Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fight to Win

In all the debates over Iraq, a simple proposition has not been asked – what will it take to win? Winning has not been well-defined, but a good outcome would be a decent, democratic Iraq at peace with itself and able to protect itself from its predatory neighbors, specifically Iran, Syria, and to a degree, Saudi Arabia.

One key prerequisite of that include control of Iraq’s borders. For almost 4 years, no serious effort to do that has been done. The easy riposte is if America cannot control its own border with Mexico, how can it control Iraq’s borders with its 6 neighbors? Manpower is essential, and it is doubtful that the US military has the available boots to accomplish such a task. Today's WAPO piece is the first credible proposal but this will likely stretch the military.

Here’s an odd but potentially viable approach: invite Iraq’s neighbors to police the border with their opposite numbers, i.e., Iran can contribute to border patrol on Iraq’s southwest sector with Saudi Arabia, the Saudis and Jordanians can patrol Iraq’s northeastern border with Iran and Turkey, the Turks can monitor the southeast borders with Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, and the Americans with their coalition allies can concentrate on the border with Syria where the ratlines to the God-forsaken Al-anbar province originate. The Americans would also concentrate on securing Baghdad and keeping the Turks and Kurds out each other’s hair. With this scenario, each of the participants is incentivized to do their job – to prevent infiltration into the chessboard of Iraq.

Longer-term, the need to expand our military looms. Our power projection capabilities have decayed and degraded, and a doubled or tripled force is probably required to restore enough deterrent capability against the rogues’gallery that confronts us and in some way which is being fronted by China and possibly Russia behind the scenes. The draft is talked about but there are serious arguments against conscription. Yet the pure volunteer approach is likely inadequate, and the foreign legion approach to recruiting Mexicans to fight our wars in exchange for citizenship has its downsides as well.

Here’s a blended idea that just might work: a national service program of 2-3 years for all 18 or 22 year olds, with the options to choose which underserved areas to work in – teaching, nursing, alternative energy development, and of course foreign intelligence & the military. The government could then adjust various incentives (1 or 2 years of college or other higher education benefits per year of service, long-term health insurance or tax credits) to meet the needs of the health, education, energy security, foreign intel, and the military while still leaving it to individual choice to who actually joins up the various services. This at a stroke would contribute to binding together the various strata of America’s social fabric, address pressing needs of our nation, and provide the manpower needed for our military.

Energy security is another central element to fighting to win. Only about 15% of our oil comes from the Middle East. It is true that over ½ of our oil is imported, but much of that is from friendly neighbors like Canada and Mexico. But the navy is providing a free service to everyone by protecting the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Malacca Straits. We really should stop shouldering all these burdens everywhere on our own. To this end, the federation of democracies which I hope one day will be picked up as a great idea by someone important, would be a great entrée.

True bipartisanship in this instance would mean adopting the Miller Lite commercial: let’s do both! Let’s raise fuel efficiency standards and nuclear power investment; let’s drill in ANWR, offshore, and wherever else (cleanly as possible) and pursue a campaign for conservation thru carbon taxes and incentives for efficiency. Let’s invest in renewable energy research (and I mean a trillion dollars, not a billion dollars) and recruit friendly nations in Africa and South America to our side and away from China.