No Good Options in Iraq

by on September 21st, 2004

If the media tear themselves away from the self-destruction of CBS News, we might get to the point in this campaign where both sides can start talking about January 21, 2005 instead of various dates in 1972. Then again, with the situation in Iraq as it is, maybe it will be easier to change the past than to chart a way out of the quagmire of Iraq.

The unfortunate fact is that there are no good options. While the blame in my opinion lies at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I would rather avoid partisan bickering to focus on a non-partisan assessment of the mess we’re in and of the policy options that face us.

First of all, something different has to happen. Even the Bush administration has tacitly admitted that by asking to shift reconstruction money to security purposes. But to determine what course to follow we need to ask what out ultimate objective is. I suggest that it is a stable, safe and free Iraq and a massive reduction of American troop levels. I have yet to hear an American voice object to either regardless of political persuasion.

That being the case, we cannot pull out on January 21. Congressman Kucinich even acknowledged, were he to have been a successful nominee and elected to the presidency, that he’d need 90-days to get the UN involved, etc. Why? Because leaving Iraq without filling the security vacuum American withdrawal would create merely makes things worse. We would leave Iraq a broken nation in civil war. Afghanistan was such a place, and it is from there that Al-Qaeda attacked.

At the other extreme, we can sent more US troops to put down the insurgency. Falluja and a few other cities in the Sunni Triangle are “no-go” areas for US troops (didn’t we “win”?), and these are havens for those who wish us and the current Iraqi government harm. I will defer to the Pentagon on how many more troops would be needed, but if the traditional 10-to-1 ratio for counter-insurgency is what we’re after, another 100,000 US troops wouldn’t be excessive. Without a draft, it is doubtful that the US can commit that many, and even if we can, deploying that many will take time, and then they have to do the fighting. I have no doubt we would win, but I fear the butcher’s bill.

Alternatively, we could get more foreign troops to help. Logically, that sounds good, but who? The UK, Poland, Australia and Italy are in already. Germany’s conscripts aren’t coming for constitutional reasons, and the French, even if they wanted to help out, are rather thinly spread in Africa, Haiti etc. Spain left and won’t be back. Russia can’t afford to help even if it wished to get involved. Chinese troops would mean inviting a communist regime to occupy a country that sits on a substantial portion of the world’s oil – a bad idea even if they decided to help. The Muslim League might be a source of troops, but which side would some of the troops join? Brazil? No, the world community can’t help.

The last option is to build up the ability of the Allawi government to protect itself and its people. This will take time, months if not years. It will require not only weapons and training, but schools, hospitals and an electric grid that works. And 30 years ago, the very same process was called “Vietnamization.” It didn’t work. That doesn’t mean having Iraqis protect themselves can’t work; it just means failure is an option whether we want it to be or not.

There are no other choices that result in a free, stable Iraq and (eventually) reduced US troop levels. Any of these approaches will be expensive, more Americans and Iraqis are going to die regardless of which we choose, and it won’t be over by Christmas, not this year, not next year, nor the year after that.

Jeff Myhre