Helman Guest Op-Ed:
Even Plan B Doesn’t Look Promising in Failed State of Iraq
Ambassador Gerald B. Helman writes:
|There are continuing reports, seemingly based upon authoritative backgrounding out of Baghdad and Washington, suggesting that variations on a “Plan B” are being developed. While support continues to be voiced for the current “surge”, doubt is beginning to be expressed even by military and White House officials that a confident evaluation of the surge is unlikely by the promised deadline of September. It may take longer, perhaps to the end of the year. General Odierno was quite forceful in insisting that a serious evaluation cannot be made until January.
From the military point of view, the surge is evidently not producing the desired results of improving security in Baghdad, and is unlikely to do so under current plans and force levels. After an initial slight lull, the level of violence is back up to pre-surge levels, and then some in the case of US deaths. The political component of the surge, the overriding importance of which has been underscored by General Petraeus, is also stalled. It has failed to bring about any significant reconciliation between contending Iraqi factions nor has it led to progress on key legislation, the adoption of which is supposed to lead to a more stable political environment.
For domestic political consumption, the White House seems to be addressing all of this, at least for now, through its familiar tactics of pushing out the time when success can be expected (originally it was six months from the initiation of the surge, then September sometime) and dampening expectations by predicting the obvious–increased US casualties. In other words, things will get worse before they get better.
Meanwhile, work on a Plan B continues, with the options apparently ranging from elements of the Iraq Study Group Report (reduce US forces, concentrate on training the Iraqi army and force protection and continuing interdiction of al Qaeda) to variations on partition. Most recently, the President and others have suggested establishing a long-term US military base presence in Iraq to provide local and regional stability, citing as an example the continuing US military presence in Korea. (This example is so inept historically and strategically as to cast further doubt on the competence and strategic objectives of the Administration.) Presumably the bases are the three huge installations the Pentagon built a while ago with permanency in mind.
Much of the Plan B planning, as reported, seems to be the product of wishful thinking about the current situation today in Iraq and what realistic options might exist in the 6 months ahead, and beyond leading to U.S. elections. To this observer, given the history of our performance in Iraq, any new plan must be subjected to early and very critical evaluation.
Politically, Iraq today is a failed state. Its writ runs only through part of the Green Zone. It cannot control the use of force domestically nor can it protect its frontiers. Its continuing existence depends upon the US. The US is the occupying power and provides significant financing and what little security exists outside the Green Zone. Baghdad and the rest of the country are under the control of warring factions and militias. Corruption is endemic and overwhelming. The loyalties of the police and army are as suspect as their professional competence. How will any plan B change that? How will the existence of large, permanent US bases in Iraq help the present Government expand its authority and gain legitimacy?
Militarily, it is important to project what might happen if, in six months, the US implements a Plan B whose principal elements consist of a troop drawdown to 100,000 in 2008, dedicated to Iraqi army training, force protection and al Qaeda interdiction. But is there any reason to hope that in six months’ time the Iraqi army will stand tall and demonstrate the competence that the surge was designed to showcase? That the police will be anything other than hopeless? That their loyalties will be directed to their elected government? None of this is very likely, in which case what happens to the US presence in the Green Zone and, indeed, to the Iraqi government that is pretty much confined to the Green Zone? What reason is there to think that a new training regimen, presumably with embedded US trainers (who will be very vulnerable), will be any more successful than what has passed for training during much of the last four years. Will it really take large numbers of US troops in three permanent bases to chase down 1-2,000 El Qaeda? Should it really be the job of the US to defend Iraq against foreign invasions? And who is about to invade (except for maybe the Turks to punish the Kurds)?
To this observer, there is nothing in the suggested Plan B, even if in part based on the Iraq Study Group Report, that would recommend it as an alternative to an announced, scheduled withdrawal from Iraq, that could also incorporate the elements of the Study Group report. Such a schedule would have the virtue of forcing the contending factions in Iraq, and Iraq’s neighbors, to face up to their responsibilities to find a political accommodation, or to face the consequences of their (and our) failures. This is not rocket science; it’s hardball politics in which the US is just one of the pawns that various Iraqi factions are trying to manipulate.
But there remains the question of the permanent bases, a concept now being floated by the Administration but one which must have been in the minds of the White House and our military planners from the time when these massive installations were first projected. Congress should probe this one very carefully and insist that the Administration’s plans should be on the public record. Whatever their purposes, and certainly there has been little candor on the part of the Administration as to what these are, the bases will never be accepted either by the Iraqi people, of whatever faction (except the Kurds). It will violate every concept of independence, national pride and Arab identity that have been the hallmarks of the post-colonial period. Any Iraqi government that supported it would not only fail, but would be despised. Such bases might have the dubious benefit of uniting all Iraqis in opposition. Only a US Administration that expected to be greeted with flowers by the Iraqis could convince itself that those same Iraqis will tolerate such bases and that such bases could survive in hostile territory, with long and endangered supply lines.
Not to be forgotten is that a delay in evaluating the surge, much less the kind of Plan B that seems to be emerging, will impact the domestic political process. There is restiveness in the Republican ranks. The polls are clear that a growing majority of Americans want out. The Republican establishment realizes full well that if the current level of violence continues into next year, with US deaths approaching 5,000 by November 2008, then the GOP will suffer a disastrous defeat in November. Moreover, the Democrats are unlikely to be as accommodating as they were with the last supplemental. It is the budget, and the need to continue financing the war, that will constitute the center of the debate beginning in September. Republicans up for reelection in ’08 will have to fish or cut bait on Iraq. As for Mr. Bush, he still seems to be on track to hand over the entire mess to his successor, including his permanent bases.
Helman “was United States Ambassador to the European Office of the United Nations from 1979 through 1981” and was among the coiners of the phrase “failed states.”