Bush Is Using Baker-Hamilton As A Fig Leaf
Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh notes that despite some press accounts, Bush’s “Plan B” isn’t Baker-Hamilton, and isn't really "Korea II". Baker-Hamilton called for a significant drawdown of forces towards an anti-terror, anti-Al Qaeda Special Ops mission coupled with training the Iraqi army and police to be self-sufficient. And despite the mumblings from the administration of late about “Korea II”, our presence in Korea is not a long-term occupation but rather a trip-wire force with the consent of a government after a truce. Iraq is a totally different situation, and our own intelligence assessments now assert that an ongoing occupation undermines chances at political reconciliation while aiding Al Qaeda.
Bush is mouthing support for Baker-Hamilton to woo gullible members of Congress to buy time, and fight off a withdrawal before the end of his term. Hirsh says Bush has no intention of supporting Baker-Hamilton, because the administration says that American forces cannot fight Al Qaeda in the midst of an out-of-control sectarian civil war. This is true, and it mirrors the thinking of John McCain, and specifically his unnamed advisor on Iraq, the well-respected Anthony Cordesman of the CSIS. Cordesman argues that Baker-Hamilton was faulty to begin with because it assumed we could change the mission and draw down to an anti-terror and training/advisory role, in the middle of a civil war with a host government that was incapable of political reconciliation. You heard this same argument from Lt. General Douglas Lute yesterday at his “war czar” confirmation hearing. Cordesman to his credit admits he doesn’t have a solution, except to argue against an immediate pullout that would leave the country in chaos or ripe for Iranian control. Cordesman overstates Iran’s abilities to control the country and doesn’t explain why American troops should die for years waiting for the Iraqis to reconcile. Similarly, Bush wants a “robust” American presence for years to police the streets while Iraqis dawdle. Like the Cordesman/McCain formulation, this is faulty because it assumes the Iraqis will consent to this long-term occupation, which they won’t; and it assumes wrongly that the American public will allow such a long-term commitment to policing Iraq and suffering the human and fiscal losses from doing so.
Hirsh notes that the administration tells him that their intent is to station 10 brigades (50,000 combat troops) and their support forces (another 30,000 troops) in Iraq well beyond 2008, which is nothing resembling what Baker-Hamilton called for. In fact, Hirsh notes that the administration goal of maintaining 80,000 troops in Iraq for years to police the streets undercuts Baker-Hamilton.
Last fall, the military brass were moving toward a consensus that to be really effective, U.S. training teams needed to operate down at the company level, not just embedded within a battalion (which is made of three companies). That meant as many as 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. advisers would be required, up from the 5,000 or so then being budgeted.
But to do that effectively, U.S. combat brigades needed to be shifted out of Iraq so their officer corps could be turned into trainers. And under the surge, that’s not happening either. To do so, it would mean “a fairly significant change to the [U.S.] force laydown in Iraq,” Maj Gen. Carter Ham, the commandant at Fort Riley, the U.S. Army’s adviser-training center, told me. The big trade-off of the surge that few people are taking note of—what it really has cost us—is that it is taking precious time away from the program to bring the Iraqi Army to readiness. The surge is therefore ensuring that U.S. troops will have to remain longer on the front lines of an intractable sectarian war.
The upshot is there really is no Plan B, or Plan B-H, or indeed anything coherent. The goal is Baker-Hamilton’s “end-state,” but without the training up of Iraqis that would allow the recommended pullout to happen by March 2008. It’s the South Korean occupation without the truce, or a status-of-forces pact. It’s just Iraq, in other words— a quagmire that is as resistant to solutions as ever.In essence, Bush is using Baker-Hamilton as a disingenuous fig leaf to cover over his true intent, which is to push this mess onto his successor, and set the predicate for blaming the next president for allegedly making Iraq the next Vietnam. Bush has never accepted responsibility for his political mistakes, and he is only interested now in maintaining that pattern. The GOP will demonize a Democratic president their entire first term for “losing Iraq” if and when that Democratic president redeploys the troops out of Iraq and draws down to a different posture in country. That is why it is imperative that the Democrats do everything possible to use the 2008 defense budget process to force Bush and the GOP to clean up their own mess, or bludgeon them next year for their dereliction of duty.