Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Defense Planning 101

There's been fuss recently over the US strategy in Iran with the leaking of Secretary Gates' January memo stating that we are unprepared for a nuclear Iran. Of course, Gates has since announced that the administration is indeed prepared for that and many other contingencies in Iran. But what about that war we're actively fighting just next door - in Iraq?

President Obama's existing timetable for withdrawal in Iraq is fairly simple: have all but 50,000 soldiers and marines gone before September 1, 2010 with the remaining troops exiting the country before the end of 2011. But as today's NYT news analysis piece states, that plan "was based on the assumption that a newly elected government would be in place by the time Americans headed home. Fourteen months later, that assumption is exploding but the plan remains the same." In other words, to what extent does the current troop withdrawal plan take into account Iraqi political (and sectarian, for that matter) mishaps?

Maybe it just doesn't. Peter Feaver at FP hints that domestic US politics could likely be dictating the Iraq withdrawal timeline: "It is hard to predict where August will fall in the Iraqi political trajectory, but it is a rock-solid certainty that August comes comfortably before the U.S. midterm election." Even Ambassador Crocker, who was certainly not vocal about many defense policies in his talk at UK, said "I am a little bit nervous ... We may not even have a new government until we're at the August deadline. I'd like the U.S. to retain the original flexibility."

Indeed, Obama has not had met with his full national security team for months to discuss Iraq, which indicates the administration clearly has higher national security priorities. Though the President has stated he will stick to the deadline (with approval from General Odierno), one can only trust that contingencies are being worked out at the Pentagon and that the US policy for troop withdrawal isn't solely a function of domestic politics. Reigning expert on Iraq Tom Ricks, along with my colleague's posts on the subject suggest the glass is almost always half empty when it comes to Iraq, especially with respect to its overall political stability. (For Ricks: "not only do I think the glass is half empty, I am not sure how long the glass can take the strain of what it is holding.") Thus, while war is inherently political and we do have elections approaching quickly, the Obama administration along with its military planners would behoove themselves to follow their own doctrine if we are truly in the final stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom with "victory" just over the horizon.

Either way I do hope the media doesn't continue ignoring Iraq despite falling US casualties. It really did used to be a big deal, I promise.

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