Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Letter to the Editor

Here is my recently published letter to the editor of my local newspaper, the Kalamazoo Gazette, in response to their editorial on President Bush and the Iraq War. It's just my latest version of screaming into the wilderness which is the editorial board of the Gazette:

`Spite' was wrong issue to focus on

January 23, 2007

Your recent editorial, ``Don't cut military funding to spite Bush,'' is one of the most obtuse opinion pieces I've read on the Iraq war. With so much mayhem produced by Bush's failed Iraq policy, with so many Americans and Iraqis killed and maimed unnecessarily, it is inconceivable for a responsible journalistic board to come up with such a fatuous thesis.

I've heard nobody call for cutting war revenue in order to ``spite'' Bush. On the contrary, Bush has received a bipartisan blank check up to this point and has done nothing constructive with such unrestrained power. It's about time someone, at least, counted the pennies spent.

Bush's ``new strategy'' has been roundly criticized by Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, hawks and doves, and it stands in complete contrast to what was recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

You state that a funding cut would ``send a terrible message to U.S. troops.'' Perhaps you should pay more attention to the ``terrible message'' sent by a commander-in-chief who has made one wrong decision after another in the prosecution of this ill-conceived war.

You should think more critically about the president's proposal and less about the political machinations of a frustrated Congress and public who have generously supported Bush with their blood and treasure.

If you agree with Bush's latest iteration of a plan for Iraq, then make the case, but don't berate the loyal opposition who are (finally) doing the responsible job of governance. And please don't assign assumed motives such as ``spite.''

Of course, the Kalamazoo Gazette is the same newspaper that endorsed Bush in 2004 after disagreeing with almost every policy supported by his administration, so dissonant editorials have become commonplace.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Option 4: The Heavy Lifting that Didn't Happen

I've been thinking about the old joke about the man going into the service station for directions and the man behind behind the counter says, “You can't get there from here.”

Thus, I'll discuss Option 4. To form a free, peaceful and democratic society in Iraq the necessary components may be lacking. As House has wisely surmised, they would have stumbled on a democratic system by now if they were so inclined.

The US mission in Iraq has inexorably creeped from a search for Weapons of Mass Destruction into a nation-building exercise that was destined for failure from the outset. The military won a decided victory over Saddam's Republican Guard within days and US led inspection teams ruled out the expected stockpiles of biochemical weapons within a few weeks, and everyone knew that Iraq never had nuclear capabilities.

So now we are entrenched militarily in a region that is increasingly unstable and no discernible realistic goal has been put forth. A comprehensive solution would have entailed political, diplomatic and economic phases in addition to the military phase. Unfortunately (an appropriate term in reference to Iraq), the time to have begun the political, diplomatic and economic parts of the plan was either before or during the military phase. Can we expect our diplomatic allies to sign on to the mission now? Can we expect the warring factions within Iraq to come to the table for a political solution as was done in Dayton? Can we expect the economy of Iraq to be self-sufficient any time soon? Hardly on all three accounts.

Having said that, I'll present the plan put forth by Michael O'Hanlon (at right) and Edward Joseph from the Brookings Institution who are calling for a partition, or federalization, of Iraq as was done in the Balkans in the 1990's. Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) and others have called for similar partition plans as well. Obviously, these regions are different enough to obviate direct correlations between their solutions. Also, the Iraq war has been so mismanaged for so long that the chances of a peaceful outcome are vanishingly small.

O'Hanlon recognizes that Iraq, like the Balkans, consists of distinct subregions dominated by ethnic and/or religious majorities. These subregions should be allowed to exist in semi-autonomous states with self-rule based on their unique characteristics. Unlike Bosnia, however, Iraq has an economy welded to the delivery of one thing-- oil-- and that for a successful economic plan, collusion among the sectarian factions in Iraq must take place to exploit the export of oil in order to benefit all the players. Without a political truce among the factions, the economy of Iraq will falter.

Unfortunately (yes that word is used a lot in relation to Iraq), the circumstances in Iraq have not ever been amenable to a peaceful coexistence between Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds. Only with a dictatorial ruler has there been enough order to keep the oil flowing. Scowcroft and Poppy Bush were wise enough to know that in 1991, thus they allowed Saddam to stay in power after Gulf War I. And if the machinations of full scale diplomatic, political, economic and military nation-building were to occur, the work necessary should have been done in advance and by an administration more competent than the current one. Failure was predetermined in 2003.

O'Hanlon, however, believes that we could attempt a political solution even at this late date by bringing the major players together, Shi'a, Sunni and Kurd, for a summit to iron out differences and come to some accord, as was done in Dayton. So far, however, no inkling of such a gambit has ever been put forth. Furthermore, strong militia leaders such Moqtada al-Sadr and perhaps even al Qaeda leaders would demand to be at the table, which of course would be a nonstarter and could kybosh any deal. Sadr's militia reportedly numbers 60,000 and is fully armed.

In order to increase the slim chance of lasting success for O'Hanlon's political plan, a diplomatic phase would need to be instituted among our allies which would necessarily include UN, NATO and especially Arab states such as Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Having a true multinational force in place to keep the peace for the long haul would do wonders to instill a sense stability and commitment to the educated moderate citizens in the region. Unfortunately (there's that word again), many of the educated and productive moderate Iraqis have left in the continuing refugee migration of 1000 people per day. This brain drain will have lasting negative consequences on the social development of Iraq for generations to come. And with Great Britain reducing their presence to 4500 from 7000, chances of increasing an allied presence in the Iraq quagmire is zero.

My point in the previous discussion of Option III was that if, as Bush is determined to do, we are to entertain a purely military solution to Iraq, and ignore our allies' opinions, and pay for it by ourselves, then we had better have a big freakin' army. Only by having a huge overwhelming military presence to institute martial law for perhaps a decade can we have any hope of making up for the deficiencies of the political, economic and diplomatic parts of the plan. And nobody would be able to guarantee that even then we would be successful. In short, the 21,500 planned by Bush is way too little and way too late.

I admit that going through these perverse mental gymnastics is pointless. Bush will do what Bush will do as Decider-in-Chief, and it will likely make no rational sense. To speak of “solutions” in Iraq is specious. I'm also safe in that there is no way I will be proven wrong since Bush is unlikely to engage in the heavy lifting needed to institute anything so sensible as a comprehensive plan as Clinton had done in Bosnia, and the American people are wise enough to eschew any military draft for Bush in Iraq.

Monday, January 08, 2007

WSJ: Hack Journalism

The Wall Street Journal's (subscription) editorial Monday follows many of the themes covered by my latest “diatribe”, with one glaring deficiency, which is that they fail to arrive at a conclusive remedy.

They call for a "Heaver Footprint" in Iraq:

President Bush is set to announce his new strategy for Iraq this week, and the early signs are that it will include both more American and Iraqi troops to improve security, especially in Baghdad. We think the American people will support the effort, as long as Mr. Bush treats this like the all-in proposition it deserves to be.

So now after the Republicans have lost both houses of congress, Bush is going to unveil his fourth or fifth “plan for success.” Has he attempted to garner support from congressional leaders, from foreign allies, from high ranking advisors or members of the Iraq Survey Group for his "new strategy"? Has Bush done the behind the scenes wrangling necessary to make his case, or is he going to simply make another lame proclamation to all of us unwashed masses and then expect us to cheer our great leader?

If the stakes in Iraq are as great as Mr. Bush says -- and we believe they are -- then he should commit whatever forces are needed to achieve success. The public's support for the Iraq campaign is waning, in major part because the casualties and expense have been producing no visible progress.

No mention is made of Bush's responsibility in squandering the support of the public and congress these past four years. If I were the WSJ opinion editor and had backed Bush during this deadly dithering, I would be irate at this point. Where is the outrage? When Bush's latest “plan” fails, WSJ will be the first to blame the “waning public support” or the Democratic congress, but never the Commander-in-Chief.

A better message is that he will do whatever it takes to reinforce the forces of moderation and democracy in Iraq to prevent a defeat that would empower American enemies in Iraq and in the war on terror. And his strategy is best framed as providing the forces necessary to protect the population that most military experts believe is the key to successful counterinsurgency.

Ahhh, yes, the plaintive plea to “do whatever it takes.” And what, pray tell, could that be? More troops? OK, then how many? And from where will they come?

The most glaring deficiency of the Wall Street Journal piece is the lack of a concrete remedy, which according to Journalism 101, is requisite for any opinion piece. The WSJ is negligent to point out the problems in Iraq and not conclude that more soldiers-- many more soldiers-- are needed, and have been needed for a long time, to “prevent defeat.

The 800 lb gorilla in the room that nobody wants to recognize is that, if we choose to continue this war, we need to institute a draft. Go heavy or go home. And by going home, we will have abrogated our responsibilities to “buy what we break” in Iraq.

The tragedy nearly four years after the fall of Saddam is that such a strategy has never been tried. The consequences of failure in Iraq are too great not to try it now, before it really is too late.

Notice the passive tense: strategies are tried. Those pesky strategies just don't behave themselves. Never mind holding the ersatz strategist accountable.

And when, pray tell, will it be “really too late.” When your son or daughter is required to put on a uniform?

Bush has three options: pull-out altogether, add 20K to 40K soldiers, or institute a draft and add up to 250K soldiers immediately, as Gen Shinseki and others had advocated in 2003. Following his usual pattern, however, Bush most likely will do the worst of all three options and adopt some version of the McCain plan which is add just enough soldiers to kick this can down the road for another 6 months. And that number-- 20K, 30K-- has been determined by how many troops are available rather than how many are needed.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Option III: Win this Stinking War

I never liked this war. From the beginning I was part of the vocal minority that said it was wrong and it would not serve our interests. Many friends and family members were either quietly acquiescent or engagingly supportive of the war, but I find nobody now in support of continuing Bush's policies. I will present a responsible plan-- the only plan-- to win the war in Iraq.

Iraq is not Vietnam. It's leagues worse mainly because of its geopolitical importance. I respect Cindy Sheehan and have had the honor to meet her and shake her hand in recognition of her grief and the sacrifice of her son for my perceived safety. I am thankful that she has been calling attention to the failures of the president, and doing so all the while taking heat from opponents and grieving a terrible loss. She is a special lady. But I disagree with the current anti-war movement which is calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. I may be alone, but I believe that we have a moral imperative to fix the problem we created. It's a bummer being part of a representative democracy, but as such we have to take the bad with the good, and the current bad is that we are responsible for our leaders' mistakes.

In previous columns, I have presented two options in Iraq: the McCain Plan of adding 20-40,000 more troops in an effort to “win” the war and the Hagel and Murtha Plan to pull out in a “phased redeployment”, which has also been given tacit approval by a number of military leaders.

Today I'll provide a plan that I have not heard before, but one that was inspired by listening and reading realist foreign policy thinkers, notably Lt Col Brent Scowcroft, previous National Security Advisor under George H.W. Bush, Dennis Ross who served under Poppy Bush and Clinton, Kenneth Pollack from the Brookings Institution , Sen Joe Biden (D-DE), and the infamous Henry Kissinger as well as other stalwarts from the Cold War era.

Granted, I have no idea if Pollack, Biden, Ross and Scowcroft would have any agreement with my plan; I only contend that this plan is inspired by their thoughts. None of these men has ever broached any type of comprehensive strategy as far as I know.

Option III is to really win the war in Iraq. Losing Iraq and watching it devolve into lawless theocratic enclaves is simply not an option. Unlike Vietnam and Korea, Iraq has significant natural resources that are integral to the world's economy. Failure in this war would not only limit exports from Iraq, but would also destabilize other oil producing nations in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Furthermore, abdication of our responsibility in the plight of Iraq and Iraqis would signal to our other allies that we have neither the will nor the ability to follow through on our endeavors. The ramifications of losing Iraq are daunting and would affect every level of our culture and security for generations.

Many on the left have bemoaned the lack of a realistic goal for “victory” in Iraq. Nonsense. The goal is to have a stable government that exports oil. Period. The astute observer would then ask, you mean like Iraq had under Saddam Hussein? The answer is yes, but we can't go back to that model mainly because Saddam was executed last week. Neither could we put in power a puppet “Shah of Iraq” at this juncture with so much attention focused on US involvement. Ahhhh, the 1950's and 1990's were such simpler times. So now we must do the heavy lifting of nurturing some type of representative government(s) in Iraq either as a single federal republic or a combination of states based on sectarian or ethnic preferences.

The plan I propose is to treat Iraq like it was Bosnia writ large. In many ways the regions are similar in that they are marked by sectarian strife, porous borders and historically have been ruled by strongmen. The difference is that Iraq is now much less stable than the Balkans ever were, and Iraq's neighborhood is the largest supplier of crude oil, which runs the world's economies. Many naysayers castigated the Clinton administration for getting involved in Bosnia and Yugoslavia, and many predicted a Vietnam-like quagmire at the time. If the Balkans can be quelled, peaceably occupied and self-governed, then perhaps Iraq could as well. The difference has been the US' inept involvement in the destabilization of Iraq, and the completely incompetent diplomatic, political and military conduct of the Iraq war versus the near-perfect execution of the Bosnian and Yugoslavian war plans.

Is it too late to turn Iraq around? I don't know, but if there is any hope, then the way to do it is simple (although not easy.) Simply put, overwhelming military presence enjoined by astute diplomacy and followed by economic exploitation of the region's assets. While I have real doubts about the current administration being able to perform on all these fronts, I will present my solution as a best case scenario.

Go heavy or go home. The problem with the McCain Plan is that 20,000 troops are not nearly enough-- too little too late would spell disaster. Due to Cheney's dithering, we are left with at best one more shot to get this right, and to send too few troops would be disastrous, just as it was in 2003. Is it possible to send too many soldiers?

To keep order in the Balkans, it currently takes about one armed guard for every 50 citizens, which would translate to about 150,000 soldiers in Baghdad proper. Given that the city has been allowed to become an armed guerrilla camp over the past 40 months, I would add 50,000 to that number to get a total 200,000 US soldiers to patrol Baghdad streets. Currently we have about 90,000 plus 65,000 inadequately trained Iraqi soldiers who are often an impediment to the peace. Therefore, we would have to immediately add 110,000 US soldiers into Baghdad in order to institute marshal law and establish the peace.

Outside of Baghdad and Anbar province, the outlying areas are relatively peaceful and would require a less dense military support, perhaps 100,000 for a troop strength needed as an occupying force of approximately 300,000.

Border security and forces needed to train Iraqi's would equal another 100,000 troops, for a grand total of 400,000 men and women active in theater. We currently have 140,000 in country, not including the multinational force in Afghanistan. For that many active soldiers, a total US military of perhaps 2.5 million from our current 1 million would be required.

Nothing is to say that all these soldiers would need to be American. Many of the border and training duties could be taken over immediately by the UN and NATO peacekeepers and preferably a strong presence from Muslim nations such as Turkey and Egypt. Unfortunately, our diplomatic standing under Bush's leadership is so poor that garnering help, even for non-combat positions, would be a challenge. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, we should plan on bearing the brunt of the military duties.

The US military would need to grow by at least 200% in the immediate future. If this seems daunting, then we should remember that in World War II, with the US population one-third of today's, we fielded a similarly numbered military that fought in two separate theaters in deadly battles such as Iwo Jima where 20,000 men were lost in a week's time. Most of these men and women were trained in a very short time frame after the December 7, 1941 surprise attack. Can it be done? Yes, if we have the resolve and leadership to institute a draft.

Like World War II, taxes need to be raised, every able man and woman who is military aged needs to be in uniform, industries would need to be diverted to the war effort, the citizens have to be involved. A real war effort requires sacrifice by every facet of society and 400,000 soldiers in country. The Bush twins and Pierce Bush in uniform would be a great start. I have no idea what President Bush will present this week as his latest “plan”, but if it is anything short of complete national mobilization, then we need to impeach him, convict him and jail him for high crimes against humanity, gross negligence and perhaps mental instability endangering our national interest. I may be alone, but as a citizen I believe it's our duty to our nation and the world.

A majority of Americans were inexplicably supportive of the Iraq war in the beginning, but support was strong even after the facts became apparent that our president had cherry-picked intelligence and was careless in his strategy. The public sentiment turned south only when we realized that our leaders decided to lose the war. I say “decided” very carefully, but that is what I mean. They did not choose the strategy and tactics that would have led to success. The Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force was ignored. The forethought of establishing order and securing borders was lacking. As Republican Senator Gordon Smith recently opined, the negligence “may be criminal.” I would subtract the “may be.”

I find it odd that many Bush supporters and those who acquiesced to the Iraq war on either moral or pragmatic concerns are now quick to relinquish their support. This show isn't interesting anymore, so let's simply change the channel? And by “acquiesce” I mean anyone who either voted for Bush in 2000 or 2004 or failed to vote against him in 2004 when his incompetence was clearly apparent. He is our president, and whether you agree with him or not, whether you voted for him or not, we are all responsible for his actions. Although I have never agreed with Bush or his war, and certainly would never have voted for him, I realize that we have a moral imperative to attempt the establishment of order in Iraq (and Afghanistan) going forward.

If we walk away from Iraq, then what? We go on with our lives as if nothing happened? We buy our plasma TV's, vacation in Mexico and turn off CNN when they report the Cambodia-style bloodletting in Iraq? Then what? Brent Scowcroft, who does not have a reputation as being especially alarmist, argues that losing Iraq would destabilize the entire region, particularly Saudi Arabia's and Kuwait's tenuous oligarchies and “probably we'd see $200 per barrel oil.” Such a high oil price does not simply mean that we all drive Civics and wear fluffy sweaters, it means that the entire world's economy comes to a screeching halt. Screeching. In our lifetime, we have never seen a real worldwide economic collapse, of which the Great Depression would be a mild example. Wars, dirty bombs, unabated pestilence, gnashing of teeth, etc, etc are all real possibilities.

True, we could have avoided the war in Iraq and put the $400 billion toward alternative energy technology and homeland security, but we chose not to. True, we could have promoted democratic transitions in more stable allies like Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, but we chose not to. True, we could have corrected the historic injustices perpetrated on Palestinians by us and our chief ally, but we chose not to. Instead we chose to sheepishly follow our maladroit leaders into this unfortunate Iraq escapade. And then we re-elected the numbskull.

The primary problem with the Iraq war is that it was started in the first place. The problem with Option III is that it was not done four years ago, as General Shinseki and other military thinkers had presented at the time. If this had been instituted in 2003, we likely would not be having this dire discussion, and loud-mouthed critics like me would have been silenced. If we had a president that could strategize war, inspire confidence among our allies and unite the American people, then perhaps we wouldn't be having this dire discussion. The current problem is that we are 4 years into a losing war, the American people are inattentive to any talk of further escalation and our leadership continues to be stunningly inept.

Nobody is reminding the American people that losing Iraq has real consequences... lasting worldwide consequences. And we need to get over this silliness that goals are unattainable in Iraq. Democrat, Republican, Red state, Blue state, Activist, Inattentive... we need to (finally) do the heavy lifting-- ALL of us. In short, we need to grow up. But will we?

Bush is our president, our responsibility is to clean up his mess. But will we?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Madam Speaker

It's a big deal. But it's not really a big deal. For the first time a woman is a heartbeat and a defibrillator malfunction away from being President of the USA.

Women have earned the highest jobs within governments and business throughout the world and the United States remains one of the few developed countries that has not had a woman chief executive. I mean if Pakistan can do it, why can't we?

I have no idea what kind of job Nancy Pelosi will do as Speaker of the House. I have no idea where she will rank among her predecessors Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, Tom Foley, Tip O'Neil and Sam Rayburn. She may present an agenda of unifying reforms and responsible accountability or she may take bribes and kickbacks and divide the citizenry with demagoguery. Only time will tell.

But I do know one thing: her job will not be easier because of her gender. Unnecessary comments will be made about her attire, her hairstyle and her make-up. Missteps or weakness will be attributed to something as irrelevant as her chromosomal configuration. Strengths will not.

Whenever such a hurdle is jumped, the hurdler later recounts the pressure that was sensed and the encumbrances that were met. From Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson to Madeleine Albright and Sally Ride, the first person through a particular gate pays a certain price. These other pioneers were capable, talented and honorable persons who overcame obstacles that were artificially burdensome. Like these other pioneers, Ms. Pelosi is specially qualified for the charge and will serve with distinction.

Serving as chief resident more than a decade ago, I remember walking through a surgical ward with a female attending several years my senior and asking her advice on the management of a particularly ill patient. On three separate occasions we were interrupted by patients or family members asking for nursing help or food service or hygiene care or some such thing. On each occasion the female physician stopped and politely directed the person to the proper nursing or clerical personnel. After the third incident, it occurred to me that this never happened when I was alone or with another male doctor. These people, either consciously or not, viewed a female in the hospital differently, even even one who wore an identical white coat, beeper and stethoscope that I did.

The point is that our culture has not evolved past these stereotypes about gender, and this failure is at our peril. As the first female US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright famously reported that when she went overseas to meet with patriarchal Third-World leaders, she always looked back to the airplane as she disembarked to read the United States of America on the side of the plane. This reminded her that she was not alone, she was representing the greatest nation in the world.

As Speaker Pelosi leads us forward, she has a daunting job. So much has gone wrong in our federal government these past several years that deft leadership is necessary especially now. Her gender is no guarantee of success or failure.

Her job will not be made easier because of her gender. But I'm one proud American who is thankful that Nancy Pelosi is Madam Speaker...

because she's the best person for the job.