For the President, a real strategic change would be to quit the game, set up his own poker table, and stack the deck to ensure a return on his money.


What would that look like? The first step would be to redefine U.S. interests and war aims. Of the President’s three initial aims - destroy Saddam’s WMD, overthrow him, and establish an Iraqi liberal democracy - two are accomplished (the first, we now know, happened even before the invasion). 

Write off the democracy goal as a draw, declare a tactical victory, and withdraw in good order. Of course a terrible mess will be left, but more troops and money can only make it worse, not better. The new strategic aim must be regional stability, not democracy in Iraq. [bold mine-DL] The United States alone cannot achieve it. It will need help. And other countries will not help while we are bogged down in Iraq. They enjoy our pain. ~Lt. Gen. William Odom (Ret.)

Yes, friends, stability–that dreaded s-word.  The dreaded s-word that many an interventionist assured was the problem with the Near East to be solved by their ham-fisted invasion and a round of democratisation.  It is the very same s-word throughout the Near East that the exact same crowd of interventionists fears will be threatened if we leave Iraq.  Indeed, they are using the fear of instability–a fear they never used to possess–to browbeat war critics into meek silence and collaboration with the perpetuation of their dreadful war.  For the most part, war critics in any position of responsibility or influence have gotten the message and have largely been toeing the line that “precipitous withdrawal” would be catastrophic.  This jingo browbeating is rather like an arsonist setting fire to a school and then clucking his tongue and blaming the people who tried unsuccessfully to stop him for “letting” the school burn down.  “Why did you let the raging fire consume that school?  Obviously, you have no sense of morality!  Think of the suffering children!”     

One is tempted to smack these people when they say things like, “But Jordan might be destabilised!”  Oh, really?  Might it?  Since when did jingoes care a whit for the stability of Jordan or any other friendly state in that region?  Of course, the contradictions between the warmongers then and now are not really the issue, though they should remind us to never, ever listen to anything they have to say about foreign policy. 

Containing the damage from the inevitable nightmare of post-withdrawal Iraq should be our top priority.  Limiting the fallout from this horrible war is what we should be attempting to do, rather than chasing an ever-receding promise of stabilising and securing a government that is itself the source of roughly half of Iraq’s misery today.  That is why withdrawal from Iraq is the most responsible option available, because it is only withdrawal that gives us the flexibility, freedom of action and resources to shore up the allies in the Gulf whose security the interventionists have irresonsibly, rather unforgiveably endangered with their foolish scheme.  The break-up of Iraq, whatever form it takes, is not something that can be prevented any longer.  If Washington can prevent the break-up of Iraq from drawing in most of Iraq’s neighbours (Iran’s involvement in the score-settling inside Iraq is a fait accompli and is now essentially unavoidable), that will be a success of sorts.  Saving Iraq has long since ceased to be something that the government can achieve without adopting methods and mobilising resources in ways that the American people will not support.  The people are not going to accept a draft for what remains a war of choice that they did not really desire and they will not countenance ethnic cleansing or forced relocation committed in their name.  Their patience with Mr. Bush has been all but exhausted.  The people already desire fewer Americans to be in Iraq and ultimately want us out in fairly short order.  Given these very real political constraints at home, the goal must be to extricate ourselves from the mess in Iraq as quickly as possible and to begin erecting barriers to contain the force of the explosion when Iraq descends into full civil war. 

There will be three major problems after we leave Iraq: 1) handling the inevitable refugee crisis, as refugees from the civil war flood into Jordan, Syria and Kurdistan/Turkey; 2) preventing Kurdish independence and/or Turkish intervention; 3) preventing the overthrow of the Hashemites in Jordan.  We will also be faced with the effective creation of an Iranian client-state in Mesopotamia.  Shoring up the Gulf monarchies and combating the danger of Shia terrorism and/or separatism in the Gulf will have to take priority over any senseless course of confrontation with Iran.             

I should also note that Gen. Odom here makes a vital distinction that too many amateurs and pundits have been missing: whatever Mr. Bush has proposed this week, it is not a “new strategy.”  The frequency with which the word strategy has been used by all and sundry to describe adaptations that have been entirely tactical has become wearisome.  Every limited adaptation in tactics made so far has been done with the same goals in mind.  The “surge” is aimed at the same goals the government has been pursuing since at least late 2003: according to the standard boilerplate, if you take the government’s public claim to be a true statement of its goal, the goal is a stable, united Iraq under a “democratic” government that will prevent Iraq from becoming a terrorist haven, which is to be accomplished by joint U.S.-Iraqi military operations.  In its essentials, this is the exact same thing Mr. Bush yesterday said that we are trying to achieve.  The strategy, such as it is, has not changed to any noticeable degree.  He has fiddled with some of the details, and, as usual, come up with an unsatisfactory answer, but what if the goal itself is impossible or the means provided are insufficient?  Indeed, the strategy is quite mad to the extent that it is not possible to realise it.  In any case, when the commentariat and more than a few people in government cannot even speak the language, is it any wonder that no one has any “solutions” that are even remotely credible?

To explain the distinction, I call Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco (p. 127) as witness:

In fact, strategy has a very different and quite simple meaning that flows from just one short set of questions: Who are we and what are we ultimately trying to do here?  How will we do it, and what resources and means will we employ in doing it?  The four answers give rise to one’s strategy.  Ideally, one’s tactics will follow from them–that is, this is who we are, this is the outcome we wish to achieve, this is how we aim to do it, and this is what we will use to do it.  But addressing the questions well can be surprisingly difficult, and if the answers are incorrect or incomplete, or the goals listed not reachable [bold mine-DL], then the consequences can be disastrous.