Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

The right wing’s whole narrative that “the treasonous liberals want to pull out of Iraq just when we’re on the verge of final victory!!!!11!1!" strikes me as just crass, disingenuous posturing: doing pre-spin on the inevitable withdrawal that must, given the math and the deteriorating state of our military, take place.

So, let’s get real. Using the right’s own (in my view, hubris-addled) metrics, let’s define “achieving victory in Iraq” as:

* Violence reduced to, at a minimum, Pre-March-2003 levels;
* A stable, secular, united central government in Baghdad;
* Infrastructure and services (power, water, food distribution, sewage treatment, etc.) exceeding standards that obtained in pre-war Iraq.

…thus providing the example of prosperous freedom that would be (highly debatably…) attractive to Arab populations living under dictatorships in the region.

How could the United States (and, given the level of support the United States could realistically expect from the rest of the world, it would be virtually the United States alone doing this) get there from here? What would it really, actually take to completely pacify Iraq? (Note that I’m just going to discard any considerations of the morality of the enterprise here, and argue from a position of cold, amoral pragmatism.)

Step one is troops. Lots and lots and LOTS of troops. Bush’s “surge” is comically inadequate to the task. You’d have to absolutely flood the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq with American troops, who could clear of insurgents, and then seal off to weapons smuggling, the whole of Iraq, village by village, city by city, region by region. You’d also have to effectively seal off, or at least monitor in fine-grained, very intrusive detail, the borders of the country, especially the ones with Syria and Iran - to the point that a ball-point pen couldn’t enter the country without American say-so.

This means anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of combat troops…in each large city in Iraq. Baghdad alone would probably need something in the neighborhood of 200,000 troops, just for the city itself. Plus, every road into Baghdad (and every other city in Iraq) would need to be under 24-hour patrols and surveillance, to prevent insurgents and weapons from moving from place to place. Not to mention saturating every border crossing of any size with American troops, and regular, pervasive patrols of every mile of the border.

The entire population would need to be disarmed: the military would need to just say something like, “you have six weeks to turn in any weaponry. Any Iraqi civilian found to be in possession of a weapon after that time will be presumed to be an insurgent, and will be subject to imprisonment.”

In other words, the American Military would need to effectively run Iraq in the short- to mid-term. The total American forces in the country at any moment would probably total somewhere between one and two million troops.

Step two: Once the violence was quelled (and, with sufficient troops, there is virtually no doubt it would be): “turn the lights back on.”

Prime targets of insurgents are electrical lines, to keep the population uncomfortable and inconvenienced, and thus resentful. So, rebuilding existing generating capacity, building new capacity as needed, and then putting power stations, and every mile of power line, under 24-hour guard, is essential to undermining support for the insurgents.

Next, restore basic services: Water, sewage, garbage collection.

Garbage collection especially would improve quality of life life measurably for the population, in a highly visible way, and would almost certainly be rewarded with lots of goodwill. Garbage collectors are prime targets of insurgents, because garbage piles by the side of the road make good hiding places for IEDs.

Step 3: Send the vast, vast majority of the American contractors in Iraq home, and hire Iraqi companies for all future rebuilding projects, and pay them in dollars. Iraqi unemployment is pervasive, and unemployed men (especially former Iraqi Army soldiers) are ripe for recruiting by insurgents. Employing them would dry up this particular resource for insurgents, and also give Iraqis a sense of ownership of the projects they would be building. Even people not involved directly in building schools, post offices, etc., would see them being built, and have a clear sense that everyday life is getting incrementally better.

All this would, of course, be hideously expensive - hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars, every year. There would probably also be another sharp spike in American casualties, but the insurgency would probably hugely diminish in the face of pervasive American troops, so the spike would be significant but temporary.

Of course, some of those casualties would be draftees, because summoning the level of troops required for all this would require a draft (and a big one) without question: a level of mobilization not seen since World War II. I expect the war fetishists at Little Green Footballs would get awfully quiet if they were faced with the prospect of having to actually, you know, risk their own worthless necks fighting in the war they masturbate to.

Once some semblance of stability was achieved, some sort of conference amongst the various factions in Iraq could probably hammer out an agreement that would be acceptable to all parties, or at least one that everyone would be equally dissatisfied with.

This whole project would all take a level of consensus in the United States that clearly does not obtain. A large majority of Americans oppose the occupation as it is currently being conducted. If large numbers of their children were being drafted for, and their taxes raised to pay for, an even bigger occupation, Washington D.C. would undoubtedly be overrun with citizens chasing their congressmen and senators around with torches and pitchforks.

And, it may not even work: what happens if Americans start withdrawing troops, and violence increases? What then?

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