We’re either near, or at, a turning point in Iraq where some critically important decisions are going to have to be made. The nature of those decisions, and how they turn out, quite likely will determine whether the war will be a success – leading to the creation of a reasonably stable and representative Iraqi government capable of minding the country’s affairs – or a far worse mess than the one we have now.
The short version of the problem is this:
Even if the administration suddenly becomes fully competent in assessing the situation and prescribing realistic solutions for the continuing security problem, the hinge on which everything else in Iraq swings, it’s up against some hard realities.
One is that no matter how hard we press, the Iraqis simply aren’t going to be capable of transforming their country into the shining beacon of Middle Eastern liberty that was so grandly promised at the outset of the conflict anytime soon. It will take years -- perhaps decades -- if it happens at all.
The second is that the U.S. military is dangerously overstretched. The administration is either going to have to a) scale back the troop level regardless of the Iraqi government’s ability to fend for itself or b) substantially increase the size of the military, which might well mean bringing back the draft.
These are not pretty choices. There are some good blog posts that address them, however.
First, from Belgravia Dispatch, where Gregory Djerejian provides a consistently thoughtful conservative perspective. He believes we need more troops in Iraq. Soon. Proposed “Iraqification” of the war is desirable, but fears the effect of forcing the issue too quickly:
“ … I'm worried he might go about it the wrong way going forward, partly because of the manner by which the renewed emphasis on Iraqification appears linked to potential troop reductions (or at least not troop increases).
“Don't get me wrong. I think we should Iraqify--partly, per the plan, so as to free up more of our troops tied up with force protection duties, border monitoring, routine security. These troops are then free to concentrate on going after the bad guys.
“But even with Iraqification freeing up more of our G.I.s to hunt down the resistance and terrorists--I still fear it will prove too little, too late.”
Next, Billmon has two posts that explore the military and political problems we face.
In the first, he addresses speculation that the administration has in reserve a “bug out” plan in case the Iraq situation becomes a real threat to Bush’s re-election. The problem, he says, is that regardless of domestic politics – or consequences on the ground -- troop levels likely are headed lower:
“The administration has little choice but to start drawing down troop strength in Iraq, starting next spring. The reasons why were laid out by the CBO back in September. The Army's current plan (more of a hope, really) calls for troop levels to be reduced to perhaps 90,000 next summer, and 50,000 by mid-2005.
“So, one way or another, the American military presence in Iraq is going to shrink next year. The only questions are how quickly and by how much -- and what will fill the resulting vacuum. So the difference between the Army's plan, and a hypothetical Operation Bug Out, is one of degrees, not kind.”
In the second, he considers the problems with a “modified bug out,” in which the administration might try to find some middle ground by cutting troop forces and moving them into fortified positions outside population centers – a likely prescription for failure.
For some insight on where the administration is these problems at the moment, here’s a link to an NPR interview this morning with Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld’s chief deputy at the Defense Department. He’s really pushing Iraqification.