By CAROLYN LOCHHEAD
San Francisco Chronicle
February 27, 2007
By the administration's own description, the troop surge is temporary. Yet with a handful of exceptions, few politicians are discussing an endgame, even as national security experts warn that Washington must begin laying the diplomatic and military groundwork for the next phase if U.S. options narrow.
Much of the congressional debate has consisted of maneuvering to blame the other party for losing Iraq.
House Democrats passed a nonbinding resolution opposing but not stopping the troop increase. Republicans blocked the resolution in the Senate, blaming Democrats for undermining the troops and emboldening the enemy.
Discussing anything beyond the surge is "fraught with danger for Republicans and Democrats, because few people want to be exposed to the charge two years down the road that they had endorsed a policy that deprived the United States of that one chance of making Iraq work," said Steven Simon, a former Clinton administration national security official and author of a special report, "After the Surge," for the Council on Foreign Relations.
"And many are convinced that upon the withdrawal of forces, all hell will truly break loose in Iraq, leading to a kind of genocidal slaughter for which the U.S. will be blamed," Simon added. "Taking those two things into account, it's really hard for politicians on either side of the aisle to begin to speak seriously about withdrawal."
Options, should the surge fail, include setting a timetable for a U.S. pullout; containing of Iraq's civil war to prevent a regional war, including a "diplomatic surge" with Iraq's neighbors and other powers; retreating to Iraq's borders and abandoning Baghdad and other urban areas to ethnic cleansing while escorting refugees to safer regions; and decentralizing Iraq into a loose confederation of Kurds, Shiites and Sunni - or various combinations of all these plans.
Many security analysts believe militias will re-emerge in full force as soon as U.S. troops leave. Such deep pessimism is the norm outside the White House. Administration allies who advocated a surge late last year called for double or triple the 21,500 troops that are being sent and said any less would doom the effort.
The National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus of the government's intelligence agencies, said even if violence is diminished, sectarian animosities have so poisoned Iraqi politics that sustained political reconciliation is difficult to foresee.
A few politicians have begun exploring post-surge strategies, all of which are grim and loaded with unknowns. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., has long promoted a "soft partition" of Iraq into separate Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., are calling for redeployment of U.S. troops starting May 1, with a withdrawal of all but a few troops by March 2008. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., promises to squeeze funds to force a pullback. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., called for a containment strategy that changes the mission of U.S. forces to maintaining Iraq's "territorial integrity," training the Iraqi army and conducting counterterrorism operations. The House Progressive Caucus calls for a complete withdrawal in six months. But there is no agreement on these alternatives and many fear the possible consequences of each.
"The one thing that Democrats seem to be able to agree on is that they don't like the surge, but beyond that there seems to be no consensus whatsoever," said Charles Kupchan, a former Clinton administration national security official. "People like Obama and Murtha are pretty much saying it's time to start heading for exits, and others being much more cautious about it - if to withdraw, if so when."
Kupchan advocates a containment strategy, pulling out of Baghdad but leaving about half the current U.S. forces in the country to prevent Iraq from spinning out of control.
"Once you leave, once you abandon Iraq, you have very little control over what happens," Kupchan said. "If you keep some troops there ... you at least maintain some leverage over the situation."
Timothy Lomperis, a former military intelligence officer now at St. Louis University, contends that leaving Iraq would only mean having to return again with 500,000 troops.
"The idea that we can redeploy away from the cities and let Baghdad turn into a swirling vortex of chaos and that any kind of negotiated solution is then possible is utterly naive," Lomperis said. "By 'redeploying' we will have created a Somalia, with the big difference that neighboring powers will be drawn into it like a whirlpool, with 50 percent of the oil on the world market, and bring our economy to its knees."
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