War Plan B and Situation B
Elizabeth Spiro Clark
April 19, 2007
Elizabeth Sprio Clark is a retired foreign sevice officer who writes extensively on issues of global democratization.
Presidential candidate Senator John McCain gave an interview to The New York Times that appeared in its April 15 edition. His subject was Iraq, his message that “there is no Plan B.” The U.S. must continue Plan A—the surge—indefinitely.
Plan A, McCain explains, will lead hopefully to a “steady reduction in violence” and turn over of security responsibilities to Iraqis. How can that possibly happen when about 90 percent of the Sunnis and 80 percent of Shia want the U.S. out of Iraq? Much of the violence is directed either at U.S. forces or “collaborators” with the U.S. Reducing this violence—if possible—will involve permanent U.S. occupation of a violent and hostile nation. It is bad enough to be wading around in an Iraqi civil war but much worse to be fighting Iraqis to compel acceptance of U.S. terms.
In the Times interview, McCain criticized proposals from Democrats that recommended removing U.S. troops to Kuwait as a base of operations to fight terrorists. McCain complained that the U.S. can’t “parachute” in on terrorist operations without “a solid base of support” that provides intelligence. How will that “solid base” materialize? Recent news reports on the situation in Diyala province describe U.S. forces thinned down to meet requirements of the surge in Baghdad. According to the reports, U.S. soldiers don’t dare venture more than a few blocks out from their outposts for fear of ambush. How can they protect the populace? And the surge isn’t protecting the people of Baghdad either. Attacks on Americans have gone up; residents in Sadr City point to violence the surge was supposed to have stopped. But if the goal is McCain’s “solid base of support,” isn’t the strategy flawed too? We need the surge everywhere.
The only positive of McCain’s Plan A is a political positive. Sticking with Plan A will guarantee a long war but it will mean the positive of “sticking with Plan A.” In McCain’s mind there may be no plan B for Iraq, only Plan A, but there is a situation B in Iraq if we stick to Plan A. Situation B is the U.S. mired in a no-win war within Iraq against an overwhelming majority of Sunni and Shia Iraqis who want us out. Situation B could also widen to a war with Iran, draining away our treasury, our young people and our international leadership. In situation B the world goes on about its business without us.
Certainly the Iraqis are already going on without us. That is the meaning of recent major events in Iraq McCain ignored in his Times interview. Two of these are well detailed by author Dilip Hiro in the April 17 edition of TomPaine.com . Hiro spells out the impact of edicts from Shia leader Ali Sistani over the last three years. In conflict with U.S. positions—on elections, on the execution of Saddam Hussein, on the constitution—Sistani has always won. His most recent position is to oppose the debathification measures insisted on by the Bush administration as one of the “benchmarks” Iraq must meet. Without mentioning Sistani’s position, McCain expressed “disappointment” at the failure to move on debaathification.
Other benchmarks are in as much trouble. At the top of the U.S. list has been the demand that Iraqis pass an oil law for fair division of oil revenues, ostensibly to induce the Sunnis to accept Shia majority rule. The U.S.-drafted oil law has always been more about the maximal hospitableness to outside oil investors in the draft oil law than about Iraqi “reconciliation.” The present Iraqi constitution already guarantees a population-proportional cut of existing oil revenues to Sunnis. Whatever the merits of offering them a distribution of new oil development revenues, it is entirely unclear why Shia and Kurds would offer this generosity to Sunnis. This is a zero sum game.
Democrats support benchmarks, but they are on the Iraqi population’s side when it comes to a timetable for withdrawal. Bush and McCain ignore a dramatic expression of Iraqi opinion. This is the demonstration in Najaf April 9, backed by Muqtada al-Sadr, which united, Hiro estimates, a million Iraqis in calling for U.S. withdrawal. What was stunning about the event was not only its size but also the silence of the guns. No bombs disrupted that demonstration. There were no “Iraqi forces,” no collaborators to target. Sunnis participated. Sunnis and Shias are united in calling for U.S. withdrawal.
McCain refuses to see that situation B already looms close upon the U.S. He is moreover incorrect that no plan B exists. As retired Marine Corps general John Sheehan pointed to in a Washington Post op-ed on April 16, the plan B is to put the Iraq war and U.S. interests into a regional context. Talks with neighboring states, including Iran and Syria, have been tentatively begun. Regional security talks must deepen and widen if situation B is to be avoided. McCain never mentioned the word diplomacy, yet diplomacy, regional and international, is plan B. It will involve international agreement on replacing U.S. military forces with an international presence and international guarantees. The U.S. will have lost its shirt but not its neck. It is perhaps understandable that McCain dismisses Plan B, as he is a warrior, honored for his past service as such. But it is long past time for leadership with a different vision.