Iraq Options: Go Big, Go Long or Go Home

WaPo fronts a piece by Thomas Ricks on the Pentagon’s long term strategic planning for Iraq.

The Pentagon’s closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials. Insiders have dubbed the options “Go Big,” “Go Long” and “Go Home.” The group conducting the review is likely to recommend a combination of a small, short-term increase in U.S. troops and a long-term commitment to stepped-up training and advising of Iraqi forces, the officials said.

[…]

“Go Big,” the first option, originally contemplated a large increase in U.S. troops in Iraq to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence. A classic counterinsurgency campaign, though, would require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police. That option has been all but rejected by the study group, which concluded that there are not enough troops in the U.S. military and not enough effective Iraqi forces, said sources who have been informally briefed on the review.

[…]

“Go Home,” the third option, calls for a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops. It was rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown and bloody civil war.

The group has devised a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second one — “Go Long” — and calls for cutting the U.S. combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of the training and advisory efforts. Under this mixture of options, which is gaining favor inside the military, the U.S. presence in Iraq, currently about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period, the officials said.

Setting up two strawmen so that the alternative preferred all along looks great by comparison is a classic bureaucratic strategy. Both “Go Big” and “Go Home,” in their purest forms, as non-starters for reasons outlined above. That leaves “Go Long.”

As noted in the longer piece, that option is hardly without risks.

That combination plan, which one defense official called “Go Big but Short While Transitioning to Go Long,” could backfire if Iraqis suspect it is really a way for the United States to moonwalk out of Iraq — that is, to imitate singer Michael Jackson’s trademark move of appearing to move forward while actually sliding backward. “If we commit to that concept, we have to accept upfront that it might result in the opposite of what we want,” the official said.

And, of course, even aside from the perception issue, it might not work. Providing interim security while training up a competent Iraqi defense force who would take over the job has always been the plan. We got off to a poor start and rebooted that effort under the command of Dave Petraeus and appear to have made substantial progress. Still, it has been maddeningly slow and it has proven virtually impossible to prevent the infiltration of the security forces by the enemy.

The U.S. Special Forces managed to square that circle in El Salvador, ultimately defeating the insurgency while maintaining a very small footprint. The operation was, to say the least, not without controversy and there are myriad operational and practical differences with the situation in Iraq. Still, it is doable.

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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. Shooting the messenger…

    There is no denying, the Bush administration has made a mess of Iraq.

    Can the conservative blogosphere stop drinking the kool-aid for once?…

  2. Pentagon May Suggest Short-Term Buildup Leading to Iraq Exit…

    The Pentagon’s closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three ba…

  3. […] A New World Disorder? Chaos will be the order of the day until the people will have in charge are stopped. And gone. It doesn’t much matter that the Dems are in charge on The Hill. The White House idiots who see themselves as A Light Upon a Hill will not be stopped. They will march up the next hill and fall into the next chasm if we let them. And not going away anytime soon? Where do we go from here in Iraq? Setting up two strawmen so that the alternative preferred all along looks great by comparison is a classic bureaucratic strategy. Both “Go Big” and “Go Home,” in their purest forms, as non-starters for reasons outlined above. That leaves “Go Long.” […]

  4. Herb says:

    As long as we have the goody goody people in Washington and around the country that have demanded that we fight a “Clean” war, the entire Iraq situation is almost hopeless. Those who have made gigantic issues of the ways and methods we use to question insurgents and terrorist have hamstrung our troops and those who conduct the war and those who are in the best position to say how and what methods we use to interrogate those who hide behind the skirts of their female population.

    Until we start getting real tough on those who “fade into the population” and start shooting a few of the terrorist on the spot, the problems will persist.

    As the entire war is now going, our troops have been nothing more than targets and we as Americans have McCain, Durbin, Kerry, Murtha and a host of other “Experts” and politic ans, who think only of their political futures, to thank for the present situation in Iraq and the continued increase in the number of troops killed and wounded

    Until we as Americans start thinking about “winning” this war and consider the enemy as the enemy that should be destroyed, the terrorist have the winning hand.

  5. legion says:

    Ahhh, Herb. I’ve missed your particularly rabid brand of insanity lately. Certainly, everyone in Iraq carrying a big, colorful “I AM A TERRORIST INSURGENT” sign should be shot on sight. Then we can burn down a few villages, just to show that we bean business.

    Setting up two strawmen so that the alternative preferred all along looks great by comparison is a classic bureaucratic strategy. Both “Go Big” and “Go Home,” in their purest forms, as non-starters for reasons outlined above. That leaves “Go Long.”

    James, you have hit the nail on the head. Anybody who has not been in a coma for the last 5 years knows full well that “go long” is the only solution Bush will follow – those other choice literally aren’t even on the table, outside of an op-ed page.

  6. Herb says:

    Legion:

    Nice to see that you are still on the back page reading from right to left.

    It’s guys like you that have only a political agenda and the desire to see American troops lose this war. You and Murtha seem to have something in common and Congresswoman Schmidt had both of you pegged.

    I can not understand why you don’t have the courage to come right out and say that you are routing for the terrorist.

  7. Tano says:

    Doncha just love the great game of words?

    Given that many have considered the terms “cut and run” and “stay the course” (and “send more troops”) as ridiculously over-simplified slogans rather than serious strategies, it is reassuring to see that the serious people have now fully fleshed out these terms into a set of detailed, complex alternative plans of action. “Go home”, “go long” (and “go big”).

    Just when we start to think that our national leaders are devoid of ideas, they rise to the occasion and set out these new alternatives. And the choice that is being made seems to be a brilliant and insightful stroke. No longer will we be trapped in this “stay the course” policy, we going long!

  8. legion says:

    It’s guys like you that have only a political agenda and the desire to see American troops lose this war.

    Heh. I’d be insulted if you weren’t so clearly insane.

    I can not understand why you don’t have the courage to come right out and say that you are routing for the terrorist.

    I dunno, Herb. Maybe you should come out and admit that you want to see countless more US soldiers die attempting to achieve something in Iraq that every sane person on the planet (including probationary members to that group like Tony Blair and Henry Kissenger) agrees cannot be accomplished.

    But to put something actually relevant into this comment, did anyone else notice this part?

    The Pentagon group’s proceedings are so secret that officials asked to help it have not even been told its title or mandate.

    Has anyone ranted about the horrible, horrible traitors at the WaPo printing our most classified seekrets yet?

  9. […] Update- James Joyner at OTB points out a Thomas Ricks’ article in today’s Washington Post. A third strategy other than Going Big or Going home is Going Long. Which I think is the US most likely choice but I think the US can only win with Going Big at this point and I don’t see that happening.(As does James) […]

  10. JACK ARMY says:

    Go Home?…

    Sorry, I am just frustrated about all this. I am just amazed that people want to just stop what we are doing and bring all our troops home after all we’ve done so far and all that is left to do. Seriously, it is amazing what is going on in this cou….

  11. International Score-Keeping…

    “Lack of International Support”… No stronger element provides aid & encouragement to these militant groups. Outsidethebeltway details the PentagonÂ’s (closely guarded view) – Iraq Options: Go Big, Go Long or Go Home…

  12. Go Big, Go Long or Go Home…

    There are many that refuse to even consider the possibility that we CAN stabilize Iraq and it does look difficult, but we are no strangers to difficulty. The alternate option of cutting and running and sitting back to wait for our enemies, emboldened…..

  13. Cernig says:

    Tano, you nailed it. “Going long” is now the new label for “stay the course”.

    James, I respectfully have to disagree with you. “Stay the course/going long” is no longer doable at all. A rose by any other name is still full of thorns.

    Regards, Cernig

  14. Tano says:

    I think the appropriate term for going long, as the game is just about up, is “hail mary”.

  15. Herb says:

    It’s guys like Legion that have done their level best to demoralize our troops with his constant rhetoric about the uselessness of the war in Iraq and Terror. I just wonder how many terrorist have been emboldened by rhetoric like this and have taken American lives with their new found friends that call themselves Americans.
    I also wonder just what makes someone like Legion praise the terrorist and run down those who are protecting his worthless rear end and the insanity he espouses.

    Typical of a democrat are guys like Legion that just don’t stop with the anti US slogans, words, and self serving rhetoric that only hurts the troops fighting this war and serves only the enemy that takes our boys lives.

    Tell me and everyone Legion, How many American Lives are you responsible for losing this past week, month, and year, with your Un American words and attitude. Or, are you just another blowhard that lets your rear end do your thinking for you, because your mouth knows better.

    Sounds to me like you are the one in desperate need for medication.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Please review the site policies . Refrain from personal attacks on other commenters. Focus instead on the substance of their arguments.

  16. John Ryan says:

    I think that the most likely scenario for getting out was that Michael jackson “Moondance” one. The one where we pretend to be marching forward to victory but………..

  17. legion says:

    OK, Herb. You wanna graduate from mindless troll to active target? Put up or shut up. I defy you:

    I also wonder just what makes someone like Legion praise the terrorist and run down those who are protecting his worthless rear end and the insanity he espouses.

    One. Show me one single instance, in the entire archive of this or any other forum, where I have either praised terrorists or insulted our troops. One.

    Tell me and everyone Legion, How many American Lives are you responsible for losing this past week, month, and year, with your Un American words and attitude.

    You, sir, are beneath filth. You have insulted me, you have lied about me, you have no vague idea what you are talking about on any subject, and you have never contributed one single valuable comment to any thread I’ve ever seen you participate in – I’ve never seen you produce anything but insults. Some people can only lift themselves up by bringing others down to their level; you don’t even try to raise yourself that way – you just want to throw mud. You are, in short, the worst sort of coward. Your only interest is to insult and degrade people who are attempting to discuss the real world; people far more worthwhile to the human race than you can ever hope to be. Good day.

  18. Herb says:

    Seems to me Legion that you started the “Insults” in your first reply to my comment.

    Why is it that it is OK for to issue insults and no one else has that right?

    Seems to me that you are a lefty that continues to insult and degrade others when they disagree to your left wing liberal views. That, was and has been, the entire thrust of the Democrats and the Democratic party.

    You, and the Democrats have put the lives of every American in a more dangerous position with your “Cut and Run”, defeatist words, attitudes , and rhetoric and I sir, resent every word you utter and put here on OTB.

    You Legion are a “Danger” to me, my family and the entire country. The problem is “that you should try thinking what your words do to aid those who would destroy us”, and you don’t. That Legion is why you are dangerous.

    And, you can count on me to tell everyone just how you endanger every American.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Please review the site policies . Refrain from personal attacks on other commenters. Focus instead on the substance of their arguments.