A couple of days ago, I embarked on an ambitious project - to outline a progressive stance for successfully bringing to a close the Twin Wars on terrorism and in Iraq. Partly this was motivated by reports that the Democratic Party are actively seeking to formulate a policy that doesn't involve sticking their fingers in their ears and going "la-la-la".
As a non-American, it is perhaps easier for me than most to step outside the trench warfare of the political system here and see that the Dems have the same fatal flaw in their thinking that the Republicans do - any plans must further their own vested interests. And by vested interests I don't just mean ideological interests or the aim to have an outcome favourable to the US, I mean their plans automatically run afoul of pork - barrels, political backstabbing, lobbyist influences and campaign contributions.
So here is what I think the Democratic Party's plan for successfully waging the Twin Wars should be - hopefully unfettered by corrupting influences but informed by a progressive outlook.
Iraq - A Less Important War, A More Complicated Peace.
It seems obvious that disentaglement from the occupation of Iraq is the first step in getting back on track with the more important war, the War on Terror. To do this, the U.S. will have to lead the Coalition in aiding Iraqis to find security, reconstruction, employment and good governance free from corruption. These are the issues that Iraqis themselves identify as most pressing.
1) The U.S. should begin by setting a good example.
There should be bi-partisan agreement that Supplementary Bills providing money for Iraq or the War on Terror will not be packed with side issues and pork-barrel fillers that, because they become part of a Bill to "support our troops" cannot be realistically voted down. The bills should become purely what they are intended for and nothing more - they are too important for crass polliticking. The Pentagon likewise should be told that robbing Peter the soldier in Iraq to pay for Paul in a shiny new toy must end. Supplementary Bills should not include money for weapons development or blue-sky technology, something the Pentagon routinely does.
The very scale of the Supplementary budget to date makes a mockery of the original idea that Iraq's oil revenue would refund the U.S. for it's outlay. Likewise, the idea that U.S. companies should be the ones awarded contracts for reconstruction work on a no-bid basis is now outdated. The restrictive contracts awarded should be opened up to competitive bidding from all, with a preferential weighting given only to local Iraqi businesses.
The amount of money that has been spent for no return is a scandal. Yes there has been good work done but no-one in their right mind would claim it couldn't have been done better and faster. Iraqis are incensed by the lack of basic amenities such as power, gasoline and water two years after the invasion. Any money accepted by corporations for work that has not been begun within a reasonable timeframe should be refunded so that it can be allocated as contracts that will be fulfilled.
Stricter oversight of contracts should also be made and a joint team of Coalition and Iraqi Government inpectors with advisors from the US Inspector General's Office should be offered to Iraq. Corrupt practices should be grounds for the immediate breach of the contract by the Coalition and Iraq and illegal acts should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Likewise, this team should investigate and report on corruption in government or the military which hampers the process of making Iraq a stand-alone nation. Iraq should be strongly encouraged by international diplomacy to extirpate corrupt practises at all levels and by all entities.
The other main arena where the U.S. should lead by example is on the matter of detainees. We have recently seen beyond doubt that military tribunals are in no way conforming to recognised standards of due process. Many of the detainees have never been and will never be actually charged with a crime - some have the look of political hostages against the acts of relatives. Torture and abuse is widespread yet authorities refuse to make a full and above all open investigation. The whole arena is ripe for a change of policy which conforms to US, Iraqi and international law but which will still ensure useful intelligence is obtained and detention of dangerous criminals is possible. It would send the clearest possible "hearts and minds" message to Iraq and it's neighbours that terrorism, not Islam, is the enemy while also cutting insurgency recruitment by a massive factor.
2) The Iraqi Government should be encouraged to be all it can be.
Democracy is often made fair through checks and balances. However, to ask for a super-majority in electing the Iraqi Government's presiding officers has hampered effective government and the U.S. should encourage the striking of this requirement. In fact, once the Iraqi Government is properly in session, the U.S. should be big enough and bold enough a believer in it's own talk of "freedom" to unilaterally free Iraq from any and all rules of the Transitional Authority that the Iraqi Parliament feels are unfair. A democratic nation is no other nation's lapdog.
Along with this magnaminity comes the realisation that the Lebanon/Syria model is not a good one for post-reconstruction Iraq. (It cannot have escaped everyone's attention that this is exactly what is being enacted at the moment.) The Coalition should clearly set out criteria by which they will cease to act as an internal security "fire brigade" for Iraq and then stick to those criteria - even if eventual permanent basing is agreed between the Iraqi Government and , say, the USA. I will say more on this matter when I turn to security.
3) Employment is a stabilizing influence in and off itself.
By ending the corruption, cronyism, profiteering and inefficiency (the free-market libertarians should be first in the queue to call for this) of the current contracting process it will be possible to kickstart employment in Iraq. There are currently hordes of unemployed men in Iraq who are a fertile source for the insurgency, criminal gangs and for armed militias. The high prices of essentials which have resulted from the lack of reconstruction are often cited as a big contributing factor in unrest amongst the common Iraqi people. Let reconstruction go forward and prices will fall at the same time as wage earners will be able to begin again to bring in money.
Simply put, a family who are hard at work and have enough income for essentials are less likely to turn to extremist violence in pursuit of their idealism or of food on their table. That's a no-brainer.
4) Internal security needs a fresh approach.
No-one can doubt that America has been and continues to be willing to put the lives of it's young soldiers where the mouth's of it's politicians took it. However, they should not have to continue to take the brunt of the insurgency on themselves.
The US and the Coalition, where they had a plan at all, adopted a heavy-handed Israeli model for counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and time has told the story - it has been less successful than it could have been. I have argued elsewhere that a model more akin to the British counter-terrorism operations in Northern Ireland would be better and I believe this still. By luck, the assets to carry out such a model are already in place.
The American forces in Iraq should be redistributed over the whole country, taking over from British and other troops in the South. The other Coalition forces should be split up into teams of advisors, trainers and aids to indigent Iraqi police and troops. Here, British experience and training could be put to best use. Every senior NCO and officer in the British contingent has hard-earned experience in Ireland at counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency activities which place an emphasis in gaining the support of the local populace. Likewise, they have local language training that American soldiers have not had. I also believe this redistribution would make it easier to gain added support from other nations who could contribute specialist anti-terror military and police experts to the process - many could come from Islamic nations which have been trained by the UK.
American troops would then be able to withdraw into strategically sited bases and from there act as a heavy "fire brigade" and a border guard. One immediate consequence would be to remove one of the major incitements to insurgency and protest - American occupiers on the streets as a matter of course - and replace them with less hated soldiers from other countries. Another would be greater control over the porous border areas. American troops should share their bases with Iraqi Army units who have nothing to do with counterinsurgency efforts but are instead focussed on external defense, so that the U.S. can train those troops to be eventual defenders of Iraq against external threats.
The foremost American expert on fourth generation warfare, who is politically on the Right but is disgusted with the current administrations mishandlings of the Twin Wars, has suggested that a large part of the perceived dwindling in the Iraqi insurgency is illusory. He makes the case that far from being defeated in battle, insurgents are simply joining the armed militias which have grown up - each to his own faction. No democracy has long survived when major armed groups are out of the direct control of the State and these militias will have to be curbed by the Iraqi parliament. Removing the perceived need for their existence by ending the imposed ethnic divisions in government would certainly help but international pressure must be brought to bear on Iraq to break up the militias and subsume their members into the military piecemeal.
5) External security needs a plan.
Because so far there isn't one. Nor is there an Iraqi Air Force in anything but name or anything like a sufficiency of Iraqi armor or artillery to defend the nation.
As I said above, the Coalition should clearly set out criteria by which they will cease to act as an internal security "fire brigade" for Iraq and then stick to those criteria - even if eventual permanent basing is agreed between the Iraqi Government and , say, the USA. When those criteria are met, American forces could begin a phased withdrawal of most of their strength, leaving a tripwire contingent only - and against only external threats at that.
As US units withdraw, some of their equipment should be left in place and handed over to the regular Iraqi Army units they have been training. This would be paid for, probably in the first instance via a World Bank loan, from the eventual proceeds of Iraqi oil production that proper reconstruction would at last realise.
Thus, the US gets rid of some older equipment - including tanks, artillery and planes - to make room for the new designs being brought in at the moment. It even gets a fair price for this equipment. In return, Iraq gets a functioning Self-Defence Force using equipment it is most convenient to train it's people on and at no time is the nation left undefended against other aggresive nations.
The above is an outline of how the future planning of the War in Iraq should go. If it were implemented it would free up resources for other battles that need desperately to be waged. Now tell me, what did I leave out, what could be improved?
Next... finishing the Afghanistan Campaign and getting back to the proper job of winning the War on Terror.