Are We Ready For Iraq To End?

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
USA Today
April 16, 2008
Pg. 11
Troops will be leaving. That, we know. But what will happen as we draw down? All such scenarios — no matter how grim — should be a part of today's war debate.
By John Diamond
Of the many missteps associated with the war in Iraq, none was more costly than the U.S. government's failure to grasp what was likely to happen when we went in to Iraq in 2003. Now, the challenge is to understand what is likely to happen when we get out.
Despite the Bush administration's stay-the-course posture, and the roughly even chance that the next president will continue that course, at some point in the not-too-distant future our massive and unsustainable troop presence of 160,000 will be drawn down. Whatever military planning might be going on about how to withdraw, about what reduced level of force will ensure the Iraqi government's survival, and about how Iraqi insurgents might react, that planning is not being discussed openly with the Congress and the American public.
It should be.
Though secrecy in contingency planning is a military axiom, excluding the public from the entire process of looking ahead and testing the possible results of various changes in U.S. military posture amounts to a repetition of the mistake that has cost us so dearly.
There is a way to avoid this. The public should be told what the judgments of the intelligence community are about the possible consequences of a substantial drawdown of troops in Iraq.
There seems to be an assumption that if we draw down to a level of, say, 40,000 troops — slightly larger than the contingent we maintained in South Korea for many years — chaos and civil war would erupt and that we would be powerless to stop it. We must test that assumption thoroughly, the core issue being: Will the resulting chaos be substantially worse than the violence we see in Iraq today, and will the elected Iraqi government be able to survive?
The corollary questions are many and highly complex. To mention just a few: What is the eventual floor of U.S. troop strength? Are we talking about a few thousand Marines to secure our Embassy or a larger force capable of acting as a security guarantor in Iraq or in the region? Is Iraq our long-term burden or our long-term base of operations in a region we deem to be vitally important?
Instead, the debate over Iraq remains unproductively focused on the past. Last week's should-we-stay-or-should-we-go hearings with Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker oscillated between lamentations on past blunders and assurances that things have gradually improved. In an odd way, the magnitude of the Bush administration's initial mistakes helps the White House, for even today's unstable Iraq is a substantial improvement over the violence of the previous five years.
The presidential candidates have also had a tendency to look backward, yet Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain all agree on an underlying issue: The United States should get out as soon as possible. The debate is over when and under what circumstances that time will come.
Their essential agreement is what makes it so vitally important that questions about the future U.S. posture in Iraq, and likely outcomes of changes in that posture, be discussed openly and in detail.
Undoubtedly the U.S. military, intelligence community and diplomatic corps are busy examining the risks associated with a variety of possible policy courses in Iraq. Given the experience we have gained in that country, there is a good chance that the judgments our best people reach about possible outcomes will be at least as accurate as the prescient though largely overlooked warnings the intelligence community put together in January 2003, two months before the invasion.
Those warnings came in two reports distributed in secret by the National Intelligence Council to senior officials of the Bush administration and key congressional committees. With remarkable foresight, the reports — Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq and Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq — described the risks and pitfalls of what was, by then, a set course toward invasion and occupation.
Paul Pillar, at that time the national intelligence officer for the Near East and a veteran CIA analyst, has cited the reports as at least one example in the run-up to war in which the U.S. intelligence community got it right. U.S. intelligence predicted that "the building of an Iraqi democracy would be a long, difficult and probably turbulent process," and that "a post-Saddam authority would face a deeply divided society with a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so."
There were two significant shortcomings with these largely accurate assessments:
*First, they were classified (they have since been made public), with the result that the American people had no opportunity to weigh the best judgment of its own government experts before committing to war.
*Second, the reports were issued three months after Congress had voted to authorize the use of force; their troubling warnings had zero impact on the one branch of government in a position to stop the march to war.
We cannot afford to repeat that mistake. Justifiably maligned for its misjudgment of the weapons of mass destruction threat, the intelligence community has shown skill — if not perfect timing — in discerning how Iraq's turbulent policy might respond to various U.S. moves. The key now is not simply to dwell on past mistakes, but to also learn from them.
John Diamond, a former intelligence reporter for USA TODAY, is author of a forthcoming book on the post-Cold War CIA.