When did the Brookings Institution
    become the Heritage Foundation?

Michael O’Hanlon’s “Case for the Surge” in Sunday’s Washington Post is an astonishing document. (Full text at the jump.)

It starts out with a colossal non sequitur, mixed with falsehood:

1. “Critics of the administration’s Iraq policy have consistently argued that the United States never deployed enough soldiers and Marines to Iraq.”

2. By adding 21,500 troops, “Bush has essentially conceded his critics’ points.”

3. The proposal “is not a huge change and may be too late.”

4. “But it would still be counterintuitive for the president’s critics to prevent him from carrying out the very policy they have collectively recommended.”

Where to start?

It’s true that some critics of the war opposed it in part because it was grossly under-resourced, not for the drive to Baghdad but for the occupation effort to follow. But those people were thinking of Gen. Shinseki’s estimate that “several hundred thousand” troops would be needed. “Several,” says my dictionary, means no fewer than three. So how does going from 130,000 troops (43% of the minimum number Shinseki called for) to 150,000 troops (50%) constitute “carry out the very policy they have collectively recommended?”

Since we didn’t, and don’t, actually have that many troops to commit, saying “We can’t do this without 300,000 troops” amounted to saying “We shouldn’t do this.” I wasn’t smart enough to say that, but that’s what the war critics were saying. So how does Bush’s plan “concede his critics’ points,” other than the point that he’s an incompetent buffoon who started a project no one knows how to finish?

If O’Hanlon finds it “counter-intuitive” to oppose adding resources to a grossly under-resourced activity to make it only badly under-resourced, when it has “mediocre prospects” and “may be too late” and in the absence of any plausible theory about how the new resources are going to improve matters, and when people are going to be killed and maimed in the course of trying it out, I’d say he needs to get his intuition-counter checked out.

The piece doesn’t get better as it goes on. O’Hanlon admits that success requires “a viable Iraqi partner with broad support across sectarian lines.” That surely isn’t al-Maliki and Co. He adds that “American policy must strive to help create that partner.” How, short of a coup?

The good news, according to O’Hanlon, is that we should know by August whether things are working. If not, “the moment will be right to force the president’s hand and move to a backup plan.” How? By refusing to vote funds for troops already in the field?

And what is the backup plan? A “Bosnian solution,” which O’Hanlon has crafted with the help of an expert on Bosnia. (No expert on Iraq is cited as approving.) That would mean three autonomous regional governments with a weak central government. How this is supposed to work &#8212 why, for example, the Turks would put up with an autonomous Kurdistan, or how to keep Iran from dominating the Shi’a area and some combination of al-Qaeda and the Ba’athists from dominating the Sunni area &#8212 is known, apparently, only to O’Hanlon. And he seems to imagine that the line-drawing process is straightforward: not a very plausible thing to imagine.

But wait. Now comes the kicker:

Citizens would be given the chance to relocate to places where they felt safe, with the government and the coalition providing protection in the process as well as assistance with new housing and jobs.

Translation from the Newspeak: a massive trilateral ethnic cleansing, with at least hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of penniless refugees to be resettled and protected by the weak central government (and us). O’Hanlon doesn’t even mention who gets Kirkuk.

Having not bothered to explain how Congress is going to force this “whole new paradigm” on the President, O’Hanlon naturally doesn’t bother with the detail about how the President is going to force it on the Iraqis. The Congress should start now to “flesh out our choices,” whatever that means. “But for now, Congress should also give the president the money and support that he requests.”

Look, I’m no expert on Iraq, but this crap doesn’t even pass the sniff test. I suppose it’s not impossible that adding some troops now might save some lives and improve the political situation, but O’Hanlon doesn’t bother to argue that it would. He just announces ex cathedra that the Congress ought to follow the lead of the man who got us into this mess in the first place.

Why? Just because.

Is this really the best argument the surge supporters can come up with? And is this really the quality of work now coming out of the Brookings Institution? They used to be a lot better.

A Skeptic’s Case For the Surge

By Michael O’Hanlon

Sunday, January 14, 2007; B07

President Bush’s plan for a surge of American troops in Iraq has run into a brick wall of congressional opposition. Critics rightly argue that it may well be too little, way too late. But for a skeptical Congress and nation, it is still the right thing to try — as long as we do not count on it succeeding and we start working on backup plans even as we grant Bush his request.

However mediocre its prospects, each main element of the president’s plan has some logic behind it. On the military surge itself, critics of the administration’s Iraq policy have consistently argued that the United States never deployed enough soldiers and Marines to Iraq. Now Bush has essentially conceded his critics’ points. To be sure, adding 21,500 American troops (and having them conduct classic counterinsurgency operations) is not a huge change and may be too late.

But it would still be counterintuitive for the president’s critics to prevent him from carrying out the very policy they have collectively recommended.

Similarly, the president wants to move in the right direction on economic reconstruction. For far too long his plans were focused almost exclusively on repairing and rebuilding large infrastructure. The president conceded in a speech in December 2005 that he had placed too much faith in this “Halliburton strategy,” yet it has taken more than a year for him to make amends and focus a large part of his economic strategy on the mundane task of creating jobs. This type of policy is unlikely to create the strong and durable underpinnings of long-term Iraqi economic growth. But like FDR’s job creation programs of the 1930s, it responds to the political needs of a nation under duress. And it is good security policy in a country where too many angry, disenfranchised, unemployed young men are joining insurgent groups and militias.

Finally, President Bush is rightly telegraphing to Iraqi leaders that they must reach compromises with each other — on sharing oil revenue, on reining in militias, on allowing those former Baathists without blood on their hands to regain their opportunities to hold jobs in Iraq. He correctly argues that without progress on such matters, there will be no success in the mission and the American people will continue to lose faith in the effort. This stands in contrast to incorrect comments he made as recently as November, during his trip to Vietnam, when he argued that we could fail in Iraq only if we Americans lose our resolve.

In fact, we need a viable Iraqi partner with broad support across sectarian lines, and American policy must strive to help create that partner.

Rather than deny funding for Bush’s initiatives, Congress should provide it now — but only for fiscal 2007 (meaning through September). By that point, or even the August congressional recess, we should know if the surge is showing promise. If it does, Congress could consider continuing its support. If not, the moment will be right to force the president’s hand and move to a backup plan.

In their testimony before Congress on Thursday, both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that within months we should be able to learn much about the Iraqi government’s willingness to support this new effort. The plan requires more Iraqi troops and more Iraqi government acquiescence in their unfettered use. In addition, one of the main outside architects of the surge strategy, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, told NPR on Thursday that if the president’s plan works we should see an improvement in the security environment this year. Clearly these statements suggest that we should be able to evaluate the success of the strategy in short order.

If Bush’s plan does not work, what might our new policy be? Taking the Shiite-Kurdish side in Iraq’s civil war (the “80 percent solution,” as some call it) would probably guarantee the emergence of a sanctuary for al-Qaeda in the Sunni Arab region and, as such, is a bad idea. Similarly, trying to engineer a coup to create a benign autocracy in Iraq would be very difficult to achieve. As Bosnia expert Edward P. Joseph and I have recently argued, building on the ideas of Sen. Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb, something akin to a Bosnia model for Iraq would make more sense. Iraq would retain a loose confederal structure, a small national government and a mechanism for sharing oil revenue equally. But governance and security would be provided primarily by three autonomous regional governments.

Citizens would be given the chance to relocate to places where they felt safe, with the government and the coalition providing protection in the process as well as assistance with new housing and jobs.

If the surge fails, we will need a whole new paradigm for Iraq policy, and it is hardly too soon for Congress to start fleshing out our choices. But for now, Congress should also give the president the money and support that he requests.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of “Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security.”

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com