Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Whither Iraq

We've heard the Iraq Study Group's opinion, and President Bush's response.

Now we get an elaboration of the latter: Bush will not be rushed into a decision.

Although the White House had initially suggested that Bush would deliver his speech on Iraq strategy before Christmas, he has decided to delay it until early next year.

Defending that decision, Bush said, "I will not be rushed into making a difficult decision ... a necessary decision."

Given Bush's stubborness and perceived inability to acknowledge his mistakes in Iraq, I can understand why such a statement would raise alarm bells that Bush will attempt to ignore reality and simply keep doing what he's been doing.

But those concerns are misplaced. First, Bush is right: important decisions should be made deliberately, not rushed. After all, it was a desire to act quickly while looking tough and decisive that led Congress to rush through the Patriot Act without proper deliberation, for instance.

More importantly, though, is that Republicans would probably string Bush up themselves if "deliberation" turned into foot-dragging and inaction. Change must come: it is up to Bush to decide if he wants to lead the charge or get run over by it.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is preparing to weigh in on Iraq, and the LA Times reports that it increasingly favors "Go big."

Strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.

Of course, troop constraints mean "go big" would really be "go sort of large", with something south of 40,000 new troops. And even that would only be sustainable for a year or so. The plan also calls for increasing the size of the military by 20,000 soldiers, but recruiting and training timetables mean that wouldn't help much in the short term, and it wouldn't make a gigantic difference in the ability to sustain force levels.

And never mind the near-complete lack of public support for such a move. Even the military is sharply divided over the idea.

I also can't help asking: if more troops were the answer (and IMO, they were), why is this plan only being put forward now? Shouldn't we have sent in more troops long ago, when they still could have made a serious difference?

Given the risky nature of going big or doubling down or whatever it will eventually be called, any such plan must also include yardsticks for success, with a plan to call it off if the objectives are not being met. Otherwise we risk an open-ended, ever-growing commitment like we had in Vietnam, where we kept sending more and more troops because nobody wanted to be the one who "lost" Vietnam. The result, beyond the additional lives and money lost, was a shattered military and the emergence of a risk-averse national psyche.

But at least we've now got the debate bookended by what I've long called for: "get serious or get out." At this point in the war I favor the latter, but if we choose the former and go about it intelligently, I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm sure the military-industrial complex is crossing their fingers too for the latter "go big" approach. Bomb and bullet makers rejoice; the "defense" industry keeps on chugging.

12/14/2006 12:52 PM  

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