Monday, November 21, 2005

When will it be time to go home?

Well, this one is in the news a great deal now, and more and more people jump on the "bring our troops home bandwagon". Hopefully DM will be up to this one after he's had a few more days soaking up home, family and work.

I must confess I myself am not on the "troops out now" bandwagon, simply because the current state if Iraq is not, from my understanding, adequately stabilized for the good money to be on a democratic, human-rights-respecting regime to take hold in Iraq that will last. I also do not entirely dismiss suggestions that either a Shia theocracy tied to Iran, or (not unrelated) a civil war could quite easily spring up between the Iran-backed Shia majority and the Saudi (and al-q) backed Sunni minority.

Lets be very clear here. While leaving Vietnam seemed like a good idea at the time, it left a LOT of people in the lurch. Even then, however, there WAS a stable (Chinese puppet) government in the North, which was able to take control of the whole country. If the Iraqui government falls, there isn't a fall-back.

So lets maybe debate a few questions and see where we go:

1. Should there be an absolute time cap on US involvement in Iraq?

2. What are the absolute "must meet" targets before an withdrawal?

3. If the US needs/wants to pull out before these targets are met, is there an obligation to arrange for other nations to be a part of the rest of the work?

4. What mistakes has the current administration made up until now that may have delayed possible withdrawal dates?

5. What has the administration done right that has helped the process along?

6. What could the administration do now to help expedite the process in an effective and appropriate manner?

BW's Answers (to himself :P )

Okay, I'll just start by saying that I did not support the invasion of Iraq. I felt that 100% of US military and economic assets in the region should have been directed into Afghanistan, and completed the "deTalibanification" of that country, democratizing ALL the provinces not just the capital, and suppressing where necessary even former allied warlords where their respect for human rights is not demonstrably better than the Taliban's. Preventing a return to opium poppy production might have been nice too. Following that, severe pressure on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the key funders of the madrassas and agents of the spread of radical Sunni Islam and indirect culprits of 9/11 to a much more profound extent than Iraq. In short, it should have STAYED a war on terrorism and on Al Quaeda.

As for Iraq, it should have been handled with a VERY hard look at the corruption and violations in the oil for food program, and otherwise kept up the no-fly zones, forced inspections with airstrikes punishing noncompliance and economic sanctions as needed. Military force to be kept as a reserve if confirmed targets of chem/bil/nuke sites were discovered.

For preparation in general, the US forces (including intelligence forces) should have instituted full-force economic or promotion-based incentives for the learning of Arabic. I'm talking 6 months minimum off with pay to learn, bonuses, promotions, you name it, just by demonstrating verbal proficiency in Arabic. Additional bonuses for intelligence staff who learn written Arabic. The Muslim world has a lovely gift in the spread of a single second language, and there was no excuse after 9/11 not to PUSH folks to learn Arabic. This would have been useful in Afghanistan, and more profoundly useful in Iraq. It also would have increased HUMINT opportunities in the global war on terror.

Okay, now I'll answer my own questions:

1. Yeah. 25 years. Took about that long in Germany, and that is about the only example we have. The task as it has been decided is not just changing leaders, or something as simple as conquest and foreign administration. The goal as set is the complete change of a country that has been ruled dicatorially for longer than most of its citizens have been alive. The change goal is an end to dictatorship, market capitalist economy, human rights laws almost unheard of in the region and representative democracy. A five year timeline is a joke. You have to actually have people GROW UP in that environment until they're truly comfortable in it.

2. a) Crime rates (including terrorism) comparable to pre-war numbers and/or to similary countries in the region (Iran and Saudi Arabia would seem best comparisons).
b) Third-party confirmation of relatively positive human rights record. NGO inspections.
c) Substantial improvement in internation ratings for liveability, quality of life, etc. Better that pre-sanctions Iraq, comparable or better than regional averages.
d) Free and fair elections, again as assessed by third parties, ideally international bodies dedicated to this. Carter's group perhaps.
e) Not much else. You'll note I'm not talking about numbers of police, numbers of the army, yadda yadda yadda. Those are interim goals designed (one would hope) to meet the larger goals. They are only valuable if they lead to the larger goals.

3. Oh my yes, there is. Of course I'm not so sure who those nations are, but if their efforts were financed by the US, there might be some takers. I know there was a lot of talk about other nations stepping up to help with Iraq's reconstruction and helping to finance it shortly after the war, but really you can't expect countries who refused to participate in the war, or even opposed it to help pay the reconstruction bill. 'You break it, you buy it' isn't an alien concept to anyone. Regardless, the US can't withdraw without someone else picking up the medium and long-term slack. It'd be immoral.

4. The answer here depends on what you believe the war was for, what it should have accomplished and what goals you see as the end ones. If there was ANY hope of a relatively quick (ie. under 5 year) withdrawal, the administrations has made a ton of mistakes, not the least of which was de-Baathification. You can't very well dissolve all the key power structures in a totalitarian state, execute/imprison/dispossess its leaders and then expect to have a functionning country quickly. If you wanted quick, would have been best to invade, 'let' one of Saddam's least odius lieutentants "accidently" kill him, then put that guy in power. You would have a stable country. Not a NICE country, not a JUST country, but a stable country. Then, if you cared enough, you could pressure the new regime to give you bases in the country and then apply ongoing pressure over years to improve human rights, etc.

Another issue is whether the US administration should have been civilian at any stage. In my opinion, the country should have been military administered with a goal to hand it over to Iraq civilians first. No offense to Bremer personally, but I trust the military more than I trust a Bush appointee.

Human rights is another issue. IMHO the Administration STILL should join the international court of human rights and let issues like Saddam's trial be dealt with by them.

Reconstruction dollars is another area that should have been dealt with differently. It was presented as a carrot to help encourage people to join the war, they would be eligable for lucrative reconstruction contracts, etc. IMHO as much as possible core reconstruction work should have been left to the Army Corps of Engineers (whom we can trust to be competent, above corruption AND be able to secure their own job sites), and the remaining non-essentials to be completed by the first Iraqui-run civilian authority/government as they saw fit. The private sector, US and otherwise, is milking a LOT of money out of this whole process that should be spent on the work itself. Where the expertise of private contractors were needed, oversight by the engineers would still seem wisest.

Hrm, that's the second time I've suggested less civilian involvement and more trust and support for the military in dealing with the initial reconstruction work. Perhaps that's a theme. Why trust the military to take the country, but not trust them to initially administer and rebuild it?

In short, if Bush wanted a withdrawal within a couple of years, he should NEVER have completed the process of eliminating the former administrations police and army. Sure, some leaders had to go, but a lot more had to be pardoned and sent back to their main jobs of maintaining law and order. If however Bush wanted the democratized and totally retooled nation that is being talked about, he should have asked someone with some education in history, told the American poeple from the outset that it would be a 10 to 20 year plan, and then started off right from the outset on that path. Of course preparing for that path also would have needed more than a few months preparation, and it wouldn't have hurt to had a HELL of a lot more troops trained in Arabic (as I mentionned earlier) before it was attempted.

5. One of the best things the Administration has done is resisted the urge to install a puppet. Elections earlier than some might have expected also helped. I must say that the other thing the administration has done a very good job of is accept casualties. Not that I like seeing folks maimed and killed, but one of the biggest problems I always saw with Clinton was he was too chickenhearted to accept that nothing profound can be accomplished militarily without putting boots on the ground, and accepting that some of those men and women will not come home alive. Much as Iraq is a mess, at least he's not afraid to lose some people. Somalia and Yugoslavia might have turned out much different if Clinton hadn't run at the first site of blood, or preferred bombing to boots in an operation meant to protect civilian populations.

6. a) First off, the administration needs to start being honest about their choices, and how long term the plan needs to be. Granted, that is political suicide, but it is needful to keep the American people from a building groundswell to withdraw US forces long before they are ready. As a second-term president, political suicide shouldn't be keeping him up nights regardless, and the Republicans can easily field a competitive candidate in the next Presidential election that can support effective reconstruction
b) Second, its time to reintroduce the draft. Sorry, it is. The US is already starting to feel the pinch of being overcommitted militarily, and that will only get worse. Our military in Canada is so small and so over-committed that we've been burning out our best soldiers (and their families) with far too many foreign deployments. You can either reduce your commitments (something that seems impossible right now?) or you can make a big boost to manpower. In any case the stop-loss stuff and some of the dodgy officer recovery efforts recently are doing the same thing, but only to those who have chosen in the past to serve their country. The current miltary could absorb these folks in small batches, with the excellent professional military core in place. Any new draft should probably also eliminate class-based exemptions. University students can afford a year or two off. Hell, most of them are already taking it and going to Europe or working or something until they've "found themselves". They can find themselves in uniform. Make their schools guarantee their spots until they return. The children of the rich, of politicians, etc can serve as well. Perhaps we'll have better leaders in the future with some folks who have at least *seen* the sharp end, rather than sending others to it.
c) Stop/roll back tax cuts. I mean hey, some common sense. This is all costing a fortune, but it is worth doing right. That's no excuse for making future generations pay the cost. Pay for it now. At the very least eliminate the shortfall of revenue. The time to reduce taxes for ANY nation is after not just the defecit is paid off, but after the DEBT is paid off. They debt carrying charges are gone and taxes naturally go WAY down. Ask any country or province that has done it. Once you retire your debt, you can and should cut your taxes to the bone. Otherwise, you're as crazy as the man with a 200K mortgate who goes down to part-time work from a good full-time job. You'd call him crazy if it was a person, but some call it "good economics" when a country does it. DUH!!!!
d) Establish formal domestic prison systems for terrorists in Iraq and in the US and rules that can be applied CONSISTENTLY in determining whether someone is a POW as defined by the Geneva conventions, a criminal as defined by the laws of the nation in question or a terrorist, in which case a new international convention should be established to define them, and delineate how they should be deal with. Terrorist prisons in Iraq should be run by Iraquis with civilian oversight, like the H-blocks in Northern Ireland used for the longest time to house terrorists separately from regular criminals, under civilian oversight. Once an international agreement regarding terrorist detention is made, end the practice of using the questionable "enemy combatant" term to ignore existing rules. Have military detention only for legitimate POWs, and leave the military out of all management of terrorists following their capture. Require the conviction or at least a finding of terrorism of individuals before they can be detained long term, and require they be charged within two weeks of their capture, barring special circumstances, and brought to trial within a year of their capture (again barring circumstances). Ensure terrorist prisons are open to inspection by the Red Cross just as POW prisons are. Ensure torture is not used except as specifically delineated by a law passed by the US government, without leeway for local 'creativity'.
e) Establish and impose sanctions on nations found to be exporting terror not just internationally but even regionally. Distinguish between formal state sponsorship and simply the export of radical citizens acting privately, but hold nations accountable to some extent for both. Establish positive reward practices for nations that in good faith reduce or eliminate such practices.
f) It's still not too late to spend a ton of time and effort teaching all US military officers Arabic, and ideally NCMs as well. Bonuses for ANY troop regardless of rank who demonstrates proficiency in written and oral Arabic. Similarly classes (not just a few, but say 40 hours at least) on local culture mandatory for folks in-country but also expecting to be deployed as well. Relying on domestic interpreters for day-to-day matters is insane, a short-term solution inappropriate in a longer deployment. Having a SMALL cadre of such experts (well educated and carefully vetted) to troubleshoot, teach and train would work much better.