More Directions on Iraq

Back in December of last year I hosted something I referred to as a “blog colloquium”, “Directions on Iraq”. At that time I attempted to recruit contributors who could present practical alternatives other than slogging through for dealing with the situation in Iraq. I received several dozen polite refusals (and a good number of tacit refusals as well), some of which were, I suspect, from folks who absolutely rejected the idea of just sticking it out. I hope I’m not mischaracterizing the consensus view of those who did contribute by saying that they considered the consequences of our simply leaving Iraq as sufficiently bad that it was not an acceptable alternative.

My own views haven’t changed appreciably since then:

I’m not interested in counting political coup or peripheral skirmishes with the press or other bloggers. I am interested in the welfare of my country and that of the people of Iraq. I think it’s clear that events in Iraq are very, very serious and not trending in a positive direction nearly fast enough if at all.

Things look worse now if anything. Despite that, or, possibly, because of that I’m seeing a number of proposals for dealing with the consequences of acknowledging defeat in Iraq, three just today. The first of these I’d like to consider was published in the Washington Post and is by Steven Simon and Ray Tayekh of the Council on Foreign Relations. Would I be exaggerating if I characterized their position as “Surely, it can’t get a good deal worse in Iraq than it is now!”? Mssrs. Simon and Tayekh downplay the likelihood of unmanageable negative effects and propose a three-pronged approach to “preserving U.S. power and position in a post-Iraq Middle East”:

  1. Contain Iran by holding out a package of carrots and sticks. I’ve proposed such a thing myself.
  2. Tamp down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by “nudging” both the Israelis and Palestinians to “take risks for peace”. I have no opinion on this subject and can only point out that administrations over the last 40 years have had little success in resolving the conflict and it’s hard for me to see how that will be improved under the signfiicantly increased stress that the events of the last six years have produced.
  3. Return to realiism by which I gather they mean a rejection of the idea of democracy promotion in the Middle East and a re-assertion of support for the present authoritarian regimes there.

The second proposal, an op-ed by Andrew Bacevich in the LA Times, suggests that change in the Muslim world will only proceed in its own good time, that timeframe is probably not tolerable by the non-Muslim world, and that the prudent alternative is quarantine:

Yet coexistence should not imply appeasement or passivity. Any plausible strategy will prescribe concrete and sustainable policies designed to contain the virulent strain of radicalism currently flourishing in parts of the Islamic world. The alternative to transformation is not surrender but quarantine.

This strikes me as an elaboration of the Israelis’ “Wall” strategy for dealing with the Palestinians. I have my doubts as to the practicality and political acceptability of this but I would remiss if I didn’t observe that it would probably be more practical to quarantine ourselves than much of the rest of the world. Dr. Bacevich, too, characterizes his position as realism but I think it’s actually closer in practice to isolationism.

The third proposal is from former Virginia governor and present Republican presidential candidate James Gilmore and it takes the form of an open letter to President Bush. Here’s the core of the letter:

I urge that we define our goals in terms of America’s national interest, and let the people of Iraq take care of their national interests. The United States has a stake in preventing a government from emerging that is expressly hostile to us, such as in a coup inspired by al-Qaeda. The United States has a stake in not permitting the invasion and occupation of Iraq by any of its neighbors. This can be done through a military assistance program and diplomatic initiative. Beyond this, the responsibility for peace and order of the country rests with the Iraqi government, which can make a specific request to the United States for assistance like any other country of the world.

I have a good deal of sympathy with this position. But to it he adds a proposal for an “over the horizon” force to be used in case of emergency, similar to the proposals of John Murtha, among others. I find this part of his proposal particularly incredible. What, other than re-invading and re-occupying Iraq, can be done by an “over the horizon” force that can’t be done from 20,000 feet? What would a president ordering such a thing say to the American people?

My fellow Americans,
I was wrong; you were wrong; the people who said that very bad things would happen if we left Iraq were right.
Now, boys, over the top!

I just don’t find it credible. When we leave Iraq, we’re gone and we won’t be back for a generation or more if ever come what may.

Nonetheless I’m glad to see additional points of view being offered and genuinely hope they’ll be given some serious scrutiny. So, discuss away!

Cross-posted to The Glittering Eye

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, Middle East, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Some time back I was criticized for wondering aloud: What if this is as good as it gets?

    I still think that assessment is closer to correct than the realpolitik cynicism, bloody wog-inspired isolationism, or cross our fingers and hope for the best abandonment of the Iraqis offered by the three articles quoted above. Although, my least favorite of the three has to be Andrew Bacevish’s since it relies most heavily on magic wands and pixie dust. How exactly can we quarantine so much of the world? And how moral would it be to do so to all the moderate Muslims then trapped with the virulent radical fringe? Not that the other two positions strike me as moral or showing much concern for moderate Muslims either.

  2. mannning says:

    I see little hope for diplomacy in the area. We are in a kill or be killed situation, where money will not buy our way out, and all of the other sides of the table are rogues of renown. We seem to insist on treating Muslim fanatics as reasoned individuals, when they are cutthroats and dervishes that should be eliminated.

    There is no known test for the honesty, trustworthiness, and humanity of a Muslim, be he fanatic or not. We cannot tell. We have no way to reach common ground with them in the end, since they are tied to Islam, which allows them in their minds absolute free reign over infidels like you and me.

    Thus, the practical steps of the situation are to garrison the borders and the oil areas to prevent their falling into unfriendly hands, and to isolate the Muslims from any travel to the West for an indefinite period. The US should not allow Muslims into the country, and those that are already here should be “encouraged” to leave.

    Let the oil pay for our occupation and a profit, with the rest of the money being shoveled to the Iraqi in shares to each family head and a large share to the government, say 10%.

    There should be no reconstruction program funded by the American taxpayer. Let oil money do its thing. We should keep hands off the internal machinations of the Iraqi government, unless their actions threaten us. We should give humanitarian aid where needed in a carefully managed manner.

    Other than that, let them find their own way. We should immediately drop the facade of having to “win hearts and minds” of Muslims. That will not happen.

  3. ken says:

    The war on Iraq was began on a lie. We simply must do the right thing and end it. There is no other choice.

    Plus, the consequences of doing the right thing and pulling our military out are far easier to deal with then the consequences of doing the wrong thing and staying. We can and must face whatever the consequences are of doing right.

    Those who say we must stay are the same people who have been, are still are wrong, about everything else up to this point. They have no credibility and should be ignored.

    Staying in Iraq will only compound the lie and is morally, ethically and strategically wrong.

  4. Andy says:

    Surely the best option is to do whatever President Bush suggests. I don’t see how we could go wrong with that.

  5. mannning says:


    You cannot un-crack an egg. Iraq is a cracked egg, and we have helped to crack it, although for the best of intentions. Perhaps a better analogy is a carton of cracked eggs, one for each of the major parties to the crackup. There is therefore no moral lift whatsoever for us to abandon what we helped to undo.

    We need to assist in some ways to create a dozen new eggs: 1) Help to protect the carton; 2) Help to create new eggs by mainly commercial means; and, 3)In our own interest, to maintain substantial forces and well-organized bases next to Iran and Syria.

    However, we cannot change the Muslim mind, the Muslim tribal loyalties, or the Muslim traditions of the various tribes. Thus, we must stand aside, and let them solve their own problems and conflicts.

    If they manage to build a sane government, we can help them further at their request. If they decide to split the nation into regions of Sunni, Shiite and Kurd influence, we can still help by sitting on the key element of their economic future–the oil–and doling out the revenue fairly. If they attack our bases, that would be a huge problem for them, since they would be drawn out into the open where our superior forces would prevail.

    The major results of this proposal would be severalfold: 1) disengagement and reduction in our losses; 2)defense of the infant government while it tries to find its way; 3)allowing (or even forcing) the various sects and tribes to seek their own solutions to both their ancient their and modern conflicts and problems of governance; 4)taking the question of fair distribution of oil profits off the table by fiat; and, finally, 5) providing for a US springboard in the event of escalation of the Iranian/Syrian confrontations.

    It is not incidental that we should control the oil revenue, since it would be a major resource for the Iraqi to use in rebuilding their military forces further than we would want.

    Should massive genocide break out between the sects after our repositioning, we would be able to react quickly to help quell the bloodlettings–by both denial of oil revenue and by force.

  6. Andy says:

    It is not incidental that we should control the oil revenue, since it would be a major resource for the Iraqi to use in rebuilding their military forces further than we would want.

    I’m sure that U.S. control over Iraqi oil, while abandoning the rest of the country to sectarian violence, will go over quite swimmingly in the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

    Surely this would bring peace to the region and end terrorism against American.

  7. RLaing says:

    The only evidence we have for Ameerica’s ‘noble intentions’ in Iraq are the statements of known liars, and surely even the greatest idiot among you remembers that the original pretext for the war was WMD.

    The fact of the matter is that compared to the oil wealth in Iraq, the cost of the war so far is still quite small. 125 billion barrels in proven reserves, multiplied by $60 now, but much more in the future I’m sure, and we’re talking at least $7 trillion. Iraqi crude is of the very highest quality, so refining costs are negligible, and much of the country is unexplored, so there could easily be the same amount again waiting to be found.

    And it’s not just the money.

    It’s life: we eat the black gold. Without petroleum inputs, global agriculture would go into free-fall.

    It’s also power: a veto over for the U.S. over European and Asian economies.

    Compared to the oil in Iraq, even 3000 dead Americans is nothing. That many die from gun violence internal to the U.S. itself in what, a month?

    The U.S. military will therefore remain in Iraq until either the resistance to the occupation breaks, or the army of occupation itself breaks.

    The real problem perhaps is this insane belief the country has that a) you can wage war without casualties and b) the people you drop bombs on will love you for it. Sure, if you’re powerful enough, and your opponent is weak enough, you can wage war with your head that far up your ass, but the threshold where you cannot do so is a lot lower than most Americans seem to realize, and the Iraqi situation is certainly over it.

  8. mannning says:

    US troops would be in Iraq still, and quite able to help in the event of sectarian violence per my first post, should we be called upon by the Iraqi government.

    We are not responsible for the ancient conflicts of the Muslims, nor should we even try to be. Nor are we responsible to try to fix them now, and never have been. We can still support the current government as a power of last resort should serious sectarian violence break out.

    The oil is the correct economic lever for us to control to ensure fair distribution of profits (less expenses!). Oil shares would likewise be a lever to control planned violence–more terror, less revenue.

    Since I believe we will soon be fighting Iran, the feelings of the Islamic world about the Iraqi situation will become a quaint backwater. The reaction to the devastation of Iran and the eventual takeover of their oil will be on page one everywhere. After Iran is neutralized, who is to take us on from the Islamic world?

  9. mannning says:


    We need to massively augment our military forces very soon now, or the roles we want them to play in the world will not happen.

  10. spencer says:

    manning– don’t you remember anything that has happened over the last 5 years? I seem to remember someone telling us before the war started that the oil revenues would do exactly what your are proposing. If it has not worked so far, what gives you any idea that it can be made to work in the future? Second, where are you going to get the troops to massively augment our forces there? Maybe we could have done something like this right after 9/11. But that possibility is long past.

    Before we can even start to discuss what it is to be done I think we need to establish a few ground rules or at least seriously discuss what are realistic possibilities.

    I suggest we start with a discussion of whether or not the US can have a significant long run military force In Iraq. Is it even possible?
    I do not know. Maybe it is the one thing that will keep the insurgency going. Second, is it desirable? Why or why not? If we can not even answer these questions how can we go any further in the discussion?

  11. mannning says:

    Regarding oil production in Iraq, if we cannot protect it, modernize it, and ensure it gets to market, I submit that neither can the Iraqi. Thus, if we do not take this role, someone else will, such as Russia or China. Do you want the second largest proven reserves in the world under their aegis? I think not. Oil is the key to a stable Iraq, and a more stable world, if it can be developed to work as projected, and it should be in our interest and our objective to see it realized.

    The only reason that one makes a claim that we cannot put massive troop power into Iraq is purely political. Without the will to win here, all is simply empty words, heralding a full retreat sooner or later. This notion of abject retreat I reject, and so does the American people if given a clear chance to express their opinion. Do not draw that inference of accepting defeat in Iraq by Americans from the elections of 2006.

    If we need more troops, we can get them, that is reality, but only if the people and the government want them. So the simple question is, do we want to carry out a policy that has a real chance of ending to our satisfaction, or not? I see no other satisfactory option.

    Unfortunately, we may well need the troop power increase very soon in any event, because of Iran, which would trump this Iraqi question without a doubt.

    Can we put more troops into Iraq if we have them is obviously a yes answer.

    If one searches back 5 years, there are very many people that were on record then for a massive troop invasion of Iraq, including me. What, besides will to win, stops us now? Nothing!

  12. RLaing says:

    The triumph of the will! Look how it worked out for the Nazis, after all.

    If blogger blowhards are all it takes to win, I’d have to say there’s no shortage of them in America. Unfortunately, it requires people to volunteer to fight as well, of which there are next to none in America, yourself included.

    Any idiot can say, we need to win, winning is good, winning is great, winning is all that matters, we have to win, v is for victory and so on and so forth. Plainly ‘the people’ do not want to win all that badly, or they would be volunteering to fight.

    By the way, the Iraqi was getting the oil to market before the invasion, so maybe we can skip the racist explanations for the present situation?

  13. mannning says:

    Debating the whys and wherefores of the past seems useless to me when we are still engaged there in Iraq today. The way forward is the focus here, I thought.

    There were some 22 valid and serious reasons for invading Iraq, of which WMD was only one (and the WMD question has yet to be resolved completely, although non-Bushomaniacs have long since realized that Bush didn’t lie about it.). The congress authorized use of force considering all 22 reasons, not just one, and that authorization is still in effect. Leave it at that.

  14. mannning says:

    As in all debates with even a hint of liberals participating, they resort to impugning the motives of the opposition, or name-calling. At that point the debate spirals down into chaos. The truth is that with the will to win, the enormous resources of America can be marshaled to the battle, just as in WW II, Korea, Vietnam, And Gulf I/II. For this to happen, we need the votes. Posing is a grand method of attack, but it fails before facts.

    There was no racist element to any statement of mine. The fact is the Iraqi plant is seriously degraded, subject to internal threats, and quite beyond the existing capabilities available internally to the Iraqis. In the past, there was substantial foreign help to keep the production going, in expertise, materials and parts.

    Unfortunately, one needn’t have volunteers to create a large force. The draft would do nicely. However the army, for one, has met its volunteer goals consistently this year, despite an unclear win policy and extended tours. The will is there if properly tapped.

  15. Andy says:

    As in all debates with even a hint of liberals participating, they resort to impugning the motives of the opposition, or name-calling.

    Don’t forget that we also impugn the basic competence of the administration, not just their motives.

    Because, well, the “right” seems incapable of doing anything competently at this point. Indeed, your post is proof in and of itself that the right is incapable of proving to America that Iraq is so important that we need to stay and control it at the current costs.

    70% of this country wants to get out within a year.

  16. mannning says:

    There is no argument from me that this administration has erred too often to be regarded well.

    That said, the power of commitment still lies within this White House till 2009, and a congress with a slim majority. Thus, we may find ourselves in action against Iran in 2008.

    We are not fighting a political battle here, nor are we defending the past. I thought the idea was to suggest a way ahead in Iraq. It seems that the old hatreds are getting in the way of a rational discussion. So be it. I have had my say in any event.

    For those who think in terms of “why don’t you volunteer?”, I did that in 1950, serving in the Korean conflict. I would still be a fairly competent sniper, but at the age of mid 70’s, they don’t want me anymore. So I have volunteered for combat, and I have served. What have you done for your country?

  17. mannning says:

    What a feeble broadside! So go ahead, you make up your idea of the way ahead, and I will snipe at you.

    When you make such a statement, you should back it up with proper argument. This you have not done. You are thus to be ignored henceforth.

  18. ken says:

    manning, the way out of Iraq is to get out of Iraq. It really is that simple.

    And if you think Bush is going to war against Iran then you should be demanding that Gongress, or the Generals, or the CIA, or somebody stop him. No doubt he is insane enough to want to start another illegal immoral and illegitimate war. I just hope, for America’s sake, those who can stop him will, by whatever means they find necessary.

  19. G.A. Phillips says:

    Andy, What in war or in the lead up to war has any liberal and or Democrats done competently in our entire history besides whooping some ass in the civil war to keep their slaves or dropping atomic weapons on Japan to stop one of the greatest messes ever created by yes other liberals in power who refused to step boldly into the gathering storm or even realise it was drizzling? How the cowardly and foolish will rewrite history and blame others for their own mistakes is truly a very said way to view and live ones life.

  20. G.A. Phillips says:

    The war on the war on terrorism was began on a lie. We simply must do the right thing and end it. There is no other choice.

    Plus, the consequences of doing the right thing and pulling our representatives out are far easier to deal with then the consequences of doing the wrong thing and compromising. We can and must face whatever the consequences are of doing right.

    Those who say we must talk to liberals are the same people who have been, are still are wrong, about everything else up to this point. They have no credibility and should be ignored.

    Staying in negotiation will only compound the lie and is morally, ethically and strategically wrong.

  21. ken says:

    The war on Iraq was begun on lies. The American people will not support a war based upon lies.

    We will support bringing to justice those who lied to us and those who violated our laws and allowed and/or utilized torture.

    It may take a while but the American people will see to it that the criminals who brought us into this immoral, illegal and unjust war on Iraq are made to pay for their crimes.

  22. mannning says:

    What a wonderful ignorance to think we can just get out of Iraq!

    The very simplest solution is to stay where we are and do something constructive with our capabilities along the lines of my proposal.

    We are not going to leave any time soon.

    We are not going to admit defeat.

    We are not going to give the insurgents a victory.

    We are not going to let the current government down because of our commitments to them.

    We are not going to let the Iraqi people down by leaving them entirely to their own devices, after promising them to stay the course.

    We are not going to let Iran and Syria move into Iraq and take over.

    We are not going to let Iraqi oil be used against us, although this was one of the great mistakes of the war up to now to let the Iraqi decide how to manage oil. We will regret this soon now, so it may change.

    We are not going to let the Kurds be massacred by Iran or Turkey or the Sunnis from Iraq, or all three.

    We are not going to stand by and watch the Sunnis and Shiites massacre each other.

    We are not going to turn our backs on the soldiers who sacrificed to help give Iraq a chance, over 3,500 of whom did not return alive.

    We are not going to turn our backs on an investment of hundreds of billions of dollars to help Iraq out of its troubles.

    We have an overweening moral obligation to stay the course now and give the Iraqi a further chance. Any idea that we were morally wrong to invade Iraq is superseded by the subsequent decisions, events, and commitments of the US to Iraq and its people.

    We have a national interest in keeping a substantial force in this strategic area of the Middle East, next to Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. This force will be useful in many ways in the near future. It will be augmented soon now.

    We are not going to substantially change the situation if the Democrats win in 2008, unless it be along my lines or something similar.

    Want to bet on this?

  23. mannning says:

    I am rather disappointed that no one made any further comments in this thread. Dave, it was your thread. Have you simply let it go?