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Feeling Impatient

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"Feeling Impatient"

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Since Charles Krauthammer is citing Anthony Cordesman’s report on the situation in Iraq to make the point that the surge has worked, I trust nobody on the right will be upset if I quote from a different part of the same report. He says, basically, a lot of good things have happened but a lot more needs to be done. We need, he says, strategic patience. Under the circumstances, it’s worth taking a look at what he says we need to do going forward to succeed.

His report is full of things like “consolidate progress in Iraq forces: Independent for internal security by 2012; create ability to defend against foreign threats by 2018.” He outlines goals like “Create effective criminal justice system and local rule of law (2008-2010)” and “revive national infrastructure in terms of water, power, roads, rail, petroleum exports, financial institutions, communications, etc (2009-2011).” On the security front, we’re also supposed to “resolve the problem of National Police, local forces, ethnic and sectarian militias and integrate into ISF or civil economy (2009-2011).” We also need to “revise constitution to meet needs of all major factions (2008-2009).”

To me, rather than an endless continuation of the debate over whether (or in what sense) the “surge” has or hasn’t “worked” it would be highly preferable to focus instead on whether or not strategic patience of the sort Cordesman is talking about is a reasonable policy going forward. My view is that it isn’t. If you look at these kind of agenda items that lurk near the back of the report, you’ll see a bunch of things where the prospects for success aren’t particularly good, the costs are high, the time frame is both vague and long, and the benefits don’t seem particularly clear. I’m also fairly confident that if Charles Krauthammer and John McCain just put the choice between Cordesman’s approach and leaving expeditiously on the table, that most people would agree with me. Thus you’ve seen a consistent effort starting in 2002, then continuing into 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and now 2008 to mislead people about the question at hand into thinking that “success” is something that might come soon and thus that the cut-and-run crowd should be ignored. But if Bush had told people in 2004 that four years in the future his Iraq policy would be so successful that people would be talking about Iraq taking responsibility for its own internal security in 2012 then he never would have been re-elected.

As an intellectual exercise, this sort of thing Cordesman has done strikes me as pretty useful and interesting. I’d like to see more of it. What would Cordesman do to fix Haiti’s deeply entrenched problem if we were willing to commit 120,000+ U.S. troops and $100 billion a year to the problem for an indefinite period of time? Or maybe the federal government wants to dedicate that kind of personnel (though not active duty soldiers) and money to reducing the crime rate in Washington, DC? I’m not at all sure that a forward-looking agenda that has “deal with the issue of federalism in ways that resolve Kurd-Arab-Turcoman tensions; Shi’ite power struggle in south, Sunni concerns in west, mixed areas in center, and create a stable Baghdad and Basra (2008-2010)” can possibly succeed, but I am pretty sure that I’d rather not find out.

In short, I lack strategic patience.

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