American military planners have begun plotting a fallback strategy for Iraq that includes a gradual withdrawal of forces and a renewed emphasis on training Iraqi fighters in case the current troop buildup fails or is derailed by Congress.The plan has serious backing within the Pentagon, according to the LA Times, including Gen. Pace and supporters of Gen. John P. Abizaid, the retiring commander for the Mideast, who favored handing responsibility more quickly to Iraqis. However, it may be opposed by Gen. David H. Petraeus and his supporters, who back the "surge".
Such a strategy, based in part on the U.S. experience in El Salvador in the 1980s, is still in the early planning stages and would be adjusted to fit the outcome of the current surge in troop levels, according to military officials and Pentagon consultants who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing future plans.
But a drawdown of forces would be in line with comments to Congress by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last month that if the "surge" fails, the backup plan would include moving troops "out of harm's way." Such a plan also would be close to recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, of which Gates was a member before his appointment as Defense Department chief.
A drawdown of front-line troops to a core of training staff and advisors backed by certain support elements the Iraqis lack (just about everything from airpower to maintenance support)would have made sense, it seems to me, about two years ago. Now though, the situation is one where the task has been complicated out of control by a Sunni-Shia schism which, while it was begun and encouraged by Iraqi political elements who say it as a quick route to personal power has become as much a solialized "bottom-up" civil war as a "top-down" one driven by those political opportunists. At this point, I'm not sure it will work. I'm not the only one. I think that now, as long as the US is seen as being the "puppetmaster" for the Iraqi government then no matter who is heading that government that US will remain a target for every other side. The best thing to do is to offer any and all reperations asked for in apology for Bush's monumental hubris and cack-handed mismanagement of his desert adventure and withdraw. You pay for what you've broken and then get out of the shop, not stay to blunder around and break some more. Let the Iraqis have their complete sovereignty instead of a pretense of it and let the dominos fall where they may. (It's worth noting that in a similiar situation in history, the much vaunted dominos failed to fall at all.)
But I've a feeling the Bush administration, backed by those neoconservative think-tanks who have taken so little of the blame for their godawful plans in the first place and who are still agitating for staying the course in the vain hope of turning disaster into ideological victory, won't go for either a drawdown or a withdrawal anytime soon.
I'm reading between the lines here but I think I saw the trail balloon go up in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. the UK's Telegraph is a favorite for neocon story-plants because it appears to be a newspaper of weight to Americans. A quick story plant and then neocon pundits can cite the telegraph as a source with credibility.
So it was that at the very end of a long Telegraph article yesterday (one which, being anti-Blair, the Telegraph had no problems with explaining in detail why iraq is fubar despite the "surge") I saw what I think will be the neocon Hail Mary pass - stay the course and hope like hells that the next Iraqi elections return secular majorities, and that this solves the problem for the US. The Telegraph quotes secular politician Mithal al-Alusi, whose party scraped one seat in the last elections:
The only silver lining on the seemingly endless stormclouds, he says, is that the past two years may have provided Iraqis with what he calls a "democratic education". "Before the first elections no Iraqi understood what it meant to vote, it was just something they saw that happened in places like London. But now they see that the parties they voted in did not make an improvement, and perhaps they will turn to the secular ones. It may have been a painful lesson, but perhaps the next election will show a difference in the result."The trouble being, of course, that the civil war is now as much a bottom-up problem as anything to do with the preferences of those in power.
The possibility that ordinary Iraqis will vote to end the sectarian divide remains the coalition's greatest hope. Perhaps a time will come when Mohammed will no longer need his gazelle's blood ring and his Shia slang, when he will revert to being Mohammed the Iraqi, rather than Mohammed the Sunni. For those bereaved and brutalised over the past four years, however, the seeds of division may have been sown for generations ahead. Right now, peace and reconciliation seem more remote than they did when Saddam's statue fell.
Oh, and unless Maliki's government crumbles, the next election is 2010.