The Baker commission’s options are hardly likely to differ much from Gen. Pace’s: Go Strong, Go Long or Go Home.
Individually those options shake down like this:
_ Go Strong. The U.S. adds significantly more boots on the ground in Iraq. Sen. John McCain and others would like to see as many as 100,000 additional troops there, boosting strength to over a quarter-million Americans. The question is: Where could we get even a fraction of those reinforcements, with the Army and Marine Corps stretched paper-thin already? Could we mobilize that many more National Guard and Reserve troops? Or could we end the one-year combat deployments and make all our troops remain in Iraq for the duration of the war, with no return home?
_ Go Long. Under this scenario, the U.S. would add 20,000, perhaps as many as 50,000 more ground troops to the 143,000 now in Iraq, giving our commanders a more credible force of more than 160,000 to pacify Baghdad without stripping the other troubled parts of that country of their security. This short-term option was used last year to jump-start the Maliki government in Iraq. This beefed up force would decline gradually while the U.S. maintained more than 100,000 troops in Iraq for another five to seven years.
_ Go Home. Democrats and even some Republicans are leaning in this direction, with proposals for a phased withdrawal from Iraq that would begin within four to six months and proceed inexorably toward a situation where only U.S. troops involved in training Iraqi security forces would remain in the country. Some number of American troops would stand by in Kuwait or elsewhere as a ready reaction force if things, predictably, fell apart in Iraq.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money Option Two, Go Long.
The president has so boxed himself in with his public statements about “cutting and running” that Option Three simply isn’t available to him, however appealing it might be as we approach our fifth year of war in Iraq.
Nor is Option One any more palatable, with its attendant surge in the cost of the war, already more than $2 billion a week and nearing a total of $400 billion in just those costs we can see. Then there’s the near impossibility of attracting scores of thousands more young Americans to enlist in the Army or Marines when recruiters are already hard-pressed to find enough warm bodies to maintain the current authorized levels of around 500,000 for the Army.
This past week, we were treated to the eerie sight of President Bush visiting Hanoi, in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and citing its economic boom and its trading partnership with us as an American success story that owes its roots to our staying the course there.
Where did the President study history, especially the history of our longest war? A war that ended after 10 long, bloody years with 58,249 Americans dead, with U.S. helicopters lifting the last desperate survivors off the roofs of Saigon? The last I remember, Vietnam’s economic boom began long after we cut and ran in 1973 at the behest of President Richard Nixon and his master of realpolitik, Henry Kissinger, and longer after 1975’s helicopter evacuation from said roofs.
If the week wasn’t bizarre enough already, who should arise like an unstaked vampire from his tomb but Henry the K himself. It was recently revealed that Kissinger the elder had been secretly advising Bush the younger on his Iraq strategy, telling him that withdrawal would pitch the Middle East into unimagined turmoil. This week, he was on the talk shows advising that there can be no U.S. military victory in Iraq, and that any idea of installing Jeffersonian democracy there is hopeless.
Perhaps Mr. Kissinger can use his diplomatic skills to arrange for a decent interval for an American withdrawal, a declaration of victory, and that fleet of aircraft carriers and helicopters to pull the last Americans off the roof of the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad.
To cap the week, Vice President Dick Cheney arose like Lazarus to declare that the recent congressional elections and his party’s loss of Congress to the Democrats has changed nothing: The Decider is still deciding, Cheney is still scheming and American troops are still dying in battle every day in Iraq.
It gets curiouser and curiouser.