Sunday, November 12, 2006

What To Do About Iraq to Find a Worldwide Solution

Change is afoot in Iraq. But change in Iraq has been for the worse for quite some time. So it's time to understand that we cannot shift our policy, strategy, or troop levels and expect to erase the effects of the last three years. There is nothing we can do to change the fact that we are trapped in a low-grade civil war between many competing factions. To find a solution to our quagmire, we need to expand our horizon of possibilities. It's time admit to the world we've screwed up, we need some help, and we're willing to cede control to the world if its ready for that burden.

There was an idea infecting Washington at the end of the 90s of "We have this military so we might as well use it." Bush took this policy and ran with it, but running too far is one of the dangers inherent in such a reckless philosophy. We should always try to debate things in the arena of world opinion, and if we can't win that debate and there's no actual attack or actionable intelligence, we should simply remain vigilant and ready, like in the Cold War.

Lest we forget our history, The UN did authorize a rigorous inspection program, and Saddam let them in. An inspection team came in, and it made a report to the General Assembly only half-way through its search for WMDs (which we know now didn't exist). When they didn't find anything upon making a status report to the UN, Bush threw the inspectors out and invaded. He didn't adapt his belligerent policy to reality, and let his dogma rule his actions. Because in the minds of the Bush admin., resolve is all important, and never back down. So if you have started massing troops on the border, why not use it? That might a good surprise battle plan. But it is an utter failure politically. Invading before the search is done, against a crippled military we toppled in a few weeks? It didn't look good to the rest of the world, and it's all kind of gone downhill, with increasing anarchic violence and a decreasing Coalition of the Willing.

It's now a low grade civil war with us caught in the middle trying to keep the peace, but there is a substantial fraction of the various violent factions that view us as target number one. It creates a cloud of violence that hovers around our troops, and once the explosions start going off, neutrals get caught in the middle and bodies start to pile up. We're both targets and hunters, so we both inflict and invite violence. We do stop the local sects and militias from going at each other's throats 100% (we keep them down to about 25%, just assassinations, kidnapping, car-bombs, and the occasional ethnic cleansing bus hijacking). So that's what we're doing right now, the status quo we're defending. Here's what it looks like:

As a first step, we should scale back a heavy presence in the middle of urban areas. I think we can prevent the formation of armies or large mobs from mounting significant offensives, but from a more protected and remote position. That way, there will be less attacks on our forces (although I would expect it to increase some against our supply convoys), and less random violence against the civilians and kids. But that first step isn't enough for peace. And that is our goal. Peace. That's what winning is. And Bush doesn't seem to understand that.

We need to announce that we are open to a status quo change big time. And that means saying sorry to the world for kinda goin' off half-cocked into Iraq. We tell them we are going to establish a timetable for departure, but we're ready to commit to a totally different type of military presence in Iraq if the rest of the world is behind us. And we are willing to talk to the world and debate around the world how to handle this. And we're even willing to let another nation take the lead of any military force (subject to our veto, natch). Because leaving Anarchy in the midst of a bloody civil war and terrorist fanatics in the heart of the middle east would be a tragedy for the world.

Our last civil war? 141 years ago, and fought over slavery. There's been a hell of a lot of ugly civil wars around the globe over the last 50 years. We should ask around and see if anyone's got any good ideas on how to go forward. We understand economic based ideological civil wars a bit (like in Vietnam), but don't really get the nationalistic aspect much (also Vietnam). So let's ask around, and have some honest conversations about how to make peace and what the rest of the world is willing to do.

Right now, it's America, the local Iraqis, and the terrorists. But if it was the World instead of just America (and a few others), it could totally change the dynamic. We need to lay it on the shoulders of the world as well, so at the very least, if the world decides to let it all go to hell, we'll at least know where everything stands on the international level when we ask the world to deal with a problem collectively. We should offer to bear much of the burden and lend the firepower of our armed forces, but be open to whatever the world-wide debate produces. But we must put some real pressure on the world to find an answer to this question together.

But how often do we really put on the pressure in the UN? We put on some pressure in the run up to the Iraq war, but the UN needs general peace and stability to operate. Unless specifically authorized to use force, like in Korea, it can't operate in the violent anarchy of Iraq at the moment. We put on the pressure and got a serious resolution before the war. Let's get one to end the war too.

We'll establish a timetable to move completely to the periphery of Iraq (Murtha style re-deployment) in one year. But we will also announce our determination to ask all mankind to find a solution to this devilry. This will include a world-wide diplomatic tour for an honest conversation on the whole state of affairs in the Middle East and how to make it right: Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, Hezbollah and Lebanon, the Golan heights and Syria: everything. Our executive leadership (President, VP, Secretaries of State, Defense) and our Senators will barnstorm the globe. Local Iraqis of all stripes will be invited to go travel for a solution as well, and the U.S. will pick up the tab. We will hold regional summits. And at the end of it all, with about four months left on our timetable, we'll take it to the UN for another month of debate. We will open the floor for a free-wheeling debate in the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council. Then we'll vote. And if one vote doesn't work, we'll make changes and vote again. And we'll vote on an official General Assembly recommendation, and then we'll have a vote in the Security Council. And I'll be damned if I know where we will be standing when the dust clears, but it can't be uglier than what we're looking at now.

I won't be naive. I won't expect this year-long bout of worldwide diplomacy to solve all our problems. But it might stop this downward spiral we're in of violence, threats, and suspicions. Let's pull away from this all-consuming fear-mongering and ascribing the fanaticism of Al-Queda to traditional Heads of State, and try to inject some rational cooperation on shared interests. It will be a noble and honest effort, unprecedented in the history of human conflict, and it might be crazy enough to work.

If it doesn't and things have deteriorated in the meantime...well, our I'll folks will be working on plan B. And we'll see what the Iraqi people and government think about things at the time. But I don't see how it could be a worse situation than our current trajectory.

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