia, now estimated between 10,000 to 60,000 fighters. Sadr’s militia can be defeated on the streets. It will be bloody, but the message will be sent. A legitimate government must maintain a monopoly on force, and Sadr’s Mahdi Army is openly contesting this monopoly. But we can’t stop with the Mahdi Army. If Sadr won’t disband it, he must be removed, lest he pull his phoenix routine yet again.
On the force level, partnering U.S. troops in Baghdad with Iraqi troops is a tried and proven tactic. The 17,500 troops may indeed be enough for the job. But what concerns me is the small surge in Anbar province (read Ramadi.) Only 4,000 Marines will be deployed here, and this is not enough to finish clearing Ramadi as an al Qaeda sanctuary. The rat line from Syria cannot be meaningfully addressed without clearing Ramadi, then maintaining the offensive in the rest of Anbar. The U.S. has been successful in reducing violence when retaining the initiative, and I am not convinced 4,000 Marines are enough to sustain this. And as Baghdad is cleared, al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents will pour back into Anbar, Diyala and Salahidin provinces in an attempt to regroup. Are we prepared for this? It appear the ultimate goal is to drive the insurgency from Baghdad and give the Iraqi government space, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of the provinces.
On Iran and Syria, the President did some serious saber rattling. But will this be followed up with meaningful action? Are we willing to strike at known insurgent training camps and staging areas in Syria? Will we do the same in Iran? How will the borders be sealed? Will we release IRGC and Qods Force leaders and operatives if the Iraqi government demands it? Will we push for regime change in Iran? Is our information campaign up to the task? The current plan appears one of defense, not offense, and in war defense is for losers.
Concerning the civilian arm of the government’s participation in Iraq, as I noted, the Defense Department has carried all of the water in Iraq. In the course of three embeds, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, I only encountered one member of the State Department in the field. One. I met thousands upon thousands of soldiers and Marines and sailors. Miltary officers and enlisted serve as diplomats on a daily basis, and can use the support from State, USAID, Commerce, Treasury…
On one final note, President Bush called for Congress to increase the size of the military. One of President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld’s greatest failures After 9-11 has been the failure to push to expand the size of the Army and Marines. Our Army was double the size during the Cold War (20 divisions vice 10 today) and we had a volunteer Army at the end of the Cold War. We should have increased the size of the Army by 5 divisions and the Marine Corps by 1 division at a minimum. This would have been an easy pitch for the President after 9-11, but is now difficult under the current, divided political atmosphere in the United States.
It is a national disgrace we have to juggle unit deployments to obtain 20,000 troops for a critical deployment. The scramble to accelerate and extend troop deployments is bad for morale, training, equipment maintenance and is hard on the military families, who have shouldered all of the burdens in this war. But let me say I have seen nothing but professionalism displayed by our servicemen over this. America is the world’s lone superpower, and our enemies are watching as we struggle to find troops to man a critical mission.