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'Plan B' Anyone?

At the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Cliff May raises a generally avoided question:

Imagine that it’s 2009 and a Democrat is in the White House. He (or she) determines that the U.S. mission in Iraq has failed irretrievably. What happens next?

His column, also published at National Review Online, uses the Brookings Insitution Saban Center for Middle East Policy's report, 'Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover from an Iraqi Civil War', as the catalyst for discussion. As Cliff points out, Brookings' Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack are among a very few who have taken a deep, open and public look at what the effects of failure in Iraq would mean or look like. Kudos to Byman, Pollack and Brookings for that.

Byman and Pollack call for a plan to effectively cordon off Iraq as best as possible, serving also to guard refugee camps heavily populated by Iraqis fleeing the internal bloodletting. The 140-page report is Iraq-centric by design. But of greater consequence is the 'spill-over' effect.

A withdrawal of US ground forces to the periphery cedes entire provinces as al-Qaeda havens. Air power can disrupt but not break a motivated terrorist organization internally. And what would almost certainly happen as a result is an eventual return of many al-Qaeda terrorists to AQ points of interest, particularly back into Saudi Arabia. They will not be returning for retirement benefits.

Consider also that, at the end of the day, Musharraf's grip on power in Pakistan exists largely due to the fact that the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in the tribal areas has not made a concerted push eastward upon Islamabad yet. But, with the needed chaos reigning unfettered in Iraq and their fighters returning to the Arabian Peninsula, the time will be right for the push with the dominoes lined up for the fall.

Recall that Hamid Gul has openly called for an Iranian-Pakistani military alliance and a Pakistani "Islamist nuclear power that would form a greater Islamic state with a fundamentalist Saudi Arabia after the monarchy falls."

More on this in greater detail in the coming days. But for now, it is sad commentary that there is practically no political will or support from Washington behind the mission tasked General Petraeus in Iraq. He has effectively been handed the keys while our elected leaders work diligently to wash their hands of any ownership of the situation in Iraq.

They must recognize that they cannot wash their hands of the consequences of failure borne of non-support. We will all own a stake in the aftermath, which could well mean the black banners of jihad from al-Qaeda and Iran gracing nearly all of the western and eastern shores of the Persian Gulf.

Cliff May concludes quite rightly:

More to the point, reading Pollack and Byman describe how catastrophic an Iraqi collapse would be, and how much effort — not least military — the U.S. would need to exert to protect its interests, leads to one clear conclusion: Gen. Petraeus’ mission should be given unstinting and bipartisan support as long as there is any possibility it can succeed. That is what would be best for America — and also for the next president, not least if he (or she) happens to be a Democrat.

The longer we treat Petraeus and Plan A as an inconvenience we'd sooner wish away, the more critical (and almost impossible) an effective Plan B becomes.

More soon.

2 Comments

I'm not sure what your goal was for this essay, Steve. It's a good topic, and Byman and Pollack wrote a thorough report (I wish I could download it - 3 attempts and no joy so far). After drawing our attention to it, though, you do the authors a dis-service by not accurately conveying their advice - even the extremely shortened version published at the Saban Center home page, which says:

"Historically, six patterns of spillover have been the most harmful in other cases of all-out civil war: refugees; terrorism; radicalization of neighboring populations; secession that breeds secessionism; economic losses; and, neighborly interventions.

"From this history, the authors propose a set of policy options that the United States could employ to try to contain the spillover effects of a full-scale Iraqi civil war. The "baker's dozen" of policy options for the United States are:

(1) Don't try to pick winners;
(2) Avoid active support for partition (for now);
(3) Don't dump the problem on the United Nations;
(4) Pull back from Iraqi population centers;
(5) Provide support to Iraq's neighbors;
(6) Bolster regional stability;
(7) Dissuade foreign intervention;
(8) Lay down "red lines" to Iran;
(9) Establish a Contact Group;
(10) Prepare for oil supply disruptions;
(11) Manage the Kurds;
Strike at terrorist facilities;
(12) Consider establishing safe havens or "catch basins" along Iraq's borders.

I think these are all excellent considerations, and included among them is striking at terrorist centers. Remember also that a U.S. withdrawal weakens AQ recruitment efforts in the region and ends their ongoing plan to drain us of money and lives.

Finally, Steve, the inevitable failure of Bush's surge (which won't be Petraeus' fault and shouldn't be laid at his feet by Bush & Co.) won't be due to its lack of support in Congress. It'll be due entirely to the mis-management of the war by our Commander-in-Chief. Had this strategy been done sooner, with more troops involved, the outcome may have been much more to everyone's liking.

Jeff --

That is wishful thinking. Lose Iraq to bin Laden, we lose Pakistan. We lose Pakistan, we lose Afghanistan. We lose Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan we have no allies, no support, no ability to intimidate.

Bin Laden's argument that Americans are weak, lack the will, and can be easily beaten leads down one path if we lose Iraq:

American Cities Nuked.

Yeah, Dems will own that. Own it completely. Dems have ruled out completely any and all military action. Bin Laden and Iran argue that Jihadis can conduct mass terror against America with impunity and it WORKS: it makes them surrender.

Reid is being cited as Exhibit A. Dems own defeat now.