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My Very Own Democratic Plan.

So the guy sets his house on fire and as his wife and kids are running around in circles, panicked, screaming, "what should we do, what should we do?" the man looks at his wife and says, "You figure it out. Do I have to do everything around this place?"

There are loud demands for Democrats to figure out how to escape the Alcatraz in which Mr. Bush has landed us. By the bizarre political logic of the day if the Democrats can't figure out how to rescue us from Mr. Bush's incompetence they don't deserve to take over . . . which will only prove that we should leave things in the hands of the guy who set the house on fire to begin with. Ta da!

Two things come to mind. One: we need another party. Any time you're in serious trouble and your only choice is between Republicans and Democrats . . . you're in serious trouble.

Second: no sweat, I have a plan.

First question: what do we want? That's fairly easy. (Easy to list, anyway.) We want a face-saving exit from Iraq that leaves us not looking entirely beaten. We don't want Al Qaeda permanently setting up shop in Iraq. We want to stop Iran from extending its reach -- diplomatically, militarily, through terrorism or with nuclear weapons. We want the oil to keep flowing. We want Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait to remain stable. We want Kurdistan to remain at least semi-autonomous but not in such a way that they'll irritate the Turks too much. Did I mention we want the oil to keep flowing? We want Israel to survive. We want Musharraf to keep his shaky hands on Pakistan's nukes. We want Afghanistan restored to the "Win" column.

In other words, if you cut right to the chase: we want things to go back to where they were before we decided to transform the Middle East. We want it to be as if the last three plus years of George W. Bush and his feverish band of neo-cons never happened.

Now, you may say that's a tendentious interpretation. But you know what's funny? George W. Bush's own policies are now about extricating us from the mess he made. Even the GOP wishes Bush had retired after Afghanistan. Although I don't suppose they'd put it quite that way.

This is not to pretend 9/11 never happened. The entirely appropriate -- and I think inevitable regardless of who was president -- invasion of Afghanistan with attendant beat-down of the Taliban was the just and proper response to 9/11.

Nor is it to argue that it was a bad idea to democratize Iraq. Bad idea to do it the way we did it, not necessarily a bad idea in the abstract.

But all that is water under the bridge. The house is on fire, the arsonist is still running around with a gas can and a Zippo, so it's our job to figure out how not to get burned.

So, we have this laundry list of things we need done. Now we look first at what tools we have.

We know we're about out of combat soldiers. The ones we have are kind of busy. We have a 1.5 million man army at a point in our history when we're at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, could soon be at war in Iran and even Syria, and could be fighting L'il Kim's zombie army in Korea at any moment. And Castro could drop dead and precipitate a succession crisis for which we might want to have a spare few brigades handy. And Hugo Chavez could decide he has to round up Americans. And, and, and.

Our allies are tapped out, so there will be no help from that quarter. The allies have forces in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Lebanon and a few in Iraq. They're not doing all they could, maybe, but they're doing all they're going to do.

We know that we don't have the stomach at this point in history for throwing the switch on total war. We're probably not going to draft five million guys and sweep through the Middle East bombing and overthrowing and whatnot in a sort of modern-day march to Berlin.

All of which -- no allies, no men, no will -- leaves us, as improbable as it sounds, in a position of weakness. We are the world's only hyperpower. (Eeperr-powairr as the French like to say.) But we are in a position of weakness because we've let ourselves write more checks than we have funds to cover.

Not my favorite posture to be in. If I was proclaimed Dictator tomorrow I'd want to change the ratio between "grand ambitions" and "modest means." I'd want fewer committments and a bigger army. Call me crazy but I don't like to have just barely enough. I like to have extra to spare. (And of course if I were named Dictator I'd book an early flight out of the country.)

But here we are. We're overextended. There's no political will for a replay of 1942. We have a seemingly impossible array of irreconcilable issues. So.

Thing one is to prioritize. We don't want Iran to become a regional superpower. We really can't live with that. But we can't invade. And while we can certainly blow up their nuclear facilities they can turn off the oil spigot. To anyone who thinks the US Navy can stop Iran from firing missiles at passing tankers may I say two words: SCUDS and Lebanon.

IRAN:

What we need in Iran is graduated pressure. A greater and a lesser threat. The greater threat is bombs on Tehran and damn the consequences. The lesser threat is a guerilla movement inside Iran operating from Iraqi Kurdistan. They've meddled in Iraq and in Lebanon so our doing likewise in Iran is merely balancing the scales. We deter them from going the next step in escalation by threatening overt to-hell-with-it retaliation.

A guerilla force inside Iran with sanctuary in US-protected Kurdistan is our leverage. And a guerilla force need not be limited to small arms. There's no particular reason Iranian insurgents shouldn't be trained to operate Predators or anti-aircraft missiles, to have the latest night vision capability and body armor, or to fly jets out of their own bases. "Guerilla" does not necessarily mean "guy with an AK." All that will depend on the degree to which Iran irritates us.

IRAQ:

Right now Iraq is on welfare and not very interested in job hunting.

Why should Iraqi leaders get their act together and make all sorts of painful decisions when they can sit back, let us defend the Green Zone, cash our checks and jet off at will to New York, Paris or Dubai for R and R?

If Iraqis are determined to have a civil war, let's find that out sooner rather than later. Give them three months to work out a political compromise. At the end of three months, if they don't have a deal that works for Sunnis and Kurds as well as Shiites, then good-bye.

There's no avoiding the Band-aid moment. Pulling it off a millimeter at a time is no better than yanking it. It's not a question of the Iraqi Army standing up, that's nonsense: there's no army without something to fight for. It's a question of a political deal that leaves Sunni leaders content to remain part of a unified Iraq. If we don't get that deal it's not going to matter how big the Iraqi army is. And no one is going to make a deal that involves compromise until they have no other choice.

Three months to make a deal. If they have a deal we stay and build their army. If they can't reach a deal then they can't be saved and we might as well bail out sooner rather than later.

If we have to bail out we back the one reliable player: the Kurds. We have a very serious conversation with the Turks, one that involves a full-frontal US effort to integrate Turkey into the western economy (read E.U.) and includes ironclad guarantees that Iraqi Kurdistan will tolerate no actions against Turks. Get the Kurds to agree to ship their oil through a new pipleine through Turkey, it would give the Turks some leverage short of military action, and a piece of the action.

Also, if Iraq is going the path of civil war we use our over-the-horizon forces in a serious, concerted effort to stop all arms shipments coming from Iran, Syria, or Saudi Arabia to the combattants. We pressure Israel to give Jordan a little extra love, and to sit down and negotiate the bogus Syrian claims on the Shebaa farms. We make the point to the Saudis that we'll keep Iranian arms out of Iraq only so long as Sunni arms aren't being shipped.

It will still be a bloodbath, but our goal will be to keep it confined to Iraq and not draw everyone else in.

AFGHANISTAN:

The allies are calling for reinforcements and none are coming. The Taliban (and Al Qaeda) has a secure base in Waziristan where we can't touch them for fear of toppling Musharraf. There's no easy answer. But we need to get our eye off Iraq and back onto Afghansitan. If more soldiers are going in they'll probably have to be ours. With enough men and dollars we at least can hold onto Afghanistan for the next ten years and hope to beat Al Qaeda from another direction. Hope the politics of terror changes. Hope that Musharraf gains enough footing from the very good work the President is doing with India and Pakistan that Musharraf will be able to reassert control. Or, okay, assert it for the first time. At least put a squeeze on those people.

THE REST:

During World War Two the United States, with half the population we have now, and a fraction of the GDP, fielded a nine million man army. Overnight we went from a relatively small arms industry to disgorging so many weapons of so many kinds that we could probably have won simply by dropping tanks on top of enemy soldiers. We need a bigger army. The Rumsfeld easy war, scalpel war, bloodless war, just-enough war is a dangerous fantasy. War is unpredictable. When things are unpredictable more is better than less.

I don't know if we need some form of draft, but we certainly don't until we've tried other alternatives. Better pay, better benefits, the usual things one does when there's a tight labor market in a particular field.

Then we need to ask ourselves why we are defending South Korea when South Korea is more than capable of defending itself. And a few other questions of that nature.

SUMMARY:

1) Use asymmetric warfare to our advantage against Iran. Two can play the guerilla game.
2) Deadline Iraq. Either they can manage the politics or they can't, but if they can't we're wasting our time there.
3) Refocus on Afghanistan, play out the clock hoping for a break.
4) Reduce comitments, raise troop levels.

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“My Very Own Democratic Plan.”

  1. Anonymous Walrus Says:

    They've meddled in Iraq and in Lebanon so our doing likewise in Iran is merely balancing the scales.

    Hmm, overthrowing Mossadegh doesn't qualify as meddling? It's a pretty heavy rock in the scales, methinks.

    A guerilla force inside Iran with sanctuary in US-protected Kurdistan is our leverage. And a guerilla force need not be limited to small arms. There's no particular reason Iranian insurgents shouldn't be trained to operate Predators or anti-aircraft missiles, to have the latest night vision capability and body armor, or to fly jets out of their own bases. "Guerilla" does not necessarily mean "guy with an AK." All that will depend on the degree to which Iran irritates us.

    Let's see. When was the last time we tried that? Oh yeah. Afghanistan. We all know how well THAT turned out. Beware of unintended consequences.

    You do have some interesting ideas here, but I have always been fond of playing devil's advocate.

  2. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    Walrus:

    And I'm fond of having devil's advocates comment, so it works out.

    We're setting Mossadegh aside under the American Short Attention Span rule. (ASAS). This rule states that nothing that happened a long time ago (say twenty years) counts. Likewise any event for which there is no film or video footage.

    To be serious, Mossadegh was balanced by the hostage taking and Iranian support for some terrorist acts, including the attack on the Beirut marines. And to be even more serious the algebra on this is more about perception than reality. Reality moved out of the middle east a long time ago.

    Unintended consequences, oh yeah. Is it entirely possible -- even likely -- that an Iranian insurgent group we trained would end up biting us in the ass some day? Of course. BUt the law of unintended consequences while important can't paralyze you: there's nothing you can do, or refuse to do, that can't come back around at you.

  3. Blogger Dave Schuler Says:

    As you know, MT, in my view any objective that can't be accomplished in the time it's politically required to be accomplished is a bad objective. By that yardstick democracy in Iraq was a bad objective.

    Why is partitioning Iraq a good thing? Why will the militias (criminal gangs) stop killing people just because their side has an enclave? Partition gives the Sunnis nothing whatever. They'll have all the incentive in the world to keep right on fighting as best they can. Where would Baghdad fit? It's Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurd. I don't see taking sides as a good alternative.

    I think that Iran is the linchpin of the Iraq situation. We don't have the ability to invade Iran or degrade its nuclear development program enough by aerial bombardment that it makes any sense to do so but we do have the ability to make life very uncomfortable for them and, in all probability, de-stabilize the country. In the past I've suggested blockade. Here's another suggestion: sabotage their oil pipelines. Surely we can do to Iran just what the Iraqi insurgency is doing to Iraq's production. Yes, the price of oil would go up. What would happen? It's not 1976 any more. I suspect it would not be as catastrophic as many think. The price of oil has already tripled since 1998.

    Afghanistan? Change the objectives. Afghanistan has no strategic significance as long as Al-Qaeda isn't running training camps in it. We can prevent that without doing much of anything else. Hard on the Afghanis but there it is.

  4. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    Dave:
    I may not have made this clear enough but I don't favor partition -- the Biden plan. I was talking only about rescuing what can be rescued -- Kurdistan -- in the event Iraq descends into full civil war. If that happens we can hang onto Kurdistan and count one victory at least.

    I'd much rather keep Iraq unified, as a counterweight to Iran one hopes. But if the Iraqis are incapable of reaching a political deal to share revenue with the Sunnis I think we're better off knowing that fact sooner rather than later.

    As for Iran my preference is for a US funded insurgency. If we're going to screw with their oil maybe we should look at picking off some of their near-shore islands. Easy to grab, easy to hold, powerful leverage. Of course then we might be in full-scale war. And as you point out, not a war we want to have.

  5. Blogger DosPeros Says:

    If the Bush Admin. has show one thing, it is that they are a one-trick foreign policy pony, to wit: blunt militarism. Having read your post, I think you might be falling into the same trap, i.e.: the only way to deal with the Middle East is through use or threat of use of violence.

    The Iranians have an ace-in-the-hole: China and India. Both of those countries countries are propping up (as well as the US) the Iranian economy with consumption of oil. The key to winning the WoT is to control the demand side of oil.

    My Plan
    We win the WoT when we can leverage Middle East Oil and we can only do that by:

    1) Buying as much of it as we can;
    2) Sinking massive money into a Manhattan Project aimed at alternative fuels
    3) Diplomacy/Economic alliances with other huge consumers of oil: Literally, an OPEC for oil consuming countries.

    We have to "win" in the global market of oil. Right now, we have the carts pushing the horse and we are surprised that we aren't going anyplace very fast. The Cold War was won economically, we spent the Soviet Union to death. This is more complicated, we have to create economic leverage on Iran and then exploit that leverage against the terrorist (something we obviously have been unwilling to do with Saudi Arabia).

    Between now and then, Tehran needs to understand that it will turned into glass if the U.S. is hit domestically with another terrorist attack. I my experience, moderation gets one's ass kicked in a street fight and is not the answer. We need ballsy intelligent creativity in the form of manipulating the global oil market and our strategic alliance to win the WoT.

  6. Anonymous Jack Whelan Says:

    Here's a question, and I'm not sure of the answer to it. Are we concerned more about Iran or China? Are our leaders really all that concerned about Iranian "power" or are they more conerned that if we were to stop our meddling and vacate the area, China will move in? Were we ever really all that concerned about Saddam and Ahmadinejad, or has the real concern been to establish the Middle East as our sphere of influence before China does?

    I say this because I just find it hard to believe that Iran in itself is that big of a concern. It's a concern, as Saddam was a concern. But things are getting distorted and exaggerated here as they were in the runup to the Iraq invasion, and I'm suspicious. I think it's pretty obvious that fight terrorism is low on the priorities list of the neocons; they have bigger fish to fry.

    Because otherwise, what would be the cost/benefit of our just vacating the region, of getting out of the aggressive "crusader" role that has been the primary incitement of Islamic terror? Why is it a basic assumption that we cannot tolerate guys like Ahmadinejad when we tolerate people like him everywhere else? Any sane person wants to limit nuclear proliferation, but at what cost? Is Iran with a bomb any scarier than Pakistan or Korea with a bomb? Why is it just assumed that we have to deal with Iran in this aggressive, pre-emptive, militaristic way?

    There's a serious, very complex, multi-layered problem that needs to be confronted here, but I think our strategy so far has been the equivalent of trying to put out a kitchen grease fire with water.

    That being said, I enjoy your posts and look forward to keeping up with your blog as you develop it further.

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