Appearing on Sunday morning talk shows yesterday, national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley, said the following about a proposal by two leading Republican Senators to require President Bush to prepare and submit a plan to begin limiting the role of American forces in Iraq.
"They’ve done a useful service in indicating the kinds of things that we should be thinking about, but the time to begin that process is September."
That's right, we should not even think about what we should do after "the surge" until the surge is more than half over.
The surge will be more than half over in September because, according to recent news reports, the American forces will face another crisis next April when they will either have to (a) start withdrawing troops and reducing troop levels or (b) further extend already-extended tours of duty for the American soldiers in Iraq. The surge began last February and will end next April, so once we are allowed to start thinking in September, we have less than six months to come up with a plan before reality starts making plans for us.
It is no coincidence that it was an incompetent lack of planning that resulted in the mess that is now Iraq, because we invaded Iraq without a clear plan for how to govern the country once we toppled Saddam Hussein. And there has been an appalling lack of planning in the recent "surge" in Iraq. The claim was that, with additional troops, we could "clear and hold" neighborhoods in Bagdhad. But then what? American troops had cleared cities of insurgents before, turned the cities over to Iraqi forces, and then watched insurgents return. What was going to be different this time?
That is the most curious and bothersome part of the current surge. It's not that the President has no plan for what to do if the military surge fails, but that he has no plan for what to do if our military succeeds. According to the administration's own progress report on the 18 Iraqi "benchmarks," Iraq has provided three brigades to "support Baghdad operations" (we're not even going to pretend that the Iraqis can control their own capital city) but that "manning levels for the deployed Iraqi units continue to be of concern," probably because as many as half the Iraqi troops don't show up when they're supposed to. And that's one of the benchmarks in which the administration claims "satisfactory progress." Most of the important political benchmarks show no progress at all. So American troops are working (and dying) to turn over a secure Baghdad to a dysfunctional Iraqi army led by a dysfunctional Iraqi government.
The history of the conflict in Iraq has been a history of vague optimism. This administration not only doesn't need any plans, they don't even want to have plans, because if they had a specific plan and it didn't work, they might be held accountable. But if all they predict is "progress" without specifics, they can continue to claim that progress is being made, or that there is still a pontential for progress, without ever having to make an actual decision about what to do in Iraq.
Gen. Peter Pace (and others) have said that hope is not a plan. If they said that to the Commander-in-Chief, he either didn't hear it or didn't want to hear it.
Meanwhile, let's all stop thinking until at least September.