"The trick is in knowing what the Iranians are offering and besting the offer. In the event that it's a vision, a plan, you bring a better one, all the while acknowledging - rather than trying to artificially sever - the various and considerable relationships of two neighbors."
A guest post from Trish:
Desert Rat had this to say a few days ago:
"As I read that Mr Bush asked for another $90 Billion USD to fund the War on Terror through the end of his tenure, the argument of the unknowable future looks awfully thin. Despite what [Dick] Morris wrote
"The 'what ifs' we were to leave Iraq to the Iraqi.
They cannot be answered, so the US must remain, because no one knows what may happen were we to leave.
"Past piss poor performance demands we continue a pace.
"Sorry, but I'll vote no on that."
Many millions of Americans share this general sentiment and my own years-long cantankerousness on the subject of US involvement in Iraq leaves me, a McCain supporter, extremely sympathetic to this wholesale rejection of staying the course. And so I began to think about what the most radical mainstream alternative on offer - which I understand to be Obama's - might entail. (Can you sensibly combine 'radical' and 'mainstream' like that? I hope so.) Barack Obama's stated intent is to begin withdrawing combat troops immediately upon taking office and to complete their redeployment in 18 months. This proposal has, let's face it, the signal virtue of ending the drip, drip, drip of US casualties in an endeavor for which domestic support has long been on the wane. The question is, what then?
Contrary to those who will insist that this necessarily means the abandonment of the Iraqi people and their democratically elected government, it would more likely mean an extension of the mission of propping up a weak state whose continuing alliance is valuable to us, and hopefully to Iraq - but doing so by different means. These means would not be a rejection of the soon-to-be-completed, and in many ways successful surge, as they would instead be capitalizing on its hard-won gains.
The mission overhaul would ideally entail three chief elements: An extremely generous, steady, and strategically targeted stream of reconstruction; equally generous, steady, and strategically targeted training and advisory packages; and adequate stay-behind security for these elements. Additionally, it would require a politically deft country team on good terms (or eminently capable of getting there) with the Iraqi leadership. This is indispensable (and frequently overlooked) as keeping and maintaining a strategic alliance means shepherding policies and agreements that go your way rather than the way of your opponents.
One would expect this, yes, nation building effort to be long and costly, just not in terms of US lives. There should be no illusions of brevity or ease, especially as the Iraqis themselves will have to take the initiative. Institutionally weak states do this through a long process of trial and error and, hopefully, positive growth.
The understandable objection comes that absent a considerable military presence, external threats become overwhelming. This needn't be so. Concrete challenges to a fledgling, internally divided, yet sovereign Iraq are best met the old fashioned way, through contravening inducement to local groups, provincial, and national governments. The greatest current challenge in this regard is Iran - due very much to the present, largely Shiite character of the Iraqi government itself. Because dictating relations between the two is an impossible proposition, one has to focus below the level of the government on points of strategic entry and influence. Successful reconstruction, especially, at these points has considerable and lasting payback.
Now I've gone and done a lot of Obama's thinking for him, if he hasn't already. This is obviously by no means a comprehensive proposal - that I leave to professionals. And rather than intending to encourage a vote for Obama, or Hillary, come November, I merely hope to brighten Desert Rat's day. He knows, after all, and is going to be the first to point out, that much of this was recommended by him, based on his own experience, some time ago.
It can be done.