Monday, March 5, 2007

Plan B for Iraq

"I'm a Marine, and Marines don't talk about failure. They talk about victory."

That was the reply of Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, reported in the Washington Post (Monday, March 5, 2007; Page A01), when asked about the backup plan for the current strategy in Iraq. There are three ways to interpret that statement.

1. The general, and all marines, live in a new-agey, wish-upon-a-star fantasy world in which egocentric “will” can overcome the contingencies of objective reality. That would be a truly frightening possibility, but it cannot be ruled out.

2. The general, and all marines, have their heads stuck deep in the sand, simply refusing to acknowledge the reality of possible outcomes in Iraq. Again, a frightening possibility, but not without precedent.

3. The general has been given “marching orders” by the White House to zip the lips on any public talk about Plan B. That is the most generous interpretation of the remark, but it means there is no point in talking to, or listening to this general, since he is not his own man.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has publicly acknowledged that there is a Plan B in the works, but won’t say or suggest what it is. The pullout of American troops, precipitously or gradually, is not a plan. Rather it is the goal. Or it is the consequence of the goal of achieving an Iraq that no longer needs our troops. What is the plan to reach that goal?

In 2005, I recommended to Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, my senators, that the U.S. use all its troops to seal the Iraqi borders and let the Iraqis figure out what they wanted to do, whether it be kill each other or make a government that works. Senator Murray, who did vote against the war authorization, at least had the decency to send me a tangentially relevant form letter in reply. I’m not sure if there really is a Senator Cantwell. She has not been seen or heard from since elected.

I still like my seal-the-borders plan, but a recent suggestion from Joe Biden to partition the country three ways is interesting. It wouldn’t work, of course. As soon as the U.S. stepped back, the carefully sectioned pie would become a quiche.

But the idea got me thinking. We divided Berlin three ways after WWII, and that held for fifty years, not without some effort and grief. Why couldn’t we do something similar here?

Give the Kurdish section to Turkey, the Shiite south to Iran, and the Sunni regions to Saudi Arabia, as permanent administrators of those respective regions. Dissolve the central government. Iraq becomes a country in name only. The balance of power reaches equilibrium and we’re out of there.

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