Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fixing Iraq

As President Bush ponders a new or updated strategy for Iraq, he should be listening to folks like Ralph Peters and Jack Keane. A troop surge to stabilize the security situation in and around Baghdad is considered highly likely. HOW we deploy though could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Peters, author and retired lieutenant colonel in military intelligence, argues that the central issue right now is security.

One thing's clear: If we can't enforce security, nothing else matters. So the wisest course of action seems obvious - except to the Washington establishment: Return to a wartime footing.

Focus exclusively on security. Concentrate on doing one thing well. Freeze all reconstruction and aid projects. Halt every program and close every office that doesn't contribute directly to pacifying Iraq.

Empty the Green Zone. Pack off the contractors. Reduce the military's overhead to those elements essential to support combat operations. Make it clear to "our" Iraqis that it's sink-or-swim time. Remove our advisers from any Iraqi unit that can operate marginally without them (and let the Iraqis do security their way without interference).
We need an exclusive focus on the defeat of the foreign terrorists, uncooperative Sunni Arabs and Muqtada al-Sadr's Shia thugs. Our enemies control Iraq with fear. We need to make them fear us more than the population fears them.
It would be obscene to deploy more troops and further strain our military unless we're serious about winning. And all half-measures will fail.

Retired Army General Jack Keane and Frederick Kagan agree. Keane and Kagan argue that the 'surge' in troop strength needs to be 30,000 and 18 months.

We need to cut through the confusion. Bringing security to Baghdad -- the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development -- is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.

The key to the success is to change the military mission -- instead of preparing for transition to Iraqi control, that mission should be to bring security to the Iraqi population. Surges aimed at accelerating the training of Iraqi forces will fail, because rising sectarian violence will destroy Iraq before the new forces can bring it under control.
Of all the "surge" options out there, short ones are the most dangerous. Increasing troop levels in Baghdad for three or six months would virtually ensure defeat. It takes that long for newly arrived soldiers to begin to understand the areas where they operate. Short surges would redeploy them just as they began to be effective.

In addition, a short surge would play into the enemy's hands. Both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias expect the U.S. presence to fade away over the course of 2007, and they expect any surge to be brief. They will naturally go to ground in the face of a short surge and wait until we have left. They will then attack the civilian population and whatever Iraqi security forces remain, knowing them to be easier targets than U.S. soldiers and Marines. They will work hard to raise the level of sectarian violence in order to prove that our efforts have failed.
Clearing and holding the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in the center of Baghdad, which are the keys to getting the overall levels of violence down, will require around nine American combat brigades (27 battalions, in partnership with Iraqi forces, divided among some 23 districts). Since there are about five brigades in Baghdad now, achieving this level would require a surge of at least four additional combat brigades -- some 20,000 combat troops. Moreover, it would be foolhardy to send precisely as many troops as we think we need. Sound planning requires a reserve of at least one brigade (5,000 soldiers) to respond to unexpected developments. The insurgents have bases beyond Baghdad, especially in Anbar province. Securing Baghdad requires addressing these bases -- a task that would necessitate at least two more Marine regiments (around 7,000 Marines).
It is difficult to imagine a responsible plan for getting the violence in and around Baghdad under control that could succeed with fewer than 30,000 combat troops beyond the forces already in Iraq.

It is tempting to imagine that greater use of Iraqi forces could reduce the number of U.S. troops needed for this operation. The temptation must be resisted. We should of course work with the Iraqi government to get as many trained and reliable Iraqi troops as possible into Baghdad, and we should pair our soldiers and Marines with Iraqis as much as we can. But reducing the violence in the Sunni and mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad is the most critical military task the U.S. armed forces face anywhere in the world. We cannot allow that mission to fail simply because some Iraqi units don't show up, aren't at full strength or are less reliable than we had hoped.

The United States faces a dire situation in Iraq because of a history of half-measures. We have always sent "just enough" force to succeed if everything went according to plan. So far nothing has, and there's no reason to believe that it will. Sound military planning doesn't work this way. The only "surge" option that makes sense is both long and large.

My sense is this is it. Our last shot at succeeding in Iraq. Fail now and the what's left of our resolve will drain away and a failure here will resonate as loudly and deeply if not more so as our withdrawal from Vietnam. This President has the resolve, unlike his predecessor, of doing the right thing. The 2006 election is past. Bush has two years and still a chance to salvage the view that introducing a democratic virus in the Middle East could have lasting implications.

Make the tough decision, pacify Iraq, eliminate Moqtada al Sadr as a threat, do the same to any Sunni militant that rises and be prepared for what that will cost.

Mr. President, think of 2028 and not 2008.

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