I have been thinking about the issue of an exit strategy from Iraq for a few days, and there are a few thoughts thaty I have come up with that I think would inform the debate. I should point out here that what I am discussing is what would be a responsible pro-war position. I do not necessarily endorse all of these ideas, but I think that they would be the proper ideas to endorse if one supports the War in Iraq and wants to plan for victory.
(1) There has been a lot of tut-tutting over the idea of an "exit strategy," either in terms of looking at it as another way of saying "retreat," or giving platitudes like our exit strategy is victory."
But the fact of the matter is that victory in Iraq is ultimately to be determine in terms of exiting it. That is, we will have won when we are able to withdraw all of our troops without Iraq falling apart or into chaos. That is not to say that we have to withdraw all our troops. Just that we would be able to. In practice, a victory would mean that at most we would keep a small contingent force in Iraq (say, 20,000-30,000 troops), but one that does not provide day-to-day security or protection from domestic threats, and exists mainly to deter or if necessary, defend against, external threats (e.g. bombing or invasion by Iran).
We will also know that we are making progress toward victory when we are able to draw down our troop levels over the long-term without Iraq falling apart or into chaos.
I mean, in essence, if our goal is a free and independent Iraq that can maintain its own security, then the proper test of whether or not we have won is whether or not we need to be there.
So "exit strategy" is another word for victory, so let's drop the posturing.
(2) Any plan for victory that will win the support of the American people needs specific metrics. That is, we need definite goals coupled to definite levels of troops necessary to maintain order in Iraq after the goals are met.
It is possible (very likely, in fact) that some of these goals will have to be revised at times, but we really need to have at least some idea of whether we are succeeding or failing in the all-important tasks of bringing security and stability to Iraq and of defeating the insurgency.
The best schedule would include all of the steps that would be necessary before we could in essence leave Iraq completely (i.e. reduce our presence to a small permanent force as spelled out previously), and include schedules of our troop commitments at each point.
This would be a far cry from what we have now, which is a series of political goalposts, some vague hope that reaching them will constitute victory or bring us closer to victory and the defeat of the insurgency, and to a great extent planning (or at least public planning) restricted pretty much to meeting the bext goalpost. If the anticipated trop reductions are not brought about by reaching a goalpost, Bush simply re-affirms his commitment to "stay until the job is done," accused anyone wanting troop reductions of cutting and running, and simply transfers all of the hopes to the next goalpost.
(3) There is a need for a contingent timetable. That is, we don't need a hard-and-fast deadline, but we do need some idea of when each goal is going to be met and of how many troops we will have to keep in Iraq after it is met. That means a date-based timetable, not just a "event-based" one. What we have now is a very open-ended commitment, with no clear dates. Such an open-ended time commitment tends to make people slower about getting things done. We need some temporal goals in order to "light a fire" under the administration, the troops, and the Iraqis.
One of the most interesting aspects of the current pro-war arguments about "staying until the job is done" is what some of the talking points actually reveal about the pro-warriors assumptions about Iraq.
The general argument against a timetable is that if we set a date to withdraw, then the insurgents will just hunker down and wait for us to leave so that they can take over.
What no one has retorted in response to this (or at least I don't remember anyone pointing it out) is that the deadline is presumably going to be set so that when the time comes to leave, we will leave behind Iraqi security forces capable of defending Iraq. Therefore, waiting us out ought not to be a succeessful strategy for the insurgents because even if we leave, they will have to contend with the highly-trained crack Iraqi security forces. Put another way, by rejecting even a contingent deadline, the Bush administration is essentially admitting that it does not really believe that it can train sufficient Iraqi forces to protect the country within any publicly acceptable timetable.
This is highly disturbing, because it indicates no real confidence on the part of the administration that we are actually planning how to win the war. What we are doing is simply trying to keep a lid on things and hoping that the insurgency will disappear on its own. This is a point that Lawrence Auster has often made. I think it is a point that bears repeating.
That is all.