Thursday, January 11, 2007

A New Way Forward?
I watched the President's speech last night and have a few thoughts.

I was encouraged by several points:
1) Distributing oil profits to the Iraqi people. I still wonder how they expect to administer this plan, but if it goes well it could help turn popular support against those who disrupt the flow.
2) Cutting off Iran & Syria's suppport for terrorists in Iraq. Again, I'll believe it when I see it, but it's worth the effort.
3) His solicitation of other ideas from Congress and his admission that any mistakes were his fault. The Dems in Congress will still scream that he doesn't listen, but both points were rare and overdue bits of humility from this administration.

My problem with the speech, however is that we are still inadequately defining what our strategic goals in the country should be. It's hard to measure our progress if we don't know what the correct direction is. As a result, I discount any claim that victory is critical or that we can't afford to fail in Iraq because I don't know what constitutes victory or failure.

I've complained about this before, so I've decided to lay out what I see as the most important strategic goals.

1) A sustained and aggressive offensive against Al Qaeda. From what I can tell, we have had only moderate success on this goal in Iraq. It took us far too long to get Zarqawi and we allowed his groups to bomb the Mosque of Samarra. However, the fly-paper strategy has seemed to have some success. Many people talk of "draining th e swamp". I think we're better off trying to attract foreign jihadists to Iraq, as I continue to believe that the Marines and GI's in Iraq are better equipped to deal with these terrorists than the Sheriff in Yuba City, CA or the beat-cop in Boston, MA.

2) Depriving Iran of control of Iraq's oil. We are slipping on this goal. While Iran has not marched across the boarder and seized the oil fields, I worry that they pull the strings with Muqtada al Sadr and that he will emerge as Iraq's leader, whether he is popularly elected or he takes over by force. Based on the fact that Saddam's guard's were shouting "Muqtada" when they put the noose around Saddam's neck, I would not be surprised to see a military coup in support of the Shiite leader. As I understand it, many of the death squads are manned by members of the new Iraqi army anyway.

3) Do not allow our troops to become involved in a Shia vs. Sunni (vs. Kurd) civil war in Iraq. There is pent up hostility between these groups that predates but was exacerbated by Saddam's rule. I still worry that this is a powder keg, and right now we are just seeing the sparks.

So is a "surge" of troops the best way to achieve these goals? I doubt it.

I still believe that redoplying our troops to bases in the desert will help them protect the oil infrastructure, stage special forces operations against Al Qaeda, deter Iran from invading, and remove our troops from the middle of the sectarian violence in the cities.

If we try to impose security in Baghdad with extra troops, then we will find ourselves fighting both the Sunni Insurgents and the Shiite militias. When that happens, it means that the Iraqi people, not Saddam's forces, have become our adversary, and that will be a road to disaster.

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