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Comments by YACCS
Monday, October 30, 2006

Give me a fucking break


The drawdown option: It is past time to confront reality. To avoid total defeat, we must reduce and redeploy our troops and nudge the Iraqis toward a deal. Here's how.
By Fareed Zakaria

Nov. 6, 2006 issue - BY 1952, the last year of his presidency, Harry Truman recognized that the victory he had hoped for was no longer possible in Korea. U.S. forces were not losing, but they were not winning, either. Instead they were caught up in a vast, bloody and expensive holding operation. Two thirds of the American public disapproved of the war. Truman had hoped that peace talks, underway since July 1951, would yield results, but his team was negotiating under constraints. Republicans were eager to criticize the Democrats for being soft on the communists. Others, even Democrats, asked how they could justify the deaths of 50,000 U.S. troops without a clear win. Many, including South Korea's President Syngman Rhee, had not given up on the dream of a unified Korea that would be an ally in the war against communism.

Truman's successor, Dwight Eisenhower, as a legendary general, had enormous freedom to maneuver. He used it, ending new military offensives, conceding several key points to the North Koreans and the Chinese. By some accounts, he also threatened to use nuclear weapons. On July 27, 1953, the parties to the war signed a peace treaty—all parties, that is, except the South Koreans, who believed the deal amounted to a sellout.
........................................

So what should the United States do? First of all, Washington has to make clear to the Iraqi leaders that its continued presence in the country at current troop levels is not sustainable without some significant moves on their part.

Iraqi leaders must above all decide whether they want America there. Perhaps the most urgent need is for them to help build political support for the continued deployment of U.S. forces. Right now the massive U.S. presence is allowing Iraq's leaders a free ride. With the exception of the Kurds, many of them play a nasty game. They publicly denounce the actions of U.S. soldiers to win popularity, and then, more quietly, assent to America's continued involvement. As a result, the proportion of Iraqis who now support attacks on U.S. troops has risen to a breathtaking 61 percent. The Iraqi people's frustration with the occupation is largely the result of its ineffectiveness, the lack of security and jobs, and abuses like Abu Ghraib. But those past errors cannot be undone. Iraqis must also realize that we are where we are, and that they can have either a country with U.S. troops or greater chaos without.

Iraq's Parliament should thus publicly ask American troops to stay. Its leaders should explain to their constituents why the country needs U.S. forces. Without such a public affirmation, the American presence will become politically untenable in both Iraq and the United States.

Next, Iraqis must forge a national compact. The government needs to make swift and high-profile efforts to bring the sectarian tensions to a close and defang the militias, particularly the Mahdi Army. The longer Iraqi leaders wait, the more difficult it will be for all sides to compromise. There are many paths to help Iraq return to normalcy; jobs need to be created, electricity supplied regularly, more oil produced and exported. But none of that is possible without a secure environment, which in turn cannot be achieved without a political solution to Iraq's sectarian strife.

There is one shift that the United States itself needs to make: we must talk to Iraq's neighbors about their common interest in security and stability in Iraq. None of these countries—not even Syria and Iran—would benefit from the breakup of Iraq, which could produce a flood of refugees and stir up their own restive minority populations. Our regional gambit might well lead to nothing. But not trying it, in the face of so few options, reflects a bizarrely insular and ideological obstinacy.

Unfortunately, there's a strong possibility that these changes will not be made in the next few months. At that point the United States should begin taking measures that lead to a much smaller, less intrusive presence in Iraq, geared to a more limited set of goals. Starting in January 2007, we should stop trying to provide basic security in Iraq's cities and villages. U.S. units should instead become a rapid-reaction force to secure certain core interests.

We can explain to the Iraqi leadership that such a force structure will help Iraqis take responsibility for their own security. Currently we have 144,000 troops deployed in Iraq at a cost of more than $90 billion a year. That is simply not sustainable in an open-ended way. I would propose a force structure of 60,000 men at a cost of $30 billion to $35 billion annually—a commitment that could be maintained for several years, and that would give the Iraqis time to come together, in whatever loose form they can, as a nation.

True, as we draw down, violence will increase in many parts of the country. One can only hope that will concentrate the minds of leaders in Iraq. The Shia government will get its chance to try to fight the insurgency its way. The Sunni rebels can attempt to regain control of the country. And perhaps both sides will come more quickly to the conclusion that the only way forward is a political deal. But until there is such a change of heart, the United States should stick to more limited goals.

The core national-security interests of the United States in Iraq are now threefold: first, to prevent Anbar province from being taken over by Qaeda-style jihadist groups that would use it as a base for global terrorism; second, to ensure that the Kurdish region retains its autonomy; third, to prevent or at least contain massive sectarian violence in Iraq, as both a humanitarian and a security issue. Large-scale bloodletting could easily spill over Iraq's borders as traumatized and vengeful refugees flee to countries like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Historically, such population movements have caused trouble for decades to come.

These interests are achievable with fewer forces. President Bush is fond of warning, "If we leave Iraq, they will follow us home." This makes no sense. Qaeda terrorists from Iraq could have made their way to America at any point in the last three years. In fact, Iraq's borders are more porous today than they have ever been. If a terrorist wanted to inflict harm on U.S. civilians, he could drive across Anbar into Syria, then hop a plane to New York or Washington, D.C. Does the president really believe that because we're in Iraq, terrorists have forgotten that we're also in America? Here's what we really need to worry about doing:

Battle Al Qaeda. In fact, the fight in places like Anbar is largely not a jihadist crusade against America, but a Sunni struggle for control of the country. The chances of Iraq's being taken over by a Qaeda-style group are nonexistent. Some 85 percent of the population (the Shia and Kurds) are violently opposed to such a group. And polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Sunnis dislike Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The real jihadists in Iraq are a small and unpopular band that relies on terror and violence to gain strength. They do not have heavy weapons—tanks, armored vehicles—and cannot hold territory for long. Were a deal between the Shia and the Sunni to be signed, Al Qaeda would be marginalized within months. In the meantime, U.S. Special Forces could harass and chase Qaeda terrorists just as they do in Afghanistan today.

Secure Kurdistan. The Iraqi Kurdish region is the one unambiguous success story of the Iraq war. It is stable and increasingly prosperous. Its politics are more closed and corrupt than most realize—the place is essentially carved up into two one-party states—but it has aspirations to become more market-oriented and more democratic. Perhaps most crucially, it is a Muslim region in the Arab world that wants to be part of the modern world, not blow it up. The simplest way for the United States to ensure the security of Kurdistan would be to give it a security guarantee.

There are various proposals to redeploy U.S. forces in the region. Beyond a token force, this seems unnecessary. The troops would be far from the problem areas of Iraq. And what would their mission be? To stop Kurdish secession? To get involved in battles between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish Army? Kurdistan can be defended quite easily with a political guarantee. And Kurdish leaders seem to recognize that, as with Taiwan, their de facto independence depends on their not demanding de jure independence.

Prevent a bloodbath. This is the most difficult task. The United States will not be able to stop all sectarian fighting in Iraq. It cannot do so even today. Our goal must be to ensure that any such violence remains localized and limited, and that national institutions like the Army and police work to stop it rather than participate. That will require some ability to control movement along Iraq's roads and highways. It will also require monitoring the Army and police. The strategy of pairing Iraqi Army units with U.S. advisers has worked well thus far. Iraqi forces don't fight superbly in the presence of Americans, but they fight much better and more professionally. Most important, they tend not to commit major human-rights abuses when we are around.

Draw down troops and ramp up advisers. To preserve these interests, the United States should begin drawing down its troop levels, starting in January 2007. In one year, we should shrink from the current 144,000 to a total of 60,000 soldiers, some 44,000 of them stationed in four superbases outside Baghdad, Balad, Mosul and Nasi-riya. This would provide a rapid-reaction force that could intervene to secure any of the core interests of the United States when they are threatened. To preserve the basic security of Iraq and prevent anarchy, U.S. troops must also act as the spine of the new Iraqi Army and police force. American advisers should massively expand their current roles in both organizations, going from the current level of 4,000 Americans to at least 16,000, embedding an American platoon (30 to 40 men) in virtually every Iraqi fighting battalion (600 men).

This plan might not work. And if it does not, the United States will confront the more painful question of what to do in the midst of even greater violence and chaos. The Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack is already working on a plan to address just such a worst-case scenario, in which U.S. forces establish "catchment basins" along the borders of Iraq to stop massive refugee flows. But there is also the possibility that Iraq's leaders will begin to face up to their challenges, move the country toward reconciliation and build up the capacities of their state. Civil strife tends not to go on forever. A new nation and a new state might well emerge in Iraq. But its birth will be a slow, gradual process, taking years. The most effective American strategy, at this point, is one that is sustainable for just such a long haul.

The Iraq war has had its achievements. A brutal dictator who tyrannized his people (killing about 500,000 of them), attacked his neighbors and for decades sought dangerous weapons is gone. One part of the country, Kurdistan, is indeed turning into a promising society. The many strains of Arab politics are negotiating for space in Iraq, through political parties and the press, in a way that one sees nowhere else in the region. But these achievements must now be consolidated, or they too will be at risk.

The lesson of Korea, where more than 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed to this day, is not that America should withdraw from Iraq completely. But to have any chance of lasting success, we must give up our illusions, scale back our ambitions, ensure that the worst does not happen. Then perhaps time will work for us for a change.
Arrgh.

My comments are in the next post because of the length here

posted by Steve @ 2:20:00 AM

2:20:00 AM

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