Go Big, Go Long, or Go Home: Moonwalking out of Iraq

by Peter

21 November 2006, 2200 EST

We now have 3 major review panels asking “serious” and “hard” questions about the future of US policy in Iraq. There is the infamous Baker Commission, a high-level group within the National Security Council, and a top-secret review within the Pentagon. Despite all of these “outside-the-box” efforts to take a “fresh look” at Iraq, the supposed solutions are seeming rather conventional. In great Washington policy tradition:

The Pentagon group has, predictably, arrived at 3 choices.
As Ricks reports in the Wash Post:

“Go Big,” the first option, originally contemplated a large increase in U.S. troops in Iraq to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence. A classic counterinsurgency campaign, though, would require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police. That option has been all but rejected by the study group, which concluded that there are not enough troops in the U.S. military and not enough effective Iraqi forces, said sources who have been informally briefed on the review.

“Go Home,” the third option, calls for a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops. It was rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown and bloody civil war.

The group has devised a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second one — “Go Long” — and calls for cutting the U.S. combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of the training and advisory efforts. Under this mixture of options, which is gaining favor inside the military, the U.S. presence in Iraq, currently about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period, the officials said.

Earth-shattering stuff.

Only weeks after the Democrats won back Congress running largely on a platform of reducing America’s involvement in Iraq, you have a number of serious proposals out there to increase troop levels. According to the Post:

The purpose of the temporary but notable increase, they said, would be twofold: To do as much as possible to curtail sectarian violence, and also to signal to the Iraqi government and public that the shift to a “Go Long” option that aims to eventually cut the U.S. presence is not a disguised form of withdrawal.

Even so, there is concern that such a radical shift in the U.S. posture in Iraq could further damage the standing of its government, which U.S. officials worry is already shaky. Under the hybrid plan, the short increase in U.S. troop levels would be followed by a long-term plan to radically cut the presence, perhaps to 60,000 troops.

That combination plan, which one defense official called “Go Big but Short While Transitioning to Go Long,” could backfire if Iraqis suspect it is really a way for the United States to moonwalk out of Iraq — that is, to imitate singer Michael Jackson’s trademark move of appearing to move forward while actually sliding backward. “If we commit to that concept, we have to accept upfront that it might result in the opposite of what we want,” the official said.

And then what do we do?

So here we have a standard inside-the-beltway Goldilocks plan to deal with Iraq. Yet here, none of the options are “just right.” Each one is more inclined to fail than succeed. The status quo is failing, leaving quickly could plunge the country into civil-war chaos, but more troops won’t make it better. Everyone wants a “solution” to the problem. Perhaps its time to admit that there isn’t one.

Sure, its not the politically savy thing to do. It also brings with it a high degree of moral responsibility for the mess to follow. When your house is on fire, you need to send in more firefighers to battle the blaze. But once your home is reduced to a pile of smoldering ashes, all the firefighters with all the firetrucks in the world won’t do you much good. Its time to admit you’re homeless and move on. rebuild somewhere else. Our policy in Iraq has already burned to the ground. The time for a “solution” such as sending in more troops (and better equipped troops at that–not just the proverbial body armor, but translators and some cultural understanding) was years ago. Now its time to look for a new place to live and to try to figure out how to live there.

Take for instance, my favorite paragraph from this morning’s Post: (I don’t even know if this fits here, but its so rich, so typical, you have to read it for yourself twice just to grasp the profoundity of the Major’s statement)

The U.S. military’s effort to train Iraqi forces has been rife with problems, from officers being sent in with poor preparation to a lack of basic necessities such as interpreters and office materials, according to internal Army documents.

The shortcomings have plagued a program that is central to the U.S. strategy in Iraq and is growing in importance. A Pentagon effort to rethink policies in Iraq is likely to suggest placing less emphasis on combat and more on training and advising, sources say.

Some of the American officers even faulted their own lack of understanding of the task. “If I had to do it again, I know I’d do it completely different,” reported Maj. Mike Sullivan, who advised an Iraqi army battalion in 2004. “I went there with the wrong attitude and I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn’t.”

One more example of PowerPoint killing our society. And our Iraq policy.