Friday, January 12, 2007

On The Plan

Okay, so I've said in the past that if President Bush could produce a plan, a concrete plan, some sign that he has put some thought into this war and decided what to do next, I'd give him his credit. And I do. Major ups to our president for making a plan and presenting it to the American people. Allow me to repeat, where everyone can see:

Major ups to our president for making a plan and presenting it to the American people.

That having been said, can we call it a first draft?

The plan, to give it its due, is very thoroughly thought-out. A detailed Iraq Strategy Review (pdf)strategy review has been provided by the White House outlining the present situation, challenging past assumptions and strategies, and offering new goals and objectives.

The strategy review maintains that the goal in Iraq remains the same and defines it as "[a] unified democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror." A noble goal indeed, and I have no objections to it. The objectives of the plan are as follows:
1. Defeat al-Qaida and its supporters and ensure that no terrorist safe haven exists in Iraq.
2. Support Iraqi efforts to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad and regain control over the capital.
3. Ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq and counter/limit destructive Iranian and Syrian activity in Iraq.
4. Help safeguard democracy in Iraq by encouraging strong democratic institutions impartially serving all Iraqis and preventing the return of the forces of tyranny.
5. Foster the conditions for Iraqi national reconciliation but with the Iraqi Government clearly in the lead.
6. Continue to strengthen Iraqi Security Forces and accelerate the transition of security responsibilities to the Iraqi Government.
7. Encourage an expanding Iraqi economy including by helping Iraqi maintain and expand its export of oil to support Iraqi development.
8. Promote support for Iraq from its neighbors, the region, and the international community.

All good things. So why am I insisting on rewrites? Allow me to quote, well, myself:
You always, always, always start at the top and work down. Your goal is simply what you want to accomplish. Your objectives are specific, measurable, time-sensitive benchmarks that will ensure your goal is met; you have to know who you're trying to reach, how many of them you're trying to reach, and in what time frame, or else you'll never know when that objective has been met.

This is a standard for any strategic plan. The difference between an objective and just another sub-goal is that you have a way to know when you've reached that objective. If your objective is to "continue to strengthen Iraqi Security Forces and accelerate the transition of security responsibilities to the Iraqi Government," how do you know when you've gotten there? How do you know when you're done? Is it 25,000 Iraqi troops who actually show up for work and know how to handle a firearm? 250,000? You also have to have a time limit, or else you could be waiting forever to get those 250,000 troops equipped. June 2007? December?

Because of that failing in the plan, the rest of it is inconsequential. Strategic plans are built from the top down, and if you don't have specific, measurable, time-sensitive objectives to work from, your strategies will be ineffective. That same strategy review offers "major strategic shift" such as "Iraqis are in the lead in ensuring success" and "moderates will be vigorously supported in the battle with violent extremists." Well, first of all, if you're only now starting to support moderates against the extremists, what the hell have you been doing? But secondly, and more importantly, how do those strategic shifts help better achieve your objectives? Will "plac[ing] the responsibility for success on the Iraqis" help safeguard democracy? Will "counter[ing] extremist portrayal of Iraq's conflict as Sunni vs. Shi'a, rather than moderates vs. extremists" make those extremists realize the errors of their ways? Or is it just more pretty language and warm hopes with nothing to back it up?

Here's what I do like about this plan: It recognizes what the US has been doing wrong, and it recognizes what victory kind of looks like. It articulates what we want to achieve. But it doesn't tell us how we'll know when we get there. And that's why presenting this plan as a "surge" instead of an escalation is a joke. He can't possibly say that he'll only need 21,500 troops if he doesn't know exactly what needs to be accomplished to reach his goals, and he certainly can't say they'll only be there for six to nine months if he doesn't know how long those goals will take.

This plan was a good start, and I was glad to see it, even if I wasn't satisfied with what was in it. But I need to see more. I need to see actual objectives, not just optimistic goals; I need to see strategies and tactics deriving from those objectives, and not from the optimistic goals; I need to see proof that he thinks this is a good idea and isn't just trying to stick it to the Iraqi study group; and moreover, I need to see feedback from the generals that the objectives are realistic and the strategies and tactics call for the resources we actually have available. Because you go to the war with the army you have, not the army you want or would like to have - and if the army you have isn't enough to get the job done, you don't go to war. You find some other way to accomplish your goals that won't leave your men and women unprotected and fighting an unmatched battle.

I give it a D+. Good thought, nice elucidation of goals, but weak structure and poor followthrough. Specific suggestions for improvement will follow shortly. See me after class.

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