Rumsfeld’s Memo on Options for Iraq War
Two days before his ouster as SECDEF, Don Rumsfeld wrote a memo acknowledging that “what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough” and offering some “Illustrative New Courses of Action” that he felt deserved “serious consideration.” While the early press coverage treats it as if it were an expansive policy analysis, it amounts to an off-the-cuff brainstorming session (or, if you will, a blog post) with a couple of lines about each option, many of which he dismisses offhand as “less attractive.”
Writing for the NYT, Michael Gordon and David Cloud draw some rather odd conclusions:
The memo’s discussion of possible troop reduction options offers a counterpoint to Mr. Rumsfeld’s frequent public suggestions that discussions about force levels are driven by requests from American military commanders.
Perhaps his list is drawn from suggestions that have come up from the field? Or perhaps he thinks the advice he’s been getting might not be correct, what with it “not working well enough or fast enough”?
This is also rather odd:
Another option calls for redeploying American troops from “vulnerable positions” in Baghdad and other cities to safer areas in Iraq or Kuwait, where they would act as a “quick reaction force.” That idea is similar to a plan suggested by Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, a plan that the White House has soundly rebuffed.
I would note that this option is listed under “Below the Line (less attractive options).” Indeed, these six would seem to be there as obvious non-starters designed to make the “above the line” options seem more palatable. Included with the Murtha-esque option are “Continue on the current path” and “[M]oving towards three separate states — Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.” Presumably, Rumsfeld thinks as much of the Murtha plan as he does of those.
WaPo’s Ann Scott Tyson points out that “Rumsfeld’s ideas did not depart radically from the alternative strategies emerging so far from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group or from other military and governmental Iraq policy reviews initiated in recent weeks.” Indeed,
Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, now a professor of international relations at Boston University, said his impression of the memo is that it is a “laundry list” of current ideas entirely lacking in analysis.
That’s my read as well. Rumsfeld is a bright guy and capable of doing much more in-depth analysis on his feet at press conferences so, presumably, his intent was merely to collect the various ideas floating around as a starting point for discussion. Indeed, he notes early that “Many of these options could and, in a number of cases, should be done in combination with others.” Had he intended it to be a detailed analysis advocating a specific course correction, he would have written one.
Steven Taylor, a war supporter who has grown more critical of Rumsfeld and company in recent months, thinks the memo goes a long way to rebutting the “conventional wisdom … that Rumsfeld was recalcitrant in his views on the current approach to Iraq.” At the same time, he doesn’t see any “radical ideas” here.
Kevin Drum notes that the “less attractive options” are basically the ones that the critics are pushing which constitute major departures from the administration’s policy. “The bottom line then, is: maybe some small changes, maybe a change in rhetoric, but nothing serious.” He says that by way of criticism but John Hinderaker sees it as a positive:
[T]he reality is that there is no quick or easy fix for Iraq. What we have been doing isn’t dumb, and it has been by no means completely unsuccessful. It sounds as though we can adjust course somewhat by, as Rumsfeld suggests, being more consistent about punishing bad behavior and rewarding good behavior. But the real change needs to come from the Iraqi people, not from us. The Iraqis will not have a functioning democracy–or, more important, a “normal” country–unless they–and by “they” I mean nearly all Iraqis, not a bare majority–want one. Absent that kind of commitment from the Iraqis themselves, our options are quite limited.
He is, however, intrigued by this option:
Withdraw U.S. forces from vulnerable positions — cities, patrolling, etc. — and move U.S. forces to a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) status, operating from within Iraq and Kuwait, to be available when Iraqi security forces need assistance.
Indeed, he is “mystifie[d]” that it wasn’t “done a long time ago.” Perhaps because it sounds a lot like cutting and running? Or because Iraqi security forces are not ready to handle these tasks that the much better trained U.S. military, which is free from enemy infiltration, can’t? Because abandoning Baghdad would so redefine the concept of “success” as to be a joke?
Mark Schulman is happy that Rumsfeld has put his own favorite option on the table: “Position substantial U.S. forces near the Iranian and Syrian borders to reduce infiltration and, importantly, reduce Iranian influence on the Iraqi Government.” Why we haven’t done that already is what mystifies me.
Overall, though, this memo seems to be a glimpse into what I presume to be an ongoing process that would be the case in any administration with any official with responsibility for a complicated and controversial public policy issue, especially one perceived as failing. Given that the administration remains committed to salvaging as much of its goals in Iraq as possible, it’s hardly surprising that ideas are floating around about how to do that.