I attended a luncheon yesterday sponsored by the National Strategy Forum
titled "Iraq: What Next?" General Dave Grange
, the President and CEO of the McCormick Tribune Foundation
, gave the keynote speech, and he drew upon his extensive reading and conference attendance, weekly conference calls with the Defense
departments, and constant contact with commanders on the ground in Iraq and those just returning to provide an assessment of the status quo in the aftermath of last week's report to Congress by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
Grange highlighted the limited progress in Iraq 4 and 1/2 years after the conflict began, citing the death of nearly 4,000 American soldiers and thousands maimed, along with the loss of treasure, as frustrating variables given the apparent stalemate. Moreover, only 8 of the 18 benchmarks have been met in terms of political and military progress, with the former a major disappointment.
He emphasized the strategic interest that the United States has in the region, and made a case for our continued presence there in the months and years ahead. Of interest is the region' s oil, locus of international terrorism, proximity to Iran, and location of adversaries (state and non-state).
Grange argued that our lack of unity at home is the biggest obstacle to success in Iraq, and that the "Washington clock" is driving the outcome, not Petraeus or Crocker. He lamented the fact that our nation is not at war, only our military. Moreover, the U.S has failed to achieve its mission thus far due to its initial failure to understand the Iraqi terrain and consolidate power during the first two years of the war.
That said, Grange claims that the surge is working, for it is necessary to secure Iraqi neighborhoods to gain the confidence of the people. Also, although body counts are poor measures of progress, many of al Qaeda's leaders have been killed or captured. Some have criticized recent cooperation with the enemy on this front, but Grange disagrees, for it has allowed the capture of more dangerous elements and has forced al Qaeda to scatter.
Admittedly, success to date is more of a "mosaic," but bottom-up leadership is improving, along with infrastructure where it can be protected. Grange cautioned us that violence from the enemy is not necessarily a sign of strength, but instead a response to coalition gains to regain credibility with the population.
Despite these notable achievements, concerns linger, including the slow progress of Iraq's security force whose loyalty is to their individual sects and not the nation as a whole. The U.S. Army
has been worn down, both its troops and equipment. We need to prepare for other potential conflicts, transform our military into a 21st Century fighting force, and take care of soldiers' families. A more manageable rotation cycle is also wanting and will be mandatory come next summer.
In the end, Grange suggests that the rationale for the war is irrelevant at this juncture. We are responsible for the current situation in Iraq, and we alone decide when the battle is lost. Al Qaeda sees Iraq as the central battleground in their quest for global domination, and we must maintain a regional perspective as we debate the merits of withdrawal. Suggestions of the latter are counterproductive, the General argues, for the Iraqi population must therefore hedge their bets in case of a swift American departure. Moreover, talk of an immediate withdrawal is impractical given the 1o months it would take for the safe exit of just half of our forces.
Grange contends that we must leave a government that represents the people of Iraq, and a security force that protects them. A transition plan for the next presidential administration is also necessary, as out commitment will last long beyond January 2009. That said, the General argues that we should make it clear that our presence in Iraq isn't permanent. Ambassador Crocker should make his case to the American people detailing our 5-10 year plan in the region, beginning with a deliberative withdrawal plan (no public disclosure of dates, however), a plan to pull our troops back to the Iraqi borders ("overwatch capability"), and a training plan for Iraqi security forces.
Additionally, we should exploit our successes against al Qaeda and prevent further exploitation of the Sunni-Shiite divide. Containment of Iranian expansion is also critical, along with a contingency for a "soft" partition of Iraq. Political reconciliation is necessary for success in Iraq, and our military's presence is buying time for this.
Grange's address was well-received by the assembled audience, and it's hard to argue with a man of such stature, experience, and wisdom. His non-partisan analysis was a welcome reprieve from the partisan jockeying in Washington and on the campaign trail. Congress, the President, and those who seek his job would be wise to listen to patriots like General Grange as they make decisions that will define the ultimate outcome in this great test of the American spirit.