An Alternate to Cut and Run
What’s your Plan, man?
You seem so upset
Do you think you can
With our blood and sweat
Take Iraq to the top
With your photo-op?
There has been considerable talk of redeployment of our forces in Iraq. I hope that this essay drafts a concept that demonstrates that there are options other than “stay the course.” While I agree with critics that we are between Iraq and a hard place, we need to develop alternatives while there is still enough of our military and financial resources to create workable options. Time is critical because we are wearing our military thin through revolving assignments into a meat grinder. I will focus on future actions that can be exercised rather than the mistakes of the past three years, but in doing so, I will offer reasons for changing course rather than blindly hoping for new outcomes on old ideas.
First, we need to acknowledge that things in Iraq are not going well and we need to fire the Lincoln Group that we recently rehired to produce and distribute optimistic propaganda in Iraq for Iraqis. Iraqis are on the ground and see what is happening. Contrary propaganda by Lincoln merely annoys Iraqis and makes them think that either we are liars or that we are so stupid that we do not see the chaos around us in Iraq. That is not trivial. We essentially have a civil war in progress and doing chin-ups on defining the exact level of civil war is not productive. In fact, it slows the process for changing our strategy and tactics.
Next, we need to isolate the battlefield. Given this civil war, the entire country is the battlefield, with the possible exception of Kurdistan. Most of Iraq is mired in violence and ineffective security, energy, water, schools, courts and economic viability. Isolating this battlefield is no small order. We need to screen the long borders with Saudi Arabia from where the majority of the 9/11 aircrews came. We need to meter the flow of the ancient trade routes from Syria and Jordan to staunch the flow of foreign fighters. We need to stop the traffic with Iran, even if there are Iraqis (like Ahmed Chalabi) that want the traffic. Once we effectively isolate the battlefield and use advanced surveillance techniques to detect and respond to violations, we can call upon Iraqis to help patrol their own borders. This provides real military missions for them that do not compromise tribal or religious loyalties with the possible exception of co-opted Shiite militia that cannot be expected to control their eastern border with Iran. The longer term solution of promoting nationalism instead of sectarian or tribal loyalty requires training Iraqis out of country where they can learn to work with one another in a way similar to the way we train new soldiers away from home in federal enclaves (like Ft. Benning) where facilities are secure and no ambient wars are competing for student attention. I propose that we establish training systems in Kuwait to achieve the neutrality that is not available in Iraq. All these actions require State Department involvement in the process of negotiating with powers within and bordering Iraq. Even the concept of “hot pursuit” needs State Department work rather than arbitrary action.
Next, we establish a major strike force and regional reserve in Kuwait. This requires a base to serve as a secure home for training and maintenance. Our military equipment is beat up and needs overhaul. Since we will be in the region for some time to come, it makes sense to conduct depot maintenance there instead of a complete retrograde to the Continental United States (CONUS). We need Special Forces and Special Operations capabilities throughout the region to lead the training and the initial contact teams for medicine and simple civil engineering tasks in areas away from Baghdad. This will establish an image of helping Iraqis to help themselves and may provide a start to the flow of intelligence that we need to separate insurgents from citizens. The strike force must be airmobile with heavier capabilities such as armor to sustain operations in the event that open warfare with armed militia or external forces occurs. This is the type of operation that we do well and yet the strike force must be kept razor sharp through training and rehearsals in Kuwait. This may mean that the strike force needs frequent rotation to avoid either complacency or over-training.
Next we must systematically eliminate corporate civilian support such as Halliburton/KBR as we build up military forces that have the dual capability of combat mission work and civil engineering, etc. KBR has provided contaminated water to our troops from 63 of its 67 water treatment facilities. That is not a combat multiplier but a combat divider that provided substandard water for above standard prices and still demands security forces. We have similar issues from the Bechtel Bridge that was over budget and never completed and the recent Parsons Company debacle where it was paid to rebuild barracks that now have to be destroyed because they are so unsafe and unsanitary with urine and feces flowing through ceilings onto soldiers. Outsourcing has been a source of waste, fraud and abuse that needs to go.
Next, we need to move significant forces from inner city Baghdad to protect commercial and military airfields in order to preserve flexibility in movement. Plush appearances do not help us to identify with Iraqis who may feel that if we occupy Hussein’s palaces, that we are more like him than ourselves. Troops rotate home as troops with the new skills move into the country. In a year’s time, we should have bases established; Special Forces reconnecting the Iraqis with Americans on a lower profile basis. As they succeed, we can expand the feel-good, do-good projects by completing schools and hospitals that were promised and never delivered. We need to use Iraqi labor and military troops directly in the construction. This will provide economic help for Iraqis and may begin some trust of the American military. The troop numbers can decline significantly as Iraqis take responsibility for security, civil and economic projects. The only way to change the image of occupation is to remove troops as rapidly as possible while maintaining a strike force that will serve as an emergency combat force. There is an irony that the combat skills that gave us a rapid battlefield victory are unable to win the peace. Get over it and play by the new rules.
As I wrote this brief outline, I inhaled a little and recognized that it was long ago and far away in Vietnam that I last wrote an Administrative Order in combat. Detailed planning must be done and we have people in our military that excel at planning. They are good at what they do and even better when we assign them wisely and lead them well. Kuwait can be a staging area for both support and rotation home, but there are myriad other solutions if we start now before we destroy our forces and merely dig deeper trenches around Baghdad and run out of time.
I also thought that it might be the epitome of poetic justice, assuming that Saddam Hussein is found guilty, that he be given a life sentence to serve as President of Iraq without possibility of parole.
We could then leave and know that we provided adequate punishment for him.
1 October 2006