Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Choosing Victory = A Good Start

I read through the American Enterprise
Institute's take on achieving the United States' (and most of the Iraqi population's) goals in Iraq. It's entitled Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq: Phase I Report (get it here).

The report I saw was a
pdf'd PowerPoint presentation, about 56 slides in all. Choosing Victory addresses resolving problems currently besetting the US-led coalition and the Iraqi population in two phases. During Phase I (the focus of this report), it proposes to increase the number of Brigade Combat Teams (the lowest common denominator when it comes to boots on the ground) from 15 to 24, which includes an increase of up to 7 additional brigades in Baghdad. The buildup would be accomplished by extending the current and future tours in Iraq from 12 to 15 months, and accelerating the planned deployments of Brigade Combat Teams into theater.

These additional units would be used to clear terrain of insurgents, and then maintain security after the area is cleared with partnered Iraqi security force units. The report differentiates this course of action from previous operations by doubling the number of U.S. forces in Baghdad, along with maintaining a presence even after areas are secure (surged U.S. forces left shortly after completing operations in past efforts).

Choosing Victory
ties critical infrastructure repair (sewer water, electricity, and trash removal services) to military operations as a critical part of the plan. "Every clearing operation should be accompanied by a set, fully funded reconstruction package"; additional Commanders
Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds will be allocated to unit commanders to use at their discretion as well. The report goes on to say that additional reconstruction efforts would be allocated towards "significant improvement of the quality of life" of areas that are cooperative towards the Coalition and against insurgents/militias.

According to the report, Phase II of the AEI's plan will be released at some point in January 2007; it will propose efforts to enhance the training of security forces, expand the rule of law, and a way ahead for the development of permanent, viable government institutions.

Choosing Victory effectively argues the case for accepting nothing less than success in Iraq. It also thoroughly discounts many of the recommendations found in the Baker Hamilton report as well. There are several areas where the report is lacking, though, and these shortcomings illuminate several of the weaknesses in the effectiveness of our own government institutions and departments as we deal with a post Cold War security environment.

The AEI's report is fairly thorough in dealing with the deployment of military units and the effects of phasing those deployments over time to increase the buildup of power; however, Choosing Victory failed to address an increase in any Special Operations Forces (SOF) in its operational plan. SOF would play a critical part in enhancing the success of any templated surge of forces. On the combat side, the intelligence collecting and populace and ability to identify conduct rapid operations against critical enemy command and control nodes and enablers would play a key role in rapidly degrading the scale and scope of the insurgency. SOF's inherent ability to interface with the populace and indigenous units will also be a key enabler for success as well.

Any templated surge of conventional forces should end with an increase of Special Operations Forces (specifically Army Special Forces) to reinforce the success achieved by conventional units. Special Forces units can continue to enhance the capability and build the professionalism of Iraqi security forces units, and possess robust combat capabilities themselves.

Finally, a surge tied to reconstruction efforts will require a robust Civil Affairs force to
ensure projects are carried out in the right places at the right time. Any report dealing with an increased military presence in Iraq must address a requisite increase in SOF for both during and after the surge. Special Operations Forces are a strategic asset and limited in numbers, and the fact that Choosing Victory did not address their allocation and use in its military-centric plan is a serious flaw.

The military-centric theme of this Choosing Victory is itself the report's critical shortcoming. Any serious policy change or strategy shift must be accompanied by a nested, synchronized effort by the various agencies and departments of the United States government. The State Department needs to have a detailed, executable plan thoroughly tied in with the military deployment, so that combat operations, reconstruction efforts, and work toward creating Iraqi institutions is not a haphazard affair but instead actually moves efforts in Iraq closer to a successful end.

AEI purports to deal with these things in the upcoming Phase II report, but in all actuality there is no true phase I or II; while the report rightly cites re-establishing security as critical, the building of national Iraqi institutions, repair of infrastructure, economic development, and training of Iraqi security forces are endeavors that will be ongoing before, during and after security operations. Failing to detail them up front is a major shortcoming.

Finally, the report does not truly address the importance of strategic themes and messages that will be a key part of any surge of our forces and efforts in Iraq. There are many audiences out there that the United States must speak to, loud and clear. The government must be prepared to address the Iraqi population as additional forces surge into Iraq, as well as Iraqi government and leadership. There must be a concerted effort in the Muslim world and the international stage to increase the world's support for Iraq in its fight for stability. The U.S. has to counter the highly effective messages from Al Qaeda and the various insurgent groups within Iraq as well. Finally, it is imperative that the U.S. government addresses any renewed efforts directly with the American people. A change of this magnitude carries a significant cost. More boots on the ground will almost cetainly lead to a surge in casualties in the short term. It will place increased hardships on deployed Soldiers, and will likely increase the short term operating costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The government must convince the American people that this is a fight that is neccessary to their long term security, that the new plan is viable and well thought out, and that it is worthy of the efforts and sacrifice of our military.

Despite the above criticisms, this report is by far more detailed and starkly different alternative to the now much-maligned Baker Hamilton report. Along with the forthcoming Phase II report, Choosing Victory provides food for thought for the President, the military and the rest of us, as everyone contemplates what to do next in Iraq.

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