“A plan, a plan, my kingdom for a plan!”

Now that the Democratic Party has won congress, a result I am thrilled to see, there will be increasing cries for them to present “A Plan” for Iraq. Leaving aside the constitutional issues, i.e., the executive branch is responsible for military operations, while congress controls the purse strings and provides oversight, asking for a plan at this point is a complete exercise in futility. There were a number of plans presented or endorse by Democrats over the past four years and all of them were ignored. At this point, Republicans are basically saying, “we’ve ignored you for years, but now that it’s completely fubar’d what do you intend to do about it?”

Unfortunately, there is probably nothing that can be done about Iraq – or at least very little that is palatable. We’ll see what the Baker commission comes back with, but in the meantime let’s review the things that we could have done:

1) Most obvious, we could have avoided the whole war to begin with. As was known before and proved after the invasion, Saddam had no WMDs, was not a threat to us, was not involved in 9/11, and was cooperating with the IAEA. I remember the state of the union speech that Bush gave in the run-up to the war. I remember screaming at the television that the man was lying. Aluminum tubes? They were of insufficient strength to separate uranium. Uranium from Niger? Complete fabrication. I could go on and on about what was known before the SOTU address. The only question left in my mind is whether Bush was lying or completely ignorant.

2) Sufficient troops. General Eric Shinseki suggested that we needed several hundred thousand troops to pacify Iraq. For this, he had his authority ripped out from under him when a report was released that stated Rumsfeld had named Shinseki’s successor 14 months before his term expired. in any event, Shinseki’s estimate of several hundred thousand troops seems to have come straight out of the Army War Colleges journal, Parameters. As this article notes, necessary force ratios are proportional to population size and are affected by the level of violence. A peaceful country like the U.S. might maintain a police force with a force ratio of around 3 per thousand, but to pacify a country might take a force ratio between 10 and 20 per thousand. The article notes that the British had around 20 per thousand in Northern Ireland during the height of the unrest there. Right now, our force ratio in Iraq is in the neighborhood of 5 to 6 per thousand, and we’re in the midst of a civil war. Bringing order to Iraq could easily require 400-500,000 troops. As the 1995 article notes, “we must finally acknowledge that many countries are simply too big to be plausible candidates for stabilization by external forces.” At 26 million people, some 6 million in Baghdad alone, Iraq may be one of them.

3) Of course, at the outset, a lower force ratio could have worked and some of those troops could have been Iraqi. So, a third plan: maintain and don’t disband the army. Unfortunately, the administration through the CPA did disband the army, forming the nucleus of the insurgency. So, instead of having a stabilizing force, we gave a leg up to our enemies and gave them weapons with which to attack us.

4) Along the lines of disbanding the army, many of us opposed de-baathification. This policy essentially drove out of government anyone who had belonged to the Baath party, i.e., all of the people that actually knew how to work the government and to provide services. In order to have any position of responsibility in Iraq under Saddam, you had to belong to the Baath party. You didn’t have to kill people, you didn’t have to believe in it, you just had to officially sign up. A much smarter policy would have been to get rid of the killers and abusers and leave the engineers, military officers and teachers.

5) As the situation started to deteriorate, we needed to train up the Iraqis to get them in a position to stabilize their own country, i.e., get the overall, effective force ratio up around 20 per thousand. The problem is that the soldiers, police officers and recruits are a) afraid to leave their families; and b) getting killed before they can be trained to defend themselves – in many cases, killed before they join up. Addressing this problem, by either moving the recruits to another country for training or to a safer location within Iraq could have helped.

I’m sure I’m missing other “plans” from the past 4 years, these are just the ones I can come up with off the top of my head.  At this point, there aren’t too many options left. Stabilizing the country will take a massive increase in troops – troops the U.S. doesn’t have. Most of our allies have either bailed out or are in the process of bailing. This leaves us with only a few other sources of troops, one could imagine that we would have to bribe provide incentives to the Egyptians or more distastefully to the Iranians and/or Syrians. None of these countries will willingly put forward the hundreds of thousands of troops needed and their price for doing so would be incredibly steep, but still cheaper than our participation in an ongoing civil war.

The moral is that preventing a problem is far easier than correcting it. The Republicans didn’t prevent the problem, but now they want someone else to take the responsibility for a lack of options for fixing it.

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