"Go Big," the first option, originally contemplated a large increase in U.S. troops in Iraq to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence. A classic counterinsurgency campaign, though, would require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police. That option has been all but rejected by the study group, which concluded that there are not enough troops in the U.S. military and not enough effective Iraqi forces, said sources who have been informally briefed on the review.
"Go Home," the third option, calls for a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops. It was rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown and bloody civil war.
The group has devised a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second one -- "Go Long" -- and calls for cutting the U.S. combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of the training and advisory efforts. Under this mixture of options, which is gaining favor inside the military, the U.S. presence in Iraq, currently about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period, the officials said.
Suffice it to say, 20-30,000 new troops is about all we can come up with. The public will not tolerate a draft, even though some are calling for one. But whatever plan is proposed and eventually implemented, our troops are up against unremitting violence:
In a cycle that has been tracked by the American military since May and June, after months of apparently random sectarian violence the pattern has become one of attack and counterattack, with Sunni militants staging what commanders call “spectacular” strikes and Shiite militias retaliating with abductions and murders of Sunnis.
Militias come to funerals and offer to carry out revenge attacks. Gunmen execute blindfolded people in full public view. Mortars are lobbed between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods. Sometimes the killers seem to be seeking specific people who were involved in earlier attacks, but many victims lose their lives simply to even out the sectarian toll.
The killing is an ugly thing, not something Iraqis speak about openly. But its traces are everywhere, even in public places. Arkan lives in Ur, a neighborhood in northeast Baghdad that borders the area where the Shiite militant Abu Dera lives. He has seen at least four killings of Sunnis, and one failed one, an Egyptian man who was left for dead.
I simply don't see how an additional 20,000 or 30,000 troops is going to be able to make much of a dent in this kind of violence. Our troops continue to battle insurgents and Al Qaeda fighters and terrorists in western Iraq, and the struggle there cannot simply be abandoned so that troops can be shifted to Baghdad where much of the sectarian violence rages. But neither am I comfortable with a quick withdrawal (though I think any plan at this point will simply be used by future politicians as an excuse to leave when the plan fails as all others have.) The problem with much of the thinking on Iraq is the failure to take into account various countervailing forces at work. There are those who say that leaving will undermine the Iraqi insurgency. That's probably true, but it misses the fact that the insurgency is now only the second greatest problem facing Iraq now; the sectarian violence is the worst, and currently the presence of our troops serves to put a cap on that violence (to some extent, though not to a great one.) Others say that abandoning Iraq will leave it open to terrorists, but that's inaccurate without further qualification, that the Shiites are extremely hostile to the Al Qaeda terrorists that have been attacking them, and will do everything in their power to eliminate them or confine them to Sunni dominated areas. Lastly, though some argue that the Iraq war is harming our national security, it is without question that were to Iraq descend into a civil war that other Middle Eastern nations would feel compelled to participate in, the situation for our security could worsen dramatically as the Middle East become considerably less stable.
As you can see, it's no wonder that even people who are willing to face the reality of the situation are having a very hard time coming up with a single plan that will minimize the damage of our failure in Iraq. It seems like everything we do will have terrible consequences for us or Iraq, and it's now a matter of trying to gaze into a crystal ball and figure out which option has the least bad consequences. Of course it is also true that whatever plan we come up with, the political reality is that Americans are quickly growing tired of the war, and are becoming more favorable towards withdrawal, or at least scaling back our commitment. Whatever the Pentagon or the Iraq Study Group come up with, political reality will in the end trump all other considerations.