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July 10, 2006

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I think "pray" sounds like a really good third choice right about now, Hilzoy.

God help us all.

"Really, what else is there to do but scream or weep?"

Om.

Om.

Om.

I am a Bodhisattva.

Drink. A lot.

At this point, the President should take to drink again, too; and if he's lucky, History might regard his life as tragic instead of merely contemptible.

Conversely, we could make a tough decision and either agree that we're going to do what it takes to fix the problem or bug out and wish the Iraqis luck.

Fixing the problem would probably require an increase in American and British presence of at least twice what we have there now. It would also mean we'd have to go into the tough areas, lock them down, and hold them, rather than clearing one area but allowing the enemy to move down the road. Declare martial law, cordon the trouble spots and then clear them completely. Lots of casualties, both military and civilian, and lots of unhappy people being forced from their homes. Things have been allowed to deteriorate to such a degree that it would require a very firm hand to get things under control again. That's what the Iraqis are going to have to do once we leave, if we fail to do it for them.

If we're not willing to do that, then there's very little we can do in the near term (6-12 months) to fix the problem. Longer term our alternative is to train lots of good Iraqi troops so they can do what we can't or won't when we leave.

9-11

Andrew: one of the things I particularly look forward to discussing with you here is WTF to do. I have always felt that if there were a way to fix the problem, and (big and) I believed that that policy as implemented by this administration would work, I'd be for it. I completely accept the Pottery Barn rule, and completely reject the idea that if you were against the invasion, you somehow have to be against our continued presence in Iraq. That doesn't follow at all, I think.

I take the risk of regional war very seriously. And that would be a complete nightmare.

My basic view, for now, is that we should draw down pretty drastically, leaving in place enough forces to be able to serve as some sort of deterrent to e.g. a civil war involving large groups of combatants facing off against one another in an actual battle. My reasoning is that all we are now accomplishing is keeping some sort of lid on -- not, as daily events make clear, a very good lid, but a lid of some sort; and that there is (a) in all likelihood no course of action available to us that would actually produce a good outcome, and (b) almost certainly none that would produce such an outcome if implemented by this administration.

But I hate saying this, because I think that having invaded, we are responsible for leaving something decent in Iraq. I do not think that we will, and so I'm advocating cutting our losses, basically. But the fact that this is (it seems to me) the best we can do now is to our shame.

And I think I differ from some other liberal bloggers in thinking that there was a way to do it better. I think that first impressions matter a lot, and that had we handled things very, very differently in the first few months, we would have had a decent chance of things turning out at least OK. There was a while when Iraqis were hanging back, figuring out what to make of us; and (it seems to me) we did very little to take advantage of that window.

But obviously I don't really know what I'm talking about here, which is why I'm really looking forward to what you have to say about this (and lots of other things.)

Really, what else is there to do but scream or weep?

What a totally loser-defeatist thing to say.

And this from the President who was reelected in large part because he convinced a lot of voters that he alone could be trusted to be serious about the war on terror.

Demagoguery's proudest hour, i'm sure.

One international official told me of reports among his staff that a 15-year-old girl had been beheaded and a dog's head sewn on her body in its place; and of a young child who had had his hands drilled and bolted together before being killed.

hilzoy,

I think you're dead-on about our missed opportunities at the start. If we had heeded the general's initial estimates and gone into Iraq with a force of 350,000 and a plan to occupy it, I think we could have avoided many of the problems we've seen since then. Despite the claims that the insurgents are eager to die, the preferred engagement technique they use is 'spray and pray,' sticking a weapon around a corner or over a wall and firing blindly, which suggests to me that they have plenty of the old self-preservation instinct still intact. If we'd gone in, locked the major cities down, and made it clear that if you broke the rules you'd be arrested if you were lucky and shot if you weren't, the eagerness of people to pick up a rifle would have been sharply reduced, in my opinion.

And with order in place, I think placing a new government in operation would have been much, much easier. But now we've allowed to let things get out of hand, which means we might have to be a lot more ruthless to get it under control now than was necessary immediately following the invasion.

There's an Army rule of thumb that says a new commander should always start off as a hardass, because you can always relax but it's very hard to get tougher once people know you. That lesson applies to Iraq as well.

Andrew,

I've found that that lesson also applies to teaching.

Ted

Ted,

Good point. I suspect it applies in a great many endeavors, actually.

"I completely accept the Pottery Barn rule, and completely reject the idea that if you were against the invasion, you somehow have to be against our continued presence in Iraq. That doesn't follow at all, I think."

Paging Nell.

These numbers are stunning. We are talking about a country with a population of 26 million, about 9% of the US.

"Victory in Iraq would take care of that."

But, but, but... the Decider hadn't made the decision to go to war at that point!

Really, what else is there to do but scream or weep?

Send money to Dems with a shot to defeat R incumbents. No guarantee of anything, but without a takeover of at least one house, alternate weeping / screaming / prayer will be even more frequent.

I might also say that this little anecdote ought to be helpful in getting across to still-waking-up-voters that the Insane Clown Posse they voted to keep around in 2004 is completely incompetent at protecting this country.

My personal (management) style is the opposite and I have to admit that the one time it became a serious issue at work I did later wish I had started by being tough. My error led to an extremely difficult situation and we never really did fully recover.

Andrew, welcome and I look forward to reading your posts and the comments. I haven't had a chance yet (a little more busy at work -- good news but alas it cuts the time available for ObWi).

Fixing the problem would probably require an increase in American and British presence of at least twice what we have there now.

The British won't be around much longer. Where are you going to get all those American troops?

Hilzoy, do you support permanent U.S. bases in Iraq? Because that's where your proposal leads.

I have never said that anyone opposed to the war must be for leaving now. But a tough-minded look at the situation has made it clear that there has been no chance for any sort of "success" in Iraq since the summer of 2003. Since then, all options have been terrible, with some more terrible than others.

I believe we chose just about the worst: to degrade our military, inflame the Muslim and Arab world, ignore real security in this country, and thrash around blindly in Iraq at a cost of more than a hundred thousand Iraqi lives.

The goal of the Cheney-Bush administration was bases, and it remains bases. High-flown talk about freedom and sovereignty is utter crap.

Less hell.

I return to the US Civil War. We americans (well, actually, a small minority, but sufficiently large to sweep the rest along) decided that some things were worth fighting for. No occupation of DC by the British was going to forestall this nation figuring out, the hard way, whether slavery was part of the union or not.

It seems to me that a critical mass of iraqis have reached a similar conclusion. They, not we, are going to decide, the hard way, just how much of a union they want to have.

The best the US can do at this point is withdraw to Kuwait and make sure that the war does not spread.

Christmas,

There are currently ~135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq (actually, I think less than that now). The active Army includes ~500,000 troops. Add in the Marines and it's possible, albeit very painful, to put enough troops into the country to put the plan into operation.

Let it be said, however, that's not the plan I advocate. But it is about the only thing we could do that would have a reasonable hope of trimming the violence to reasonable levels.

"Really, what else is there to do but scream or weep?"

I have seen no evidence that the Bush administration is considering any significant change in policy. I see nothing except the degradation of the military that is pushing meaningfully (protesters,allies, neighbours) toward a change, and evidentally the damage to the army isn't enough. I do not see a unified Democratic Party that could force a change, even after winning Congress.

I do see an escalation of pressure on Iran.

I am very tired of options and alternatives being suggested to the Bush administration. They obviously are not listening.

Scream & Weep. Keep very good records in case anyone wants evidence someday. I could talk about the responsibilities of an occupying nation, etc, but no one cares. There will be no consequences, for Bush, and apparently none for those who support him.

Watch in shame, do not look away. This belongs to us all.

Hilzoy: Really, what else is there to do but scream or weep?

Nothing. Well, blog about it, but you know that. Also, I find learning how to cook time-consuming yet delicious food very therapeutic, but that may be just me.

Andrew: Conversely, we could make a tough decision and either agree that we're going to do what it takes to fix the problem or bug out and wish the Iraqis luck.

"Do what it takes to fix the problem" is a nice idea: I would also like a pony.

"Bug out and wish the Iraqis luck" will undoubtedly mean more Iraqis survive to figure out what they're going to do with their country now the US broke it.

Since putting half the military in Iraq really doesn't seem like a feasible option, what do you advocate if you're not advocating a withdrawal?

Actually, "bug out" is also a "and I would like a pony" suggestion - Bush won't leave until it's electorally advantageous to his party to do so, no matter how many people die as a result.

Jes,

I disagree that stopping the violence is impossible. It's just very difficult. From a political standpoint it may not be possible, but from a practical standpoint it's doable.

Christmas,

I'm working on that. I hope to have a post up on it tomorrow.

Nell: "Hilzoy, do you support permanent U.S. bases in Iraq?" -- No. I do not think we should stay there indefinitely, and I do not think we should act as though we plan to stay indefinitely.

Here's the last time I stated my actual views about what to do at length.

Andrew: I disagree that stopping the violence is impossible. It's just very difficult. From a political standpoint it may not be possible, but from a practical standpoint it's doable.

From a practical standpoint it is not doable, as the Bush administration is in power till January 2009. From an ideal standpoint it might well have been doable - indeed, it might never have begun - but the Bush administration was in power, and remained in power after 2nd November 2004, at which point the only thing left to do is scream and weep.

People keep using this phrase "full-blown civil war" as if it's some dark future possibility and not, you know, something that's going on right now. How exactly would civil war in Iraq differ from what we have right now, where Sunnis and Shiites are regularly killing each other while the U.S. military fights both Sunni and Shiite militias?

There's this notion that if we withdraw something unspeakably terrible will happen. And it's certainly possible that it will. But it sure looks like it's happening anyway, and given that most of our troops' efforts are spent on self-defense, it's hard to see how the absence of the US occupation will make things significantly worse. Given that the persistent Sunni complaint has been the presence of American troops in the first place, it's always possible that getting out might actually help. Why we insist on prolonging an occupation which has produced little more than atrocity is utterly beyond me.

Given that the persistent Sunni complaint has been the presence of American troops in the first place, it's always possible that getting out might actually help.

That's a good point. We don't know how many insurgents might hang up their rifles if the U.S. leaves, but it's a non-trivial number.

Christmas: the phrase 'full-blown civil war' is probably somewhat misleading. I think that civil wars come on a spectrum of increasing horribleness, and that while what's going on is really, really horrible, it could get much worse. For one thing, it really could start to involve pitched battles. For another, it could bring in neighboring armies. I tend to think that the first makes the second a lot more likely. And that would, indeed, be a lot worse.

That's what I meant.

I think it's quite possible that it will get much worse. But I haven't seen much evidence that the US presence in Iraq is doing much to prevent that.

"We don't know how many insurgents might hang up their rifles if the U.S. leaves, but it's a non-trivial number."

Insurgents I presume means Sunnis, and not Sadr Mehdi army. A whole lot of shooting goin round.

If the U.S. leaves, and becomes relatively uninvolved, I think the Sunnis can win. Whatever winning means, probably control of Baghdad and a larger than proportional share of oil and jobs. I think the wider Sunni community is more determined and patient than Iran and the Shia community, and the poor Kurds. Given years or decades the Sunni will regain control. They won't quit.

"For another, it could bring in neighboring armies."

I cannot imagine that happening. The Saudi Air Force bombing Najaf? Iranian forces crossing the border? They won't, and won't need to. The neighbours will support factions and militias indefinitely. The Arab League can outspend Iran. Sunnis win.

Add in the Marines and it's possible, albeit very painful, to put enough troops into the country to put the plan into operation.

As you of all people should know, Andrew, the "very painful" aspect of this revolves around the fact that by doing so we would be deploying either people who have just come off of hellishly long rotations, or the people who are supposed to be relieving the ones who are there now.

Either option results in there being no reserves or relief troops to rotate out those in theater. Our army will be broken and battle-weary within a year, if not sooner.

The only real alternative to this that provides the necessary number of troops is a draft. A new president /might/ be able to make it happen with a national call to service, along with a boost in pay for our soldiers that makes their salaries competitive with the civilian sector. But I have no faith in this administration's ability to not screw it up.

Whatever winning means, probably control of Baghdad and a larger than proportional share of oil and jobs.

The Ba'ath party doesn't have any of the heavy weaponry that they did in 1991, the last time they crushed Iraq's Shi'ites. Given their lack of heavy equipment, how could "the Sunnis" (which is itself far to simple a label) conquer more than a rump state in Al Anbar and parts of Baghdad?

Bob McManus: the poor Kurds.

They're not victims, at least not any more so than other Iraqis, and I'd say to a great extent less so.

The Kurds have been driving Arab and Turkmen Iraqis out of Kirkuk. The ruling parties have fused into one, quite repressive party that controls the regional government (with many offices that parallel the Iraqi central government, making them de facto independent). They're also cutting their own oil deals.

"The Ba'ath party doesn't have any of the heavy weaponry that they did in 1991"

We are presuming no American help.

I think Juan Cole once said the Sunnis will simply take what they want from the Shia, including any available tanks.

I was thinking more along the lines of decapitation/assassination, bombings, terrorism until the Shia wore out. I do not think Iran will back their clients as long and as far as the opposition. I am looking at centuries of history, and not considering it irrelevant.

But mostly I think the Americans will provide just enough support to the Shia to keep Iraq a failed state.

"They're not victims, at least not any more so than other Iraqis, and I'd say to a great extent less so."

The Kurds, or at least the warlords, are not perfect people. But they many more enemies than friends, and their friends have a very bad track record.

Bob,

The thing is, if you look at some of the nastier Shi'ite groups (like, f'rex, the Mahdi Army), a lot of their rank and file have experience in the Ba'ath party. I certainly think that given the Mahdi Army's behavior over the last couple of days that they could be just as ruthlessly evil as the Ba'athists.

Andrew, I'll share with you my favorite line on Iraq. Mubarak was on Charlie Rose a couple years back, and said that before the invasion, he'd said to President Bush: 'Remember, Saddam didn't make Iraq, Iraq made Saddam.'

Not a member of the Mubarak fan club, but I'd take his analysis of Middle Eastern societies over any hundred starry-eyed neocons you can name.

What To Do in Iraq

CFR/Foreign Affairs July/Aug '06 Roundtable:Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufman, Leslie Gelb, Stephen Biddle pontificate at excruciating length. FWIW.

Bob M: interesting. I agree with Leslie Gelb.

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