Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Milestones and Timetables Go Together

Steve Soto has an interesting post today on Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia and his recent thoughts about withdrawal from Iraq. Steve says Warner missed opportunities several times, notably over "what sacrifices Bush should have asked of America in response to 9/11, and how not asking for those sacrifices contrasts with the sacrifices of our troops." He's also a little worried about Warner's avoidance of the issue over whether Bush lied the nation into war. Sure, it may make political sense to say something like "I didn’t vote for that mistake, nor would I have made it in the first place," but avoiding the issue entirely avoids speaking out on the whole question of whether it is right for our leaders to mislead us. That's just not moral or courageous, even if it looks like it makes political sense for a Presidential contender who hopes to capture moderate Republican votes. I'm personally sick to the back teeth of those who worry about how their words will play to the centre rather than saying what they know is right and just.

Where I have the biggest problem though is the one area that the mainstream media has latched onto - that Gov. Warner rejects a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

"To set an arbitrary deadline or specific date is not appropriate," he said. "... It is incumbent on the president to set milestones for what he believes will be the conclusion."

In conversation today with my good friend Mr. M from Comments From Left Field - an avowed Warner fan - M defended Warner with the argument, familiar from the Bushite right, that publishing a timetable is military bad news allowing AlQaida and the insurgency to make political hay from any missed deadlines or to simply wait out the occupation and then renew their violence with even greater vigor.

I want to ask - does that view really stand up?

Much of the military's resistance to publishing a timetable comes from the traditional warfare axiom that you conceal as much as possible of your plans from the enemy. However, fourth generation warfare calls into question many of the traditional military axioms (like the supremacy of technology and the concept of attrition)and this is yet another axiom that requires some "outside the box" thinking about.

With everyone from ex-CIA experts through military figures like General Casey or Senators like Russ Feingold to defense think-tanks agreeing that the occupation fuels the insurgency, setting milestones without a timetable is a lame and half-assed attempt at defusing this vicious circle - an attempt that fools no-one. Military types know that you always set a timetable for your objectives, as does anyone who has ever run a business or managed part of one. Otherwise, the first or second difficult goal gets pushed out into the never-never, an unattainable milestone, and your progress towards your eventual goal is over. Everyone knows this so nobody is going to trust a set of milestones if they don't come with a timetable.

On the other hand, if you publish the timetable as well as milestones then you immediately accomplish your first goal - removing much of the psychology behind the insurgency (not Al-Qaida's loons but the real indigenous Iraqi insurgency)and make it possible for the first time to negotiate a ceasefire with that insurgency. What will happen next is analogous to what happened when the IRA declared a ceasefire but the hardline "real IRA" did not. The hardliners lost all popular support, even from those who until then had been fighting alongside them. Without popular support from at least a sizeable minority a terror organisation is always on a downward spiral of disapproval, turned informers and eventual dissolution.

Even worse for Al Qaida if they try to wait out the occupation. After months of peace and reconstruction, exactly how do you think Iraqis from every side would react if Al Qaida started bombing again as soon as the Americans have left? The insurgents who are so intimate with their hiding places, still under ceasefire because their causus belli has been removed, would join with the rest of the Iraqi people and wipe them out in a popular backlash which would destroy Al Qaida's credibility across the whole moslem world.

Finally, there's the "what if we don't make a set date?" worrywarts. For them, I would suggest the D-Day Landings option is viable in this context. The Nazis knew an invasion was coming, knew roughly where and knew roughly when - but were then misdirected.

The important point is to publish a timetable, not the timetable. Publish one that has a good margin for error built in and then work to a secret but tighter timetable. That way, you get the pleasantly surprised reactions of Iraqis and those on the home front as each milestone is passed ahead of the published agenda!

Milestones and timetables go together and everyone knows it. Without one, the other loses all cerdibility with those who must believe it if the insurgency is to be defused.

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