In light of the latest leaked Donald Rumsfeld memo — which suggests some strategies for Iraq and shows no indication of an impending resignation — there’s been a lot of talk on where to go from here. The Baker Commission will soon release some ideas, and The National Interest (my employer) recently published a collection of recommendations.
First of all, I think the quiet assumption that things can’t get worse is dangerous. Some of the drastic moves people have come up with, like partition or simply pulling out of the most violent areas, might work, but the results are incredibly unpredictable. So Rumsfeld is right in saying any changes should be temporary and reversible if things go wrong.
The interesting thing is that he calls for a kind-of phased withdrawal with a timetable:
“Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007.
“Retain high-end â€¦ capability â€¦ to target al-Qaida, death squads, and Iranians in Iraq, while drawing down all other coalition forces, except those necessary to provide certain key enablers for Iraqi forces.”
“Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and coalition forces (start ‘taking our hand off the cycle seat’) so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.”
This goes against calls for more troops, of course, but it has the advantage of getting us out. It’s one of the big questions if we’re going to change direction in Iraq: Are we going to make more effort to win, or are we going to try to leave in a way that doesn’t look like losing? Rumsfeld walks a middle ground, characterizing withdrawals as a behavior modification tactic for the Iraqis.
The question then becomes, are Iraqi forces failing now due to laziness (“the U.S. guys can take care of it”) or inability? Rumsfeld’s idea could work in the first case, but not the second.
Sometimes the kid concentrates and pedals better when you take your hands off the cycle seat; other times he just crashes.
Robert VerBruggen blogs at http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com.