Monday, November 28, 2005

Bush Administration plans to cut and run, while Jim Fallows offers the only pragmatic view on how we can get out honorably. In his extremely important Atlantic Monthly article, he explains what we need to do to actually enable the Iraqi army to take over -- a task the Bushies have mostly ignored, despite their rhetoric. Take a look at Fallows' surprising Third Way conclusion, followed by Josh Marshall's trenchant look at the contradiction between the Administration's new-found optimism about the Iraqi army's capacity vs. the grim reality the Fallows article portrays. Rachel Maddow points out today how the Administration is now even claiming credit for withdrawal plans offered by Sen. Joe Biden in an op-ed piece.

Meanwhile, as Seymour Hersh reports in the latest New Yorker, the administration's withdrawal strategy revolves around massive bombing of purported insurgent targets -- potentially selected by Shiite leaders in the Iraqi Army targeting Sunni enemies. That's a sure recipe for long-term stability.

Hersh notes: Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?” another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. “Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”

Fallows offers a sensible alternative, assuming those in power can be persuaded to change their approach to the Iraqi military. He says we will need to give long-term, meaningful support to the Iraqi army to allow us to withdraw without, essentially, leaving a raging civil war -- and, in my view, a terrorist-friendly, Iran-dominated theocracy in our wake. Many liberal commentators will note his headline "Why Iraq Has No Army," while ignoring his conclusions that don't fit easily into the withdraw-now camp:

"Let me suggest a standard for judging endgame strategies in Iraq, given the commitment the United States has already made. It begins with the recognition that even if it were possible to rebuild and fully democratize Iraq, as a matter of political reality the United States will not stay to see it through. (In Japan, Germany, and South Korea we did see it through. But while there were postwar difficulties in all those countries, none had an insurgency aimed at Americans.) But perhaps we could stay long enough to meet a more modest standard.

"What is needed for an honorable departure is, at a minimum, a country that will not go to war with itself, and citizens who will not turn to large-scale murder. This requires Iraqi security forces that are working on a couple of levels: a national army strong enough to deter militias from any region and loyal enough to the new Iraq to resist becoming the tool of any faction; policemen who are sufficiently competent, brave, and honest to keep civilians safe. If the United States leaves Iraq knowing that non-American forces are sufficient to keep order, it can leave with a clear conscience—no matter what might happen a year or two later.

"In the end the United States may not be able to leave honorably. The pressure to get out could become too great. But if we were serious about reconstituting an Iraqi military as quickly as possible, what would we do? Based on these interviews, I have come to this sobering conclusion: the United States can best train Iraqis, and therefore best help itself leave Iraq, only by making certain very long-term commitments to stay.

"Some of the changes that soldiers and analysts recommend involve greater urgency of effort, reflecting the greater importance of making the training succeed. Despite brave words from the Americans on the training detail, the larger military culture has not changed to validate what they do. `I would make advising an Iraqi battalion more career-enhancing than commanding an American battalion,' one retired Marine officer told me. `If we were serious, we'd be gutting every military headquarters in the world, instead of just telling units coming into the country they have to give up twenty percent of their officers as trainers.' ...
After detailing the needed reforms, he winds up:

"In sum, if the United States is serious about getting out of Iraq, it will need to re-consider its defense spending and operations rather than leaving them to a combination of inertia, Rumsfeld-led plans for "transformation," and emergency stopgaps. It will need to spend money for interpreters. It will need to create large new training facilities for American troops, as happened within a few months of Pearl Harbor, and enroll talented people as trainees. It will need to make majors and colonels sit through language classes. It will need to broaden the Special Forces ethic to much more of the military, and make clear that longer tours will be the norm in Iraq. It will need to commit air, logistics, medical, and intelligence services to Iraq—and understand that this is a commitment for years, not a temporary measure. It will need to decide that there are weapons systems it does not require and commitments it cannot afford if it is to support the ones that are crucial. And it will need to make these decisions in a matter of months, not years—before it is too late.

"America's hopes today for an orderly exit from Iraq depend completely on the emergence of a viable Iraqi security force. There is no indication that such a force is about to emerge. As a matter of unavoidable logic, the United States must therefore choose one of two difficult alternatives: It can make the serious changes—including certain commitments to remain in Iraq for many years—that would be necessary to bring an Iraqi army to maturity. Or it can face the stark fact that it has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly."

Josh Marshall shrewdly points out that the Bush administration is covering its own withdrawal plans with partisan rhetoric aimed at painting Democrats as cowards and appeasers:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall November 26, 2005 12:14 AM

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