Published on Friday, June 16, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times
A Man, a Plan … Baghdad
The president's secret trip to Iraq yielded a new strategy:
Let the Iraqis figure it out
by Rosa Brooks
FINALLY! The Bush administration has a plan for Iraq.
A new one, I mean. The old plan — accept flowers from grateful Iraqis, locate WMD, create democracy and the rule of law, depart in five months — had definite appeal, but it didn't work out.
The new plan is that we're going to get the Iraqis to come up with a plan.
That's why the president paid a surprise visit to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki this week. Perhaps sensing that Maliki's response to a cheery "See you shortly!" from George W. Bush might be something along the lines of "Not if I see you first," Bush dropped in on Baghdad's Green Zone unannounced, giving Maliki only five minutes' notice of his arrival.
That's leadership for you. As the president explained: "One reason I went to Iraq yesterday, no matter how secretive the trip was, was to get a firsthand feel for how those people are thinking over there…. I understand leadership…. You've got to have a plan. And that's what I found in Iraq."
In fact, he found that the Iraqis have a "plan to succeed," "a robust plan" and "a plan to improve security." They also have a "plan to bring militias and other armed groups under government control," a plan a "plan … to improve the Iraqi judicial system," "a plan to revitalize the Iraqi economy" and "plans on electricity and energy."
The president may have mentioned other nifty Iraqi plans too, but after I got past 20 references to the word "plan" in the transcript of Bush's post-Baghdad news conference, I lost count. (The president also managed to use some form of the word "success" 33 times.)
But let's not get distracted here. The bottom line, for you doubters, is that Bush really does have a new Iraq plan. It consists of making it "clear to the government there that … it's really up to them to put a plan in place and execute it." Now is that a plan or what?
The Republican congressional leadership also has an Iraq plan. In a confidential (oops!) memo, for instance, House Majority Leader John A. Boehner instructed Republicans planning for this week's floor debates on Iraq to just … change the subject.
It's "imperative" to shift the focus to "the dangers we face as a nation in a post-9/11 world," Boehner's memo advised. And when in doubt, Republicans can always fall back on vilifying the Democrats. "We must conduct this debate as a portrait of contrasts," Boehner urged, painting "a clear choice between a Republican Party aware of the stakes and dedicated to victory, versus a Democrat Party without a coherent national security policy that sheepishly dismisses the challenges America faces in a post-9/11 world."
The House Republican plan to change the subject and blame the Democrats is almost as good as the Bush plan to get the Iraqis to come up with an Iraq plan. After all, Sun Tzu famously said that "all warfare is deception," and "divert and distract" is a tried and true method of warfare.
They don't call the Republicans the national security party for nothing!
What's that? Diversion and distraction tactics are supposed to be used against the enemy on the battlefield, not against the American electorate? Hey, whose side are you on here?
About those Democrats. Naturally, they have a few Iraq plans too. And though the various Democratic plans differ in their details, they're all built on the common-sense recognition that the Iraq war has been a disaster for Iraqis and for U.S. efforts to combat global terrorism; that our ongoing, open-ended presence in Iraq is part of the problem; that we need to begin a phased drawdown of troops — now.
The funny thing is, if Bush had spent more than a few hours in Baghdad on Tuesday, he might have realized that the Democratic plans for Iraq are remarkably in sync with Iraqi aspirations for Iraq.
For instance, Maliki has said he wants Iraqis to take over security from the U.S.-led coalition in 18 months, and a recent poll found that 87% of ordinary Iraqis want a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. If Bush were really serious about helping the Iraqis determine their own destiny, he would do what his critics have long urged: Develop a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Now, that would be a plan.
Rosa Brooks is a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Her experience includes service as a senior advisor at the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, as a consultant for the Open Society Institute and Human Rights Watch, as a board member of Amnesty International USA, and as a lecturer at Yale Law School. Brooks has authored articles on international law, human rights, and the law of war, and her book, "Can Might Make Rights? The Rule of Law After Military Interventions" (with Jane Stromseth and David Wippman), will be published in 2006 by Cambridge University Press.
© 2006 The Los Angeles Times