Here's Wes Clark's views. Nothing sensational, but also pretty sensible. Thanks for the link aps. I also like a lot of what Odom says.
WHILE the Bush administration and its critics escalated the debate last week over how long our troops should stay in Iraq, I was able to see the issue through the eyes of America's friends in the Persian Gulf region. The Arab states agree on one thing: Iran is emerging as the big winner of the American invasion, and both President Bush's new strategy and the Democratic responses to it dangerously miss the point. It's a devastating critique. And, unfortunately, it is correct.
While American troops have been fighting, and dying, against the Sunni rebels and foreign jihadists, the Shiite clerics in Iraq have achieved fundamental political goals: capturing oil revenues, strengthening the role of Islam in the state, and building up formidable militias that will defend their gains and advance their causes as the Americans draw down and leave. Iraq's neighbors, then, see it evolving into a Shiite-dominated, Iranian buffer state that will strengthen Tehran's power in the Persian Gulf just as it is seeks nuclear weapons and intensifies its rhetoric against Israel.
The American approach shows little sense of Middle Eastern history and politics. As one prominent Kuwaiti academic explained to me, in the Muslim world the best way to deal with your enemies has always been to assimilate them - you never succeed in killing them all, and by trying to do so you just make more enemies. Instead, you must woo them to rejoin society and the government. Military pressure should be used in a calibrated way, to help in the wooing.
If this critique is correct - and it is difficult to argue against it - then we must face its implications. "Staying the course" risks a slow and costly departure of American forces with Iraq increasingly factionalized and aligned with Iran. Yet a more rapid departure of American troops along a timeline, as some Democrats are calling for, simply reduces our ability to affect the outcome and risks broader regional conflict.
We need to keep our troops in Iraq, but we need to modify the strategy far more drastically than anything President Bush called for last week.
On the military side, American and Iraqi forces must take greater control of the country's borders, not only on the Syrian side but also in the east, on the Iranian side. The current strategy of clearing areas near Syria of insurgents and then posting Iraqi troops, backed up by mobile American units, has had success. But it needs to be expanded, especially in the heavily Shiite regions in the southeast, where there has been continuing cross-border traffic from Iran and where the loyalties of the Iraqi troops will be especially tested.
We need to deploy three or four American brigades, some 20,000 troops, with adequate aerial reconnaissance, to provide training, supervision and backup along Iraq's several thousand miles of vulnerable border. And even then, the borders won't be "sealed"; they'll just be more challenging to penetrate.
We must also continue military efforts against insurgent strongholds and bases in the Sunni areas, in conjunction with Iraqi forces. Over the next year or so, this will probably require four to six brigade combat teams, plus an operational reserve, maybe 30,000 troops.
But these efforts must go hand-in-glove with intensified outreach to Iraqi insurgents, to seek their reassimilation into society and their assistance in wiping out residual foreign jihadists. Iraqi and American officials have had sporadic communications with insurgent leaders, but these must lead to deeper discussions on issues like amnesty for insurgents who lay down their arms and opportunities for their further participation in public and private life.
Iraq, for its part, must begin to enforce the ban on armed militias that was enshrined in the new Constitution, especially in the south. Ideally, this should be achieved voluntarily, through political means. But American muscle will have to be made available as a last resort. The Iraqi government should request that for the next two years, six to eight American brigades serve as a backup, available as a last resort if there is trouble in cities with large militia factions like Baghdad, Basra and Najaf. And it is vital that the Pentagon provide our forces with better crowd-control training and many more translators than they have now.
As important as these military changes are, they won't matter at all unless our political strategy is rethought. First, the Iraqis must change the Constitution as quickly as possible after next week's parliamentary elections. Most important, oil revenues should be declared the property of the central government, not the provinces. And the federal concept must be modified to preclude the creation of a Shiite autonomous region in the south.
Also, a broad initiative to reduce sectarian influence within government institutions is long overdue. The elections, in which Sunnis will participate, will help; but the government must do more to ensure that all ethnic and religious groups are represented within ministries, police forces, the army, the judiciary and other overarching federal institutions.
And we must start using America's diplomatic strength with Syria and Iran. The political weakness of Bashar al-Assad opens the door for significant Syrian concessions on controlling the border and cutting support for the jihadists. We also have to stop ignoring Tehran's meddling and begin a public dialogue on respecting Iraqi independence, which will make it far easier to get international support against the Iranians if (and when) they break their word.
Yes, our military forces are dangerously overstretched. Recruiting and retention are suffering; among retired officers, there is deep concern that the Bush administration's attitude on the treatment of detainees has jeopardized not only the safety of our troops but the moral purpose of our effort.
Still, none of this necessitates a pullout until the job is done. After the elections, we should be able to draw down by 30,000 troops from the 160,000 now there. Don't bet against our troops.
What a disaster it would be if the real winner in Iraq turned out to be Iran, a country that supports terrorism and opposes most of what we stand for. Surely, we can summon the wisdom, resources and bipartisan leadership to change the American course before it is too late.