Bush Drafting Iraq Timetable

After two years of villifying anyone who suggested a timetable was needed in Iraq, the Bush administration is reportedly now drafting a timetable for Iraq.

The Bush administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country, senior American officials said. Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the next year and beyond, are still being devised. But the officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

Although the plan would not threaten Mr. Maliki with a withdrawal of American troops, several officials said the Bush administration would consider changes in military strategy and other penalties if Iraq balked at adopting it or failed to meet critical benchmarks within it.

A senior Pentagon official involved in drafting the blueprint said Iraqi officials were being consulted as the plan evolved and would be invited to sign off on the milestones before the end of the year. But he added, “If the Iraqis fail to come back to us on this, we would have to conduct a reassessment” of the American strategy in Iraq.

In a statement issued Saturday night, a White House spokeswoman, Nicole Guillemard, said the Times’s account was “not accurate,” but did not specify what officials found to be inaccurate.

The plan is being formulated by General George W. Casey Jr. and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the top military and civilian officials in Iraq, as well as by Pentagon officials. General Casey has been in close consultations with the White House as the debate over the way forward in Iraq has intensified in recent weeks. And he and Mr. Khalilzad took part by videoconference on Saturday in a strategy meeting with President Bush and senior administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“We’re trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the plate, to push them along, because the time is coming,” a senior administration official said. “We can’t be there forever.”

Until now, the Bush administration has avoided using threats of deadlines for progress, saying conditions on the ground would determine how quickly Iraq took on greater responsibility for governing the country and how soon American troops could withdraw. CBS News has reported that the Pentagon was studying these questions, but the broad scope of the steps under consideration and the benchmarks that are being contemplated have not been disclosed.

The problem with this plan is that the Bush team was actually right all along: One simply can not set up a meaningful timeline for achieving various security milestones given the incredibly fluid situation in Iraq. Drawing up a roadmap with various signposts, setting measurable goals, and having a decent idea of what “victory” would look like are all necessary and, one would hope, were at least rough-sketched before invading in the first place. But simply saying that “sectarian militias will be disarmed by March 15th” is asinine when we don’t even know who comprises said militias and new ones are forming and old ones dissolving organically.

Holding the Maliki government’s feet to the fire makes sense. Their indecisiveness and timidity in confronting their enemies is frustrating, to say the least. But arbitrary deadlines are not helpful.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    …and, one would hope, were at least rough-sketched before invading in the first place.

    James, I think that there’s a broad perception that planning was not done in advance. I have no idea whether that’s the case but I do think that’s the perception.

    We’re living in an era in which if it doesn’t happen on TV, it didn’t happen and that’s as true of government planning as it is for anything else. If there’s one thing that this administration has failed at, it’s in making its case to the American people.

    We’re more than three years into the war in Iraq and five years into the War on Terror and “just trust us—we know what we’re doing” probably is not the greatest sales pitch.

  2. James, I think that there’s a broad perception that planning was not done in advance. I have no idea whether that’s the case but I do think that’s the perception.

    That’s certainly my perception, largely founded on statements from various Pentagon and State Dept sources who have come forward and stated as much. I seem to recall some Pentagon official recently quoted as saying Rumsfeld threatened to fire anyone that even mentioned the wisdom of putting together a plan for the aftermath of the invasion — just in case we weren’t welcomed as liberators.

  3. Derrick says:

    Libby is exactly right than insiders in this Administration have repeatedly said that there was no plan. So maybe like Conrad Burns said, there has been some secret plan running around that no one other than the GOP leadership knew about, but if there is where is the evidence of it?

  4. Anderson says:

    Just finished reading Isikoff & Corn’s Hubris (somewhat better than I expected), & they have plenty of painful stuff on how good people in the Pentagon *were* trying to plan ahead … and getting ignored by the civilians in charge, b/c admitting any difficulty to the war would’ve made it harder to sell.

    It’s painful to contemplate. The invasion was a stupid, stupid idea. But once we were committed to doing it, we should’ve done it *right*. It was a freakin’ *elective* war, we had all the time we wanted to plan for it — and we blew it, big-time.

    Despite assholes like Glenn Reynolds, Dems (like me) would’ve much rather seen a successful occupation, despite the plus that would’ve given to Bush. I doubt it could’ve come off *very* well, but it could’ve been done well enough that moving on to Iran or whatever might’ve seemed plausible.

    The amazing thing is that Bush & Cheney ignored that, too. They had no clue. They were miserably, miserably incompetent, and were able to cover that fact up into the 2004 election w/ the help of a poor Dem candidate, a lackadaisical media, and a rabid political pushback.

    –Oh, wait, there was a post too, wasn’t there? JJ, how do we hold Maliki’s feet to the fire *without* some sort of timetable? Any suggestions?

  5. anjin-san says:

    I guess this is a tacit admission that there was no course behind “stay the course”…

  6. AndyJ says:

    Another ANONYMOUS and UNATTRIBUTED NYTimes story? Why do you give these made up bits of fiction credence?

    Anonyous sources give greater credibility than the bodily gasses of junior and unreliable sources. NYTimes and WAPost have made billions of dollars giving credibility to sources that average reader would not consider trustworthy.

    Staff Plans are staff plans. Until they are enacted, they are plans. Planning is what a staff does. Junior staffers become administration sources and *POOF* magic happens.

    NYTimes has lost its credibility. Leaks during wartime and partisan politics combine with fraudulent reporters and fake photos.

    Tell me why they should be trusted?

  7. Anderson says:

    Anyone who’s not hopelessly naive knows that many reliable sources can’t go on the record, lest they be fired (or worse).

    So you have to be a grownup and evaluate anonymous items — are they plausible? do they fit what other things we’ve heard? are they meaningfully contradicted by those who should know?

    We would all do well to take such sources with a grain of salt, and to consider what invisible turf wars lead to a given “anonymous source”‘s decision to speak out.

    But to merely *dismiss* anonymous sources *as such* is childish.

    Re: the Times story, you might compare George W. Bush, on the record (on *video* no less) saying that our policy has NEVER been to “stay the course.” No, really, he says that.

    And, as for “sources that average reader would not consider trustworthy” — well, the Bushies had no problem relying on such sources to sell their Iraq war. So by your lights, how smart are Bush and Cheney?

  8. civilbehavior says:

    Stay the course, stay the course……..

    “We’ve never been stay the course” Oct 22, 2006 on This Week w/ George Stepanopolus

    Foolish Americans……keep believing the liars.

  9. davod says:

    I question the credibility of anyone who suggests using the opinions of surrounding countries as the basis for the way ahead.

    The Baker/Hamilton team has done just that. The team contains in Baker (for a start) clearly someone who does not believe in the Bush ideas for Iraq. The only question left is which megalamaniac strogman do we put on the thrown. I hear Sadaam is available. Allthough a tag team of Sadaam and el Sadr would probably go ndown equally well. They could kill off each others dissidents.

  10. davod says:

    Sorry for the spelling mistakes. Corrected post below.

    I question the credibility of anyone who suggests using the opinions of surrounding countries as the basis for the way ahead.

    The Baker/Hamilton team has done just that. The team contains in Baker (for a start) clearly someone who does not believe in the Bush ideas for Iraq. The only question left is which megalamaniac strongman do we put on the throne. I hear Sadaam is available. Allthough a tag team of Sadaam and el Sadr would probably go down equally well. They could kill off each others dissidents.

  11. Anderson says:

    someone who does not believe in the Bush ideas for Iraq

    (1) What “ideas”?

    (2) Assuming you’re willing to treat “blah blah freedom blah blah democracy” as an “idea,” then can you perhaps grasp that, to anyone who hasn’t had his head stuck in Fox News and LGF for the past 3 years, Bush’s “ideas” aren’t actually working? And aren’t going to work?

    Cf. Alexander Haig & Zbigniew Brzezinski, singing from the same page of the hymnal:

    HAIG: I think it was very improperly run, the war, because its goals were unachievable. And that is the creation of a model image of American democracy in a country that has no background or no experience. It took us a thousand years of British history, as well as 300 of our own.

    BLITZER: So this goal of a democratic Iraq, along the lines of other democracies in Europe, for example, which, at least, is a stated U.S. goal, is that totally unrealistic?

    BRZEZINSKI: Completely unrealistic. I completely agree with Al here. It’s an unrealistic goal.

    BLITZER: Why is that unrealistic, to assume that there can be a Western-style democracy in the Arab world?

    BRZEZINSKI: As an end objective, that’s not unrealistic. But the way we went about pursuing it was absolutely devastating to the pursuit of that goal.

    We cannot ignore the political history of this region, its recent encounter with colonialism and imperialism. And here we are coming in with a foreign army of a different religion, different culture, devastating the country, killing thousands of Iraqis, destroying the infrastructure of that society, all in the name of democracy. And then we expect the Iraqis to be grateful and to emulate us and build a democratic system. That is what is so fatally flawed in the strategy.

    [Note to JJ — whole exchange is worth a look, maybe even a post.]

  12. Gunner says:

    After two years of villifying anyone who suggested a timetable was needed in Iraq, the Bush administration is reportedly now drafting a timetable for Iraq.

    That is rather untrue, as there have been a variety of time contraints, milestones and deadlines to date. That administration has consistently fought against the notion of a timetable for troop withdrawal, and this article makes it clear that that position remains unchanged.