So, earlier I stated that I was fairly pessimistic about our chances in Iraq. One of the big reasons I’m pessimistic is because of our lack of a victory strategy in Iraq. We seem to be making it up as we go along, and while no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, at least it’s good to have a plan. We’ve been operating without one—needlessly, I think—since the war began.
Why am I doing this? Too many times, we criticize and harp on the failings of others, without going on to say what we would do if we were in the same position. If I’m going to decry the failings of our leadership, it’s only fair that I say what I would do were I to switch places with them.
What do we need to do? The following are some ideas I’ve come up with after careful thought. These are all things that I would do if I were in charge.
Warning: this is a long post.
Increase Troop Strength
This almost goes without saying, but it needs to be said. We cannot accomplish our myriad missions with the numbers we currently have. Currently, we’re tasked with two big missions: quelling the insurgency and securing the borders. We can do either, but not both—and while we’ve struggled heroically to accomplish both of these tasks, increasingly, the struggle is becoming more and more taxing.
So how many troops would do the trick?
Fareed Zakaria, in his latest column, has suggested that 500,000 troops would be needed. While that may be the optimum number, I am extremely skeptical that there will be that many troops—either ours or foreign—in Iraq at any time. Such a deployment of troops would tax most, if not all, of the NATO allies, who rely on small numbers of professional soldiers for their deployable forces. This means that we would end up providing the lion’s share of the force, just as we are now.
So, working with what’s available, what’s the number of troops needed? I’d have to say somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000. If we could get more, that’s great, but I really don’t see it happening, due to the manpower constraints that most of our allies would have to deal with.
How do we get there?
Here’s the politically unpalatable part: the President’s going to have to either mobilize the remainder of the Guard & Reserve force, or implement the draft. In order to tide us through while these additional forces are being mobilized and trained, I’d deploy a combat brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. If at all necessary, and this is a last resort option only, I’d also activate the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Irwin (the NTC’s “OPFOR”). But I really think in between the extension of the 1st Armored Division and the deployment of, say, 1st Brigade, 2ID from Korea, we should be good.
That will provide us with between 10,000 to 20,000 additional soldiers, while the remainder are being mobilized and trained.
Which Guard and Reserve Components would be activated?
Every Guard and Reserve Component which hasn’t already been activated and deployed would be alerted, as well as members of the Individual Ready Reserve, the Standby Reserve, and the Inactive Reserve. Not all of these forces would be deployed over there; but the majority, in all likelihood, would.
The combination Regular, Guard, and Reserve Force numbers about 1.2 million personnel. It should be noted that these are the numbers for the Army; I’m not as aware of what the numbers are for the other services, but the call-up would also involve them.
How would the draft function?
At some point, we have to seriously consider restarting the draft, if only because we’re in dire need of bodies, and I’m not certain that, given the situation in Iraq, enough people will volunteer to join the military. If Iraq is truly the epic struggle that it is, then we need to treat it as such. We cannot wage this war with half-measures, as we’ve been doing. Either we bring the full power and might of our war machine to bear against this enemy, or we might as well quit needlessly tossing lives away in a half-hearted struggle in support of a vague, half-baked notion.
So, that being said, how would we structure the draft, and who would be eligible?
First, all Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, who aren’t already part of the Guard or Reserve, would be eligible. This includes, by the way, women. Other countries conscript their women; I see no reason why we shouldn’t.
The only exemptions to the draft would be people who chose to forego federal student aid for education from the beginning, and single parents with sole custody of their children, who have no other living relative to care for their child.
Second, the draft wouldn’t be entirely military in nature. The military term of conscription would be eighteen months for the basic combat arms and combat support roles (infantry, artillery, armor, admin clerks, cooks), not counting time in training. Skill jobs would require an enlistment for a minimum of three years.
However, if you chose to do so, you could opt for a non-military assignment to the Peace Corps. The catch is that you’d be obliged to stay in for at least two years, serving overseas.
This way, I think, you’d also have personnel available who could participate in the civil reconstruction of Iraq, and jumpstart that process. And the fact that this would seem to be an altruistic gesture, with nary an American profit motive in sight, I think would make a great impression.
Intense Cultural Training
This isn’t as touch-feely as it sounds. Basically, upon arriving in the CENTCOM theatre of operations, troops destined for duty in Iraq receive a five-day course familiarizing them with Iraqi customs and courtesies and the role of religion in the society.
They would also receive a graphic training aid with Arabic phrases on one side, and pictures of weapons and such on the other. Such an aid exists; for whatever reason, it hasn’t been distributed to the vast majority of the troops. I had one, and I found it extremely useful in dealing with people who wanted to give us tips and intelligence.
Mixing it Up With the Locals
For the most part, U.S. forces in Iraq reside in highly fortified compounds, isolated from everyday Iraqi life. I think this is a mistake.
Instead, U.S. forces should move into the towns and villages, reside in them and vigorously patrol the streets on foot around the clock, taking part in everyday Iraqi life. I think one of the biggest problems we face in Iraq is that neither side is familiar with the other. While both may have good intentions towards the other, each is wrapped in mystery and shrouded by fog. Familiarity may breed contempt; but it’s hard to imagine that average Iraqis couldn’t be more contemptous of us than they are now, behind their veiled smiles.
Rather, I think familiarity would breed friendship, as both sides become familiar with each other’s idiosyncracies. And the fact that we would be a highly visible enforcer of law, order, and, most importantly, security, would go a long way in assuaging the fears of ordinary Iraqis.
I can’t say this enough—the biggest impediment to the reconstruction of Iraqi society is the perception that Iraq is rife with chaos and anarchy. True, large parts of it are. But large parts of it aren’t. The problem is that the perception of anarchy is now directly feeding the creation of anarchy, thus creating a vicious cycle of violence.
In addition, patrolling the streets in combination with the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps and the Iraqi Police would allow us to see who the actual and potential troublemakers are in each town, and allow us to gather intelligence on th
eir activities, thus helping us in quelling the insurgency. Instead of reacting to attacks, we would be preventing attacks. This would, in turn, shift the momentum from the insurgents to us, forcing them to spend valuable time evading us, rather than attacking us.
Properly Training Iraqi Security Forces
The biggest problem we have with the ICDC and the IP is that these forces are inadequately trained and screened. The two week training period for the ICDC is woefully short; it needs to be longer, by at least four weeks. This is starting to take place, but it needed to be done way before. The training of these forces cannot accelerated; it must be held to that minimum standard. Why? Well, for a number of reasons, but most importantly, in order to develop a sense of unit cohesion and eliteness.
These are the men—and hopefully, women—who will be tasked with protecting their fellow citizens. As such, they’ll have face perilous situations, where their lives will be in each other’s hands. Therefore, they’re going to need to count on one another for backup, to know that if they’re in a tight spot, their comrades won’t desert them. That’s where unit cohesion comes in. We have it; the Iraqi security forces don’t, and it’s because we’ve failed to instill it in them. That’s one of the big reasons why they’re deserting their posts in the face of adversity.
In addition, the additional training period will allow us to screen those applicants whose backgrounds are unfit for service, such as former secret policemen and members of the Ba’ath Party cadres.
Reconstructing the Iraqi Infrastructure
The Iraqi physical infrastructure, in terms of public works and utilities, is in woeful shape. It doesn’t help that we’ve devoted a lot of money to our companies on the ground, and that much of that money has been, frankly, wasted.
Instead, we should start, as quickly as possible, a crash program to rebuild the public works and utilities. And the first place we should start, courtesy of David Ignatius, is by providing electricity everywhere, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If it takes the commandeering of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to send electrical generators over there, then we should do it. We made a lot of noise about how we restored electricity in Baghdad and its environs to pre-war levels in October; what we’ve been really quiet about is that it hasn’t hit those levels since, though it’s come close, and that the rest of the country hasn’t even reached pre-war levels once. Doing that, on a consistent basis, will serve as a stunning sign to Iraqis that we’re truly committed to restoring Iraqi society.
We also need to start ramping up employment of Iraqis as quickly as possible. One of the biggest reasons gangs and militias like al-Sadr’s Army of the Mehdi are so popular is because their members get paid. Granted, the salaries aren’t the greatest, but it’s better than nothing. What’s really shameful is that companies like Bechtel and Halliburton are flying in people from places like Bangladesh and refusing to hire Iraqis for even the most menial of jobs. We should make it a requirement for American companies that if they’re going to get reconstruction contracts from us, then they have to hire Iraqis.
Dismantling the Militias
The President, in his news conference on Tuesday, referred to al-Sadr’s militia as “illegal”. To which my response was, well, it’s nice to know that the other militias are legal.
Democracy, especially a fragile one like Iraq’s, is incompatible with militias. There are about five or six major militias in Iraq right now, counting al-Sadr’s group. You have the Badr Brigade (affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI); the Dawa Party (which I’ve spoken about before); Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (whose Free Iraqi Forces invaded Iraq with us); and the two Kurdish peshmerga groups (one for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan—Jalal Talabani’s crew, and the other with Massud Barzani, the Kurdistan Democratic Party).
I know that the peshmergas have been enshrined in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL); but that’s a mistake. We need to dismantle the militia groups, and we need to do it now. Having private armies strolling around Iraq (and this is what they are) is just an invitation for disorder, and for the various parties to launch insurrections whenever they don’t get their way. Lest we forget, that’s one of the reasons Weimar Germany ended up becoming Nazi Germany; each party had its own armed band, and it used it to get its way.
The Kurds will be enraged with us, and it may be that they may choose to go their own way over this. If so, we will cross that bridge when we get to it. But militias are incompatible with the lawful exercise of power. And if order is going to be maintained in Iraq, then they have to go.
These are but a few of the ideas that I’ve had, and come across. If we were to use them, I really think that our efforts in Iraq would be successful. But I haven’t mentioned the most important one, and it is this:
We have to give Iraqis a stake in their destiny.
We have to allow them to take ownership of the process, and we have to accept that they’ll disagree with us on several important issues. If we let them do this, the Iraqi experiment in democracy will succeed; if not, it will fail, for it will rightly be seen as an American imposition, not as an Iraqi decision.
Finally, I apologize. Bloggar went nuts posting items, so you’ve seen the same article posted over and over. My apologies. It should be fixed. While I do feel strongly about what I write, I don’t feel so strongly about it that it has to be inflicted upon you guys over and over!