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So, What's The Plan For Iraq?

By       Message Randolph T. Holhut     Permalink
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DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Go big. Go long. Go home.

Those are the three options the war planners at the Pentagon are considering for the next stage of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The "go big" option, according to The Washington Post, is off the table because there aren't enough U.S. troops or trained and reliable Iraqi troops to carry out a massive counterinsurgency campaign.

The "go home" option has also been rejected by the Pentagon planners, because they believe it would push Iraq into an all-out civil war even bloodier than the current sectarian violence.

That leaves "go long," cut back a bit on U.S. combat troops, but increase the numbers of trainers and advisors to build up Iraqi security forces. According to the Post, this could take up to a decade to accomplish.

Supposedly, the "go long" option might be close to what the Iraq Study Group, the civilian commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, will recommend. But all these options miss an important point. The United States is no longer in a position where it can achieve anything resembling victory in Iraq.

In a recent interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Affairs, said that the United States has "reached a point where we've got to get real. And this is not going to be a near-term success for American foreign policy."

The Council on Foreign Relations has represented the mainstream, establishment view of American foreign policy for decades. When the head of that group says a U.S. victory in Iraq is not possible, you know the Bush administration is in trouble.

Haass said the Iraq situation "is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word 'winnable,'" and the United States needs to "look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq."

Given the ongoing chaos in Iraq, it would appear that Haass is merely stating the obvious. But his words represent what the foreign policy professionals - the people whose advice was ignored by the Bush administration when it invaded Iraq in 2003 - are thinking right now.

This nation's strategy in Iraq has to be adjusted, and Haass said he foresees "force reductions and redeployments and possibly a greater emphasis on diplomacy, both within Iraq and with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria."

Diplomacy is about the only option the United States has left, Haass said, because we are so many foreign policy challenges at once and "what makes it worse is that we are facing them at a time when we are increasingly stretched militarily. We are divided politically. We are stretched also economically, and there is a good deal of anti-Americanism in the world. It's a very bad combination."

It is so bad that Haass fears that "this generation of Americans will be as affected by Iraq as the previous generation was by Vietnam" and that "the danger is the United States now will be wary of intervening elsewhere."

Haass' assessment appears to be at odds with what Baker's Iraq Study Group and the Pentagon are thinking. But the realists in the foreign policy business see that even a milder, modified version of "stay the course" is doomed to fail.

"We are a tipping point not only on the ground in Iraq but also in the political debate in the United States," Haass said. "I believe more and more people in and around the administration are coming to the conclusion that six or nine more months of the same will not bring us anywhere."

Given President Bush's stubbornness and resistence to new ideas, Haass' view will probably not prevail. Bush looks like he wants to put one last big bet on the wheel, hoping he can recoup his losses and come out ahead.

If that's what he wants to do, we're in trouble.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

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