Before I go into what I think we need to do to secure a victory in Iraq, let me say that the news from Najaf is increasingly better and better:

az-Zaman reports that Muqtada al-Sadr has accepted a solution of the problems between him and the Coalition on the basis of a deal. It would provide for the senior ayatollahs to issue a ruling or fatwa dissolving the Army of the Mahdi, Muqtada’s militia. Muqtada surrender to the grand ayatollahs and agree to have Abdul Karim al-Unzi (an official of the Da`wa Party) negotiate for him with the Americans, in the name of the top religious leaders. Muqtada would accept the outcome of those negotiations without condition. Iran would offer him temporary asylum, until June 30 and the formation of a sovereign Iraqi government, at which time he could report to Najaf for his trial. In return, the US would withdraw its forces from the environs of Najaf.

Now, if we can agree to those terms, then I’m more confident than before that we can avoid what, in my opinion, will be a costly error.

Hat tip: Juan Cole

Also, it seems there’s a tape by bin Laden asking Europe for a truce, saying that if European countries withdraw their forces from Muslim countries, then al-Qaeda will refrain from attacks in Europe. If that’s the case, then bin Laden’s in a precarious position, which means that we’re indeed having some success in our war against al-Qaeda. This is good news, and, if it’s true, we should feel encouraged. Now’s the time to press the attack–not just on the military front, but on the legal and intel fronts as well.

By the way, thanks go out to the Reverend Donald Sensing, who’s kindly mentioned me in his blog, One Hand Clapping. While I disagree with a lot of what he has to say, he’s still a good read, and one of the better pro-warbloggers out there.

Hat tip: Don Sensing

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 their 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!


16 responses to “Victory

  1. Ark (may I call you Ark?): Thoughtful and substantial. I really appreciate the effort you’ve put into this. I’ll have more to say when my frigging taxes are done. In the meantime, I have one question that I think needs to be asked of every plan put forth (yes, including plans to withdraw):

    If you were “the” insurgent leader, how would you respond to this plan?

  2. Over here via Jim’s blog. Excellent, well-reasoned post. One cavil, and perhaps a longer response over at my place: I believe you’ve misinterpreted Osama’s “truce” offer. It’s not a sign of desperation but an attempt to drive a wedge between the allies. Naive, but not, I think, desperate.

  3. Rich Puchalsky

    “We cannot wage this war with half-measures” …

    I think this post should be exhibit #1 on where well-meaning idealism can lead you to. Right-wing warbloggers say that we can’t win with half-measures, and advocate sending over lots of bombs, killing large numbers of the people we supposedly are trying to help. You’ve made a plan to draft and send over lots of conscripts, killing large numbers of the people we supposedly are trying to help, plus our own people. It’s on these occasions that I’m glad that American politics is as corrupt as it is, so that there is no chance of this happening. The proposal is a tissue of fantasies. Let me take them in order:

    Increase Troop Strength: Sending in lots of poorly trained conscripts results in — Grozny.

    Intense Cultural Training: A 5 day (!) course is supposed to make a difference?? Look, there’s a reason why real life training takes longer.

    Mixing It Up With the Locals: AKA “presenting lots of targets for the guerrilas” and soon, as the conscripts react with paranoia and rampant violence, AKA “pissing off the locals”.

    Properly Training Iraqi Security Forces: to be what, Quisling-led death squads? What kind of proper training helps someone support the occupation of their country and shoot their own people?

    Reconstructing Infrastructure: the reason it’s in bad shape is because people keep blowing it up, not because of investment problems.

    Dismantling the Militias: let’s see — there is no order in the country, no source of legitimate political power, and you want people to communally disarm themselves?

    We Have to Give Iraqis a Stake in Their Destiny: we can do that by getting out of their country.

  4. What would 200-300,000 troops accomplish if you agree that 500,000 is what’s needed? Zakaria’s number is based on empirical looks at what’s worked elsewhere, a soldier-to-civilian ratio appropriate to conditions on the ground which in this case include (1) a population divided into at least three large factions with divergent interests and longstanding distrust, (2) a broken, badly functioning bureaucracy that needs rebuilding and (3) no effective local police force in place.

    That the occupation is currently using a soldier-to-civilian ratio comparable to that used in postwar Japan, where the functioning government was left intact, civil unrest was at a minimum and the population was as homogeneous as any in the world is a big problem. Understaffing the occupation a bit less isn’t much of an answer.

    While I think if there were a draft a Peace Corps option would be an important and useful component, what would 250,000 Peace Corps workers do in Iraq? Iraq, like postware Germany and Japan, has an educated populace and plenty of people perfectly capable of repairing wells, building schools and clinics, paving roads, etc. Funding these things and providing oversight and technical assistance is absolutely something the US should be doing. Doing the bulk of the work isn’t. Shouldn’t Iraqis be doing this, especially with the massive unemployment in the country? Isn’t that unemployment a big part of what’s fueling the very unrest Mr. Zakaria and others want to quell with more troops?

  5. If you’re right that these are the necessary conditions for success in Iraq, I’ll bet you my farm that only failure awaits us there.

  6. Cranky Observer

    > 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.

    We have already spent a couple of _hundred billion_ dollars on occuption and infrastructure in Iraq with very little progress to show.

    While your post was very well reasoned and argued, it seems you neglected to cost it out. I would estimate anywhere between 1 and 2 _trillion_ USD to pay for everything you discussed.

    How about we (a) elect a new President – say Dennis Kucinich (b) execute a fighting withdrawl from Iraq (c) of that 1.5 trillion dollars, spend (i) 300 billion expanding the Navy (ii) 600 billion building solar power satellites and let US citizens keep the rest (d) keep our noses out of other peoples’ business for the next 200 years?

    Note that I am not advocating actually doing any or all of these things, but an uncosted assumption that we “must succeed” in Iraq with no examination of the alternatives is a bit problematic. To me anyway.


  7. Why should students who don’t need Federal student aid get a pass from the draft?

  8. “The only exemptions to the draft would be people who chose to forego federal student aid for education from the beginning…”

    Nice! Of course, “who chose” in this glorious day and age really means “who can.” So the very folks who ought to be sending their sons and daughters into this meat grinder — the rich, the powerful, the war profiteers — get a pass while the very same demographic that fought in Vietnam — the poor, the brown/black, the disenfranchised — get to fight.


  9. Kudos for addressing this. The fact that you did your tour compels one to give it a hearing.

    Disarming militias seems far-fetched,though. “Either that or we wash our hands of you” seems a tepid incentive.

    And with the future darkening, anybody without a militia would seem to be ripe for slaughter.

    Not that I know anything, but what if each faction were given a headquarters city that we kept hands off, and we let each administer their own territory?

    It’d be an unofficial, just-for-now de facto partitioning of the country. Federation, someday, could be attempted down the line.

    Stability and security are all that matter now.

  10. That’s nice. Give the rich a free pass from the draft, while drafting single mothers if Grandma is around to take care of the kid. Fucking asshole.

  11. I think we ought to declare if Iraq doesn’t pull itself up to OUR standards by, say, the first Tuesday of November next, then, by God, we’ll just up and preemptively, unilaterally disinvade the whole damned country.

    Oh sure, the usual suspects at UN will moan about how unnecessary, irresponsible and illegal a thing that would be for us to do. I imagine millions of the usual riff-raffians would pour into the streets of capitol cities around the world demanding we “stay the course” in Iraq and bomb the country into the stone age if necessary. And, of course, our “old European” allies would, no doubt, wring their hands from one end of the EU to the other pretending to be dismayed by our “inexplicable” antebellicosity. And it’s probably true too that there would be all kinds of unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences in the region…

    But, hey! The REAL world is an untidy place–especially THAT part of it. And we ARE talking about America here, pal. You’ve heard of it. The world’s leading democracy. Since when do WE need ANYBODY’S consent or permission to do what the unelected guy in the undisclosed location says is in OUR interest? Since NEVER, bubba. THAT’S since when…

  12. While it is certainly possible that Iraq is already lost any solution has to go to the core of the problem. Us.

    It seems many Iraqi believe that we are there to turn them into a colony, exploit their wealth and suppress their religion. Frankly I can’t think of an argument I could make that would convince them that they are wrong.

    To deal with this problem two things need to happen.

    First we have to get ourselves out of the drivers seat. Some multi country (maybe UN) body composed of individuals that are likely to carry some measure of trust with the Iraqi people needs to be assembled and put in charge of the CPA.

    Second war profiteering and even the perception of war profiteering must end. Full transparency to the contracting process including all levels of subcontracts is critical. This includes on going reporting about how the contractor is performing against his contracts.

    Maybe with a little credibility we can give each community a choice of accepting our help or not. I think most do want the reconstruction aid and security.

    Encourage elected councils everywhere that is possible. The CPA has often prevented this for reasons I can’t fathom.

    Also there should be no censorship. Lies in the media tend to only be believed by those who already believe those lies. Honest reporting is the answer.

    For those communities that initially don’t want our help I think that success elsewhere will help them get to trust us.

    This is how we should have handled this from the beginning. Maybe the hatred has gone to far for any of this to work. In any case it really is the only shot.

  13. Patrick R. Sullivan

    “At some point, we have to seriously consider restarting the draft, if only because we’re in dire need of bodies,”

    Think about the numbers. We have way too many eligible young people to use even in Peace Corps style organizations. Prior to the end of the Cold War we had about 2.4 million in uniform, by the end of Clinton’s second term that was about 1.3 million. At the height of the Vietnam war we had about 3.5 million military troops.

    This is a country of 280 million people.

  14. I’d be VERY curious about what percentage of people who advocate a military draft are themselves likely to be drafted (or better yet, would volunteer even if they weren’t drafted).

    To all you folks who advocate drafting young men (and women?) to fight and die in foreign countries, I say get a frikkin’ gun and go yourselves.

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