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I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Security in the Middle East: Iraq, Iran and Syria
     Wesley Clark offers rehashed advice

At first glance, my hackles rose as I read the first three paragraphs of Clark's, December 6, NYT's Op-Ed, The Next Iraqi Offensive. Knowing Clark to be a slightly(?) pontificating MacArthuresque Caeser-wanna-be, I figured this was going to be more tripe of sophism of how America needs to be strong, but Bush is screwing it up.

Well, it is and it isn't. The shadow of Clark's 2004 presidential campaign for the Democratic Nod certainly lingers, but the good general does himself right. In obvious response to Bush's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, Clark fleshes out some military details, but still tries to co-opt the President's message on the Strategy's Political Track.

Clark starts by bracketing the Iraqi internal security issue with regional political issues, notably Iran.

"Iran is emerging as the big winner of the American invasion"

Indeed. The Iranians have always been the Middle East grandmasters of strategy and they have definitely manipulated the chaotic flux in the wake of the Iraqi war, a flux endemic to any upheaval, to their advantage. They have strengthened their ties with the Iraqi Shi'ites, they have taken the public fear of the encirclement of Iran by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and translated that into stunning electoral success, and they are reaping goodwill among the more militant Islamics, and sympathetic Arabs, as they provide safe harbor and shelter for much of al Qaeda's senior people, including Osama's family.

It is true, though, that the Iraqi Shi'ites in the south have always been close to Iran, that the mullahs have a lopsided advantage in the Iranian electoral process as they "vet" candidates and having much of al Qaeda's people under their control is little more than hostages ensuring al Qaeda deference to Iranian interests.

But after paying deference to the Iranians, what Clark is really arguing for is, well, not a plan, but more of a strategic idea. Clark advocates using American troops to tighten Iraqi border security with Iran and Syria. Clark estimates,

"We need to deploy three or four American brigades, some 20,000 troops, with adequate aerial reconnaissance, to provide training, supervision and backup along Iraq's several thousand miles of vulnerable border."

He also calls for "continue(d) military efforts against insurgent strongholds and bases in the Sunni areas" saying that "in conjunction with Iraqi forces ... (o)ver the next year or so, this will probably require four to six brigade combat teams, plus an operational reserve, maybe 30,000 troops."

So, I am thinking, other than providing a few back-of-the-envelope calculation, .... "why do you think this is such a new idea?"

It is a good idea. It also happens to be a logical extension of what the White House has been signaling for the past couple years. As the Iraqi Security Forces start taking over operational control from American forces, the American forces gradually pull back, letting the Iraqis take the lead more and more with American forces providing backup, support and reinforcement, if necessary.

The Bush Administration has also been very critical of Syria for allowing the Sunni insurgency to use Syrian soil as a safe rear echelon (can anyone say Vietnam?) and the Administration has fired more than a few warnings towards the Iranians for interfering in local politics in southern Iraq.

Here is where Clark is trying to jump the gun and take credit for a good idea whose time has not quite come. We are not yet ready to turn over the bulk of the security duties to the Iraqi forces. Criticisms abound against Bush for not sending enough forces to do the job, all the jobs, in the first place. Lemme 'splain. America has other commitments around the world. Should we abandon them? Where are we gonna get these hundreds of thousands of phantom forces? If these forces were as readily available as the criticism is from the naysayers, why is our Guard and Reserve stretched so thin covering current operations?

Even Clark says, "Yes, our military forces are dangerously overstretched."

So where are the extra forces going to come from? It seems Clark is advocating a change in strategy, an evolution of strategy, before we have accomplished the first strategy.

One thing at a time, General.

As forces are freed up in clearing the insurgents and holding secured areas, we can start changing our strategy. We can then start securing the borders. Clark is merely outlining an idea that is supremely and simply logical. And as obvious to the naked eye as Clark's intentions are.

As for usurping Bush's Strategy, the pretender has this to say about the need for a political strategy,

"As important as these military changes are, they won't matter at all unless our political strategy is rethought. First, the Iraqis must change the Constitution as quickly as possible after next week's parliamentary elections. Most important, oil revenues should be declared the property of the central government, not the provinces. And the federal concept must be modified to preclude the creation of a Shiite autonomous region in the south.

Also, a broad initiative to reduce sectarian influence within government institutions is long overdue. The elections, in which Sunnis will participate, will help; but the government must do more to ensure that all ethnic and religious groups are represented within ministries, police forces, the army, the judiciary and other overarching federal institutions.

And we must start using America's diplomatic strength with Syria and Iran. The political weakness of Bashar al-Assad opens the door for significant Syrian concessions on controlling the border and cutting support for the jihadists. We also have to stop ignoring Tehran's meddling and begin a public dialogue on respecting Iraqi independence, which will make it far easier to get international support against the Iranians if (and when) they break their word."

If you have read the National Strategy, you would only be surprised by the confluence of Clark's views with it. If the good general hasn't yet read The National Strategy, coincidentally just recently released, then I would be very surprised if his name wasn't included in the credits (it isn't).

Now, as a general, there is no punishment for plagiarism. In fact, learning historical lessons on strategies and tactics is part and parcel of a good military education. And stealing ideas is absolutely a critical tool of the trade for politicians.

Unless you get caught. Just ask Sen. Biden.


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