Clark on Iraq: Win or get out

A serious essay by a serious man.
But is he right?

Gen. Wesley Clark is convinced a good outcome could be salvaged from the Iraqi mess, and explains how he thinks it could be done. As usual, Clark sounds as if he’s actually thought about the problem and might know what to do about it, which is an improvement over most of what we hear from the White House and the Pentagon.

Clark what seems to be a beautifully simple solution to what must surely be the greatest deficiency we now face in trying to help rebuild Iraq: our lack of Arabic-speaking soldiers and civilians. Arabic is a horribly difficult language for an English-speaker to learn, which doesn’t excuse our current policy of not even trying. (The folks we send to train Iraqi security forces are given no formal language training whatever, not even at the Berlitz level.)

Clark proposes to take advantage of our diversity by recruiting American citizens who already speak Arabic because they are, in fact, Arabs. The number he proposes — 10,000 — seems modest compared with the size of the Arab-American population but would no doubt represent a tenfold increase in the number of Americans in Iraq who speak any substantial amount of Arabic at all, and perhaps a hundredfold increase in those who speak the language fluently and idiomatically. Why didn’t I think of that? More importantly, why didn’t someone working for Don Rumsfeld or Condi Rice?

Clark’s bottom line seems like a sensible one, both substantively and politically. If the current Administration can’t or won’t do what it takes to win, then we ought to get out, rather than throwing good money and lives after bad.

He also proposes that, instead of announcing now a timetable for a pullout, we announce now that we do not intend to create permanent military bases for ourselves. That would reassure Iraqi nationalists that supporting us now won’t turn Iraq into a virtual colonyk, without encouraging the insurgents to think that they can simply wait us out.

Since I know far less than Clark does about either Iraq or military peacekeeping operations, I’m hardly qualified to criticize his proposals. But I do have two questions:

1. Clark’s essay never mentions Iran, except as part of a rather cloudy reference to a conference if Iraq’s neighbors. But right now the Iranian is strongly hostile to the United States; how much power do we want that regime to have in Iraq?

2. Clark’s prescription fits a different reality from that described by Brendan O’Leary. O’Leary is clearly a partisan of the Kurdish cause, but that doesn’t make him wrong. If in fact Kurds don’t consider themselves Iraqis, and consider both the Sunni and Shi’a of “Mesopotamia” their enemies, is it really reasonable, or feasible, to ask them to dissolve their own army into the army of their ethnic enemies? After all, we finally admitted that “Yugoslavia” was a mistake; why not “Iraq”?

Updated to correct a misreading; the earlier version missed Clark’s call for a “no permanent bases” pledge.

Footnote Kevin Drum points me to the full Clark Iraq plan.

Second update Armando at DKos takes Clark’s piece as primarily satirical, in that it points out all the things we’d have to do to salvage a decent outcome in Iraq that BushCo is unwilling or unable to do. Not an implausible reading.

Digby agrees, and likes it. Jeanne d’Arc disapproves.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: