With all the politicians and diplomats stirring their ideas into the pot — the Fabulous Baker Boys, Henry Kissinger, McCain, Tony Blair and the rest — you might think that a host of new policies to win in Iraq were just around the corner. And you’d be wrong. Let us remember Churchill’s admonition that any clever person can make plans for winning a war if he has no responsibility to carry them out. Which brings us to the secret Pentagon study going on now that was reported in the Monday Washington Post.
According to the Post‘s report, the options being studied are encapsulated by the nickname given it: go big, go long or go home. “Go big” means increasing American troop strength in Iraq by 20-30,000 troops and actively suppressing sectarian violence by going after the militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Militia. “Go long” means staying in Iraq for many years to come. And “go home” means just that: cut and run, and leave the Iraqis to sort it out with all the help they’re sure to get from Iran, Syria, and all the rest of their well-meaning neighbors. There are problems with all three.
If we “go big,” as Sen. McCain and others advocate, and go after the militias (which is a predicate to reducing violence there significantly), we’d have to be assuming that the Maliki government would be replaced. The political base on which Nouri al-Maliki’s government depends includes al-Sadr himself. With Maliki there, it makes no sense to “go big” because he would continue to thwart efforts aimed at al-Sadr’s force. And aiming to replace Maliki with some “strongman” is what we tried in Vietnam. An even worse result would obtain in Baghdad than did in Saigon. Iraq is not now, nor has it ever been, a question of how many troops we have there. The question is, as it has always been, what you order them to do, and where.
To “go long” means we’d have to stay in Iraq indefinitely. Unless we were willing to destroy large sections of big cities without caring about civilian casualties (which we neither should nor would), we’d be taking on a longer task than the American people and its president are disposed to perform. If, in the past three years, we have been unable to instill the Iraqis with a sense of common purpose necessary to functioning as a democracy, if in that time we have been unable to prevent Iran and Syria from continuing their open intervention in Iraq with everything short of ground forces, why should we believe we’d do better by staying longer? With Democrats in charge of Congress and a president whose will to fight them is dubious, “go long” isn’t a real option.
We know from the Fabulous Baker Boys’ leaks — paralleling the Kissinger statement — that our old wise men don’t have anything new to recommend. Kissinger said a military victory is impossible but that if we simply withdraw it would cause a “dramatic collapse of Iraq,” which “would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years and which would bring us back, one way or another, into the region.”
Kissinger recommends — like Sen. Biden did almost two years ago and like Baker is likely to reiterate — a regional peace conference, bringing in the UN Security Council, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan and others to decide Iraq’s future. Which would mean papering over defeat, and sewing the seeds of even greater defeat to come. It would also mean keeping American troops in Iraq under even greater operational restrictions than now exist, dooming them to a long retreat on a road lined with our dead.
If we undertake a regional peace conference, Iraqis — and we — would have to negotiate. But which Iraqis? Will Maliki be able to negotiate anything with anyone if his political power depends in large part on the forces of instability? Will al-Sadr have a place at the table? And negotiate what? With whom? Iran is a historic enemy. Syria is a Baathist state, allied with Saddam (who may survive to stage a comeback). In the mid-1920s, the al-Ikhwan raiders — Wahabbi killers riding into southern Iraq from what is now Saudi Arabia — murdered Iraqis because they were the wrong brand of Muslim. The Saudis have no interest in Iraq’s success. Or in ours.
Any such negotiation will have only one objective, and Iraq will not be part of it. These nations — Iran, Syria, Egypt and others — have only one strategic objective: to prevent further American intervention in their region. It is we, not the Iraqis, who will be negotiating. And what will we have to trade? Iran wants nuclear security. Until we guarantee its safety from American attack, it will agree to nothing. Syria also wants to remain secure from American — and Israeli — attack not only in its homeland but in Hizballastan: that nation sitting where Lebanon used to be and which is now home to a growing population of terrorists of all stripes, including al Qaeda. If we negotiate, it will be to restore pre-9-11 “stability” to the terrorist powers of the Middle East. No other negotiation can take place. And we are fools — even greater fools than we have been to date — if we even begin this conversation.
Maybe we shouldn’t listen to Baker, Kissinger, or any of the old diplo-pols who now dispense wise words. Their words are hollow. If only Sir Winston were here: “It is no use saying we are doing our best,” he once said. “You have to succeed in doing what is necessary.” What is necessary is to fight this war in a manner calculated to win it decisively. Which cannot be done in Iraq alone.
There is no victory in Baghdad. It lies in Tehran and Damascus. Let’s make it simple: win or come home. Every American president has a sacred obligation to our troops: spend their lives if you have to, but don’t waste them. No more should be spent creating democracies. How many more need be spent to defeat the enemy decisively? On the paths our wise men set for us, we will never reach the answer to that question.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, 2006).