options for Iraq

Nothing is more important than having concrete alternatives for America’s future in Iraq. There cannot be a useful–or even a barely dignified–debate until there are choices on the table. If the debate is only about whether Bush lied and whether the Democrats are cowards, then we are all guaranteed to lose.

The Murtha resolution has put a basket of general strategies on the table for our consideration:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3. The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

These ideas are separable, and each one is subject to interpretation. For instance, the “earliest practicable date” could be defined in many ways–from the moment when we can extract our forces safely (i.e., very soon) to the day when the Iraqi military is capable of ensuring order (i.e., maybe never).

The “quick-reaction” force could be deliberately located inside Iraq and deployed at the request of the Iraqi government (subject to US consent). Or it could be deliberately located outside of Iraq in order to signal that we have no ambitions to establish permanent bases there. It could be large or small, aggressive or basically just a deterrent force.

“Diplomacy” (mentioned in Section 3) is a good word, but a very vague one. With whom would we engage in dialogues and negotiations, and with what purpose? We could talk to the Iranians and Syrians about not supporting the insurgency; whether that would achieve anything depends on how important those countries are to the insurgents and whether they are open to negotiating. We could talk to the insurgents themselves, or persuade Iraq’s Shiite leaders to do so. We could talk to the Europeans about providing more military forces and reconstruction assistance. I’m not sure what incentive they have to comply in a serious way. It would be interesting, however, if leading Americans outside the administration could work out hypothetical plans with leading Europeans and leading Arabs for a joint response to the Iraqi mess. They could then advocate this response in public forums in their respective countries. (By the way, that is a very appropriate role for leading Democrats between now and 2008.)

In general, our citizens could talk to Iraqis and people from other Arab and Moslem countries outside of governmental channels. Such dialogues are surely desirable, but not likely to produce enormous benefits in the short term.

Finally, in principle, we could try to organize a Mideast summit that considered Iraq, Syria-Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, and the Kurds all together. That sounds like a herculean task, perhaps best undertaken after years of preliminary work. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem promising for the US to be the official convener.