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Commentary

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


     
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According to President Bush, “I haven’t made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases [in Iraq], and won’t until I hear from a variety of sources, including our own United States military.” While the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former U.S. congressman Lee Hamilton) have not yet been made public, the military’s verdict is already in. Predictably, a study commissioned by chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Marine Corps General Peter Pace, has come up with three options called “go home,” “go big,” and “go long”—which might as well be called the good, the bad, and the ugly, respectively.

The “go home” option calling for quick withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq has been rejected by the military. This should come as no big surprise as the military can-do attitude abhors retreat, which is synonymous with defeat, and has an unfailing belief that victory is possible despite the odds against it. Yet, troop withdrawal is actually the best of the three options. Even if the Pottery Barn rule—you broke it, you own it—applies, reality dictates the United States must admit that it cannot fix what it broke in Iraq. The U.S. military presence in Iraq will not stop the Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian violence or prevent the country from descending into civil war. More American soldiers will die needlessly. And more Iraqis will be killed—according to the U.N., more than 3,700 Iraqis were killed in October, the deadliest month since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, and November is likely to be worse—with the United States blamed for not stopping the violence. Admittedly, going home will not result in a good outcome—the chaos and violence in Iraq will persist—but all that is left is choosing from the best of bad choices.

The worst option is to “go big,” which calls for a significant increase in U.S. troops. This is actually the correct tactical military response, but would require a force of several hundred thousand troops (remember that this was former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki’s assessment and that he was criticized by the Pentagon’s civilian leadership for being “wildly off the mark”) deployed for years, not months, along with a willingness to use harsh and indiscriminate tactics to break the back of the insurgency and quell sectarian violence. However, the price of tactical success would be catastrophic strategic defeat. A larger U.S. ground force in Iraq would signal an infidel occupation of an Islamic country and a war against Islam, creating greater incentive for more Iraqis to join the ranks of the insurgency and more Muslims around the world to side with the radicals. It appears that the Pentagon had enough common sense to reject this option after concluding that there aren’t enough troops.

Curiously, even though the military recognizes that there aren’t enough troops to occupy Iraq, the favored option is to “go long,” which would actually call for a temporary troop increase before reducing—but not completely withdrawing—U.S. forces as Iraqis are trained and take over security responsibilities. In what amounts to “occupation lite,” this is the ugly option and the worst of all worlds. Trying to, as one defense official put it, “go big but short while transitioning to go long” hinges on swift success. But if three years and 140,000 U.S. troops have not been enough to stop the growing violence, how will 20,000 more make a significant difference—either in increasing security or getting the Iraqis to assume greater responsibility for security?

Instead of recognizing that U.S. and Iraqi interests are best served by leaving Iraq, the political and military leadership seem intent on pursuing a quixotic quest. Thus, it is looking more and more likely that they will choose a course of action that resembles getting a little bit pregnant. The proposed “go long” troop increase is insufficient to mount a serious counterinsurgency military effort. But it is more than enough to give Iraqis greater reason to chafe under the yoke of foreign occupation to fuel, rather than dissipate, the insurgency and for Muslims to increase the call for jihad to expel the infidel. The result will be to make an already ugly situation even uglier.


Charles Peña is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute as well as a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, and an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project.

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According to President Bush, “the American people are safer” as a result of invading Iraq. True, Saddam Hussein has been removed from power. But al Qaeda, the group that planned and carried out the attacks on September 11, remains at large. Meanwhile, the White House has conceded that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the attacks. Learn More »»






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