Sunday, December 17, 2006

Another Faith-Based Plan for Victory; These Idiots NEVER Learn

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Did I say we are governed by morons? Read Fred Barnes's column, "We're Going To Win: The President Finally Has A Plan for Victory":

It turns out you only have to attend a White House Christmas party to find out where President Bush is headed on Iraq. One guest who shook hands with Bush in the receiving line told him, "Don't let the bastards get you down." Bush, slightly startled but cheerful, replied, "Don't worry. I'm not." The guest followed up: "I think we can win in Iraq." The president's reply was emphatic: "We're going to win." Another guest informed Bush he'd given some advice to the Iraq Study Group, and said its report should be ignored. The president chuckled and said he'd made his position clear when he appeared with British prime minister Tony Blair. The report had never mentioned the possibility of American victory. Bush's goal in Iraq, he said at the photo-op with Blair, is "victory."

Now Bush is ready to gamble his presidency on a last-ditch effort to defeat the Sunni insurgency and establish a sustainable democracy in Iraq. He is prepared to defy the weary wisdom of Washington that it's too late, that the war in Iraq is lost, and that Bush's lone option is to retreat from Iraq as gracefully and with as little loss of face as possible. Bush only needed what his press secretary, Tony Snow, called a "plan for winning." Now he has one.

It's not to be found among the 79 recommendations of Jim Baker's Iraq Study Group. The ISG report was tossed aside by the White House. Nor was the scheme leaked by the Pentagon last week ever close to being adopted. That plan would pull thousands of American troops out of a combat role and turn them into trainers of the Iraqi army. The result would be increased sectarian violence and an Iraqi army not yet equipped to quash the swelling insurgency-leading to a gap of time in which there would likely be a further--probably fatal--collapse of civic order in Baghdad, and then elsewhere in Iraq.

Last Monday Bush was, at last, briefed on an actual plan for victory in Iraq, one that is likely to be implemented. Retired General Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the Army, gave him a thumbnail sketch of it during a meeting of five outside experts at the White House. The president's reaction, according to a senior adviser, was "very positive." Authored by Keane and military expert Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, the plan (which can be read at is well thought-out and detailed, but fundamentally quite simple. It is based on the idea--all but indisputable at this point--that no political solution is possible in Iraq until security is established, starting in Baghdad. The reverse--a bid to forge reconciliation between majority Shia and minority Sunni--is a nonstarter in a political environment drenched in the blood of sectarian killings.

Why would the Keane-Kagan plan succeed where earlier efforts failed? It envisions a temporary addition of 50,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. The initial mission would be to secure and hold the mixed Baghdad neighborhoods of Shia and Sunni residents where most of the violence occurs. Earlier efforts had cleared many of those sections of the city without holding them. After which, the mass killings resumed. Once neighborhoods are cleared, American and Iraqi troops in this plan would remain behind, living day-to-day among the population. Local government leaders would receive protection and rewards if they stepped in to provide basic services. Safe from retaliation by terrorists, residents would begin to cooperate with the Iraqi government. The securing of Baghdad would be followed by a full-scale drive to pacify the Sunni-majority Anbar province.
The Keane-Kagan plan is not revolutionary. Rather, it is an application of a counterinsurgency approach that has proved to be effective elsewhere, notably in Vietnam. There, Gen. Creighton Abrams cleared out the Viet Cong so successfully that the South Vietnamese government took control of the country. Only when Congress cut off funds to South Vietnam in 1974 were the North Vietnamese able to win.

Before Bush announces his "new way forward" in Iraq in early January, he wants to be assured of two things. The first is that his plan can succeed. Initial evaluations of the Keane-Kagan plan at the Pentagon and elsewhere in the government have been positive. Alone among proposals for Iraq, the new Keane-Kagan strategy has a chance to succeed. Bush's second concern is to avert an explosion of opposition on Capitol Hill. Because this plan offers a credible prospect of winning in Iraq, moderate Democrats and queasy Republicans, the White House thinks, will be inclined to stand back and let Bush give it a shot.

The sooner Bush orders the plan into action, the better chances are that next Christmas he'll be telling White House guests that winning in Iraq is not just a goal. It could actually be happening.

One tiny little problem: Where are the 50,000 troops going to come from?

Also, about that Vietnam comparison: Maha asks, Is Barnes talking about the same Vietnam war some of us (like Maha, and me) lived through?

Now, it is true that Congress reduced appropriations to South Vietnam in September 1974, but Barnes's notion that the "counterinsurgency approach" used in Vietnam had been a model of success until then is, um, a little off. Most historians believe the war was bleeped up beyond hope of redemption by 1968.

Those of us old enough to remember Vietnam also remember being told, by both Johnson and Nixon, that escalation -- stepping up the war effort with more troops or more bombs -- would eventually bring the war to a happy resolution.

It didn't. But more importantly, the Vietnam experience should have taught us that not all problems require a military solution.

Maha also links to an article Robert Scheer wrote back in November, in which he argues convincingly that the "more bombs, more troops" approach the U.S. used in Vietnam failed there, and would fail in Iraq as well:

This past week found the President sitting before a bust of the victorious Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, seemingly unaware that the United States lost its war with the Communist-led country. Having long and vehemently denied parallels between the invasions of Vietnam and Iraq, he nevertheless admitted now to seeing one.

"Yes," Bush said. "One lesson is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is ... just going to take a long period of time to — for the ideology that is hopeful, and that's an ideology of freedom, to overcome an ideology of hate.... We'll succeed, unless we quit."

Bush seems not to have noticed that we succeeded in Vietnam precisely because we did quit the military occupation of that nation, permitting an ideology of freedom to overcome one of hate. Bush's rhetoric is frighteningly reminiscent of Richard Nixon's escalation and expansion of the Vietnam War in an attempt to buy an "honorable" exit with the blood of millions of Southeast Asians and thousands of American soldiers. In the end, a decade of bitter fighting did not prevent an ignominious U.S. departure from Saigon.

Now, however, Vietnam is at peace with its neighbors and poses no security threat to the United States. Many of the "boat people" have returned as investors, and successive American Presidents have made visits to the second fastest-growing economy in Asia. While Vietnam is still run by its Communist Party, eventually post-war leaders on both sides have accepted that peace is practical.

The lesson of Vietnam is not to keep pouring lives and treasure down a dark and poisonous well, but to patiently use a pragmatic mix of diplomacy and trade with even our ideological competitors.

The United States dropped more bombs on tiny Vietnam than it unloaded on all of Europe in World War II, only hardening Vietnamese nationalist resolve. Hundreds of thousands of troops, massive defoliation of the countryside, "free fire zones," South Vietnamese allies, bombing the harbors ... none of it worked. Yet, never admitting that our blundering military presence fueled the native nationalist militancy we supposedly sought to eradicate, three U.S. Presidents — two of them Democrats — lied themselves into believing victory was around some mythical corner.

While difficult for inveterate hawks to admit, the victory for normalcy in Vietnam, celebrated by Bush last week, came about not despite the U.S. withdrawal but because of it.

Oh, and let's take another look at that plan for after the terrorists have been "cleared out":

... Once neighborhoods are cleared, American and Iraqi troops in this plan would remain behind, living day-to-day among the population. Local government leaders would receive protection and rewards if they stepped in to provide basic services. Safe from retaliation by terrorists, residents would begin to cooperate with the Iraqi government. ...

Kagan and Keane have really plotted this all out, haven't they? They know exactly how the Iraqis will react as each step in the plan falls into place. Well, I hate to rain on their parade, but this plan sounds a bit like "the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators and shower us with flowers" fantasy before the war began. And we all know how that turned out.

It just astonishes me that these supposedly pragmatic and smart military types can be so incredibly simple-minded and naive. "American and Iraqi troops would remain behind, living day to day among the population"? Tell us again how that's going to work? Will they rent or buy? Will the neighborhood residents invite the troops to stay in their homes? Will the troops quarter themselves in private homes and tell the residents to leave or make the best of it? I mean, I just don't get this. "Living day to day among the population" implies a certain level of trust. For something like that to work, Iraqis living in these neighborhoods would have to trust the Iraqi police and the U.S. troops. And how likely would that be, after three years of arbitrary, random house to house searches, ransacking homes, breaking down doors, earning a reputation for being trigger-happy cowboys who don't take any real care to avoid killing civilians?

Again, just as we saw the first time, this plan assumes that everything will go right. Where's the Plan B? Same place it was in March, 2003. Nowhere.

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