A "fool's errand" -- and a better way?

Retired generals assess Bush's Iraq plan and provide their own alternatives.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 18, 2007 9:51PM (EST)

As we noted earlier today, soon-to-be-retired Army Chief of Staff Pete Schoomaker is apparently predicting that George W. Bush's new plan for Iraq has only a "50-50 chance" of succeeding. Compared with a panel of retired generals who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, Schoomaker is an optimist. As the New York Times reports, the retired generals described the president's plan as "a fool's errand" and a case of "too little, too late."

They also came with specific proposals for alternatives:

Gen. Barry McCaffrey: "First, we must commit publicly to provide $10 billion a year in economic support to the Iraqis over the next five years. In the military arena, it would be feasible to equip and increase the Iraqi armed forces on a crash basis over the next 24 months (but not the police or the Facilities Protection Service). The goal would be 250,000 troops, provided with the material and training necessary to maintain internal order. Within the first 12 months we should draw down the U.S. military presence from 15 Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), of 5,000 troops each, to 10. Within the next 12 months, Centcom forces should further draw down to seven BCTs and withdraw from urban areas to isolated U.S. operating bases -- where we could continue to provide oversight and intervention when required to rescue our embedded U.S. training teams, protect the population from violence or save the legal government. Finally, we have to design and empower a regional diplomatic peace dialogue in which the Iraqis can take the lead, engaging their regional neighbors as well as their own alienated and fractured internal population."

Gen. Joseph Hoar: "I urge this committee to insist that an alternative plan be developed and briefed to the relevant committees in the Congress. It should include diplomatic engagement with Syria and Iran. It should also include a significant role for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, plus Egypt and Jordan ... It's time we took our friends in the region into our confidence. The goal of the plan should be to prevent the Middle East from falling into chaos should Iraq become a failed state. Victory in the conventional sense is no longer possible. Our goal today in Iraq should be to achieve a paradigm shift that will enable political changes sufficient to give the people of Iraq an assured degree of stability and justice. "

Lt. Gen. William Odom: "Several critics of the administration show an appreciation of the requirement to regain our allies' and others' support, but they do not recognize that withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is the sine qua non for achieving their cooperation. It will be forthcoming once that withdrawal begins and looks irreversible. They will then realize that they can no longer sit on the sidelines. The aftermath will be worse for them than for the United States, and they know that without U.S. participation and leadership, they alone cannot restore regional stability. Until we understand this critical point, we cannot design a strategy that can achieve what we can legitimately call a victory."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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