The Aaron Harber Show


The Solution for the War in Iraq
How Democrats and Republicans Can Work Together to End the War

April 8, 2008
By Aaron Harber

Part 1: Honesty is the best policy.

With Democrats calling the War in Iraq a failure and demanding a USA withdrawal and Republicans contending success has been achieved and arguing a long-term presence is required, the American people have to wonder if any solution can be forged by American politicians. After visiting Iraq, at the invitation of General David Petraeus, it is easy to understand how complex the situation is and how difficult a path to resolution will be.

The first step in developing solutions to and the resolution of the War in Iraq is the need for honesty. With that in mind, there are several facts which should not be in dispute. Recognizing and accepting these truths could help create a path for nonpartisan solutions and for democratic and economic prosperity in Iraq.

BAD DECISION. There was no viable justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and it was not significantly in our national or best interest to do so. At the minimum, knowing what we do today, even those who felt misled - from the President on down - should admit the invasion was a terrible mistake. If given a chance to do it all over again, no rational person could argue it would be the right choice to invade Iraq.

OTHER OPTIONS. We failed to avail ourselves of other options, including further diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions which, at the minimum, had they been deployed, would have united the world against Iraq had they been used for as little as an additional six to twelve months. While it was true many diplomatic efforts had failed, Iraq was cooperating, to a limited degree. More importantly, had we agreed to the German and French requests for further diplomatic efforts, we could have agreed to them on the condition that they participate in an invasion of their plans failed. We failed to take into account the sentiment of other nations - especially those in the Middle East – regarding our invasion and occupation of Iraq. Over time, those sentiments have become more negative.

NO WMD’S. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction and either our intelligence completely failed or allowed itself to be manipulated to support those who wanted to invade Iraq. Being duped or playing politics reflects poorly on our intelligence agencies at the highest levels and should be a lesson for the future. Of course, many in the intelligence arena believe they had good intelligence and it was not used.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE. The United States failed to understand Iraq was a country with a divided citizenry whose conflicts date back 1,300 years - over an eon before America was even a nation. With Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish divisions and additional factions within those segments of the population, we grossly underestimated - and continue to underestimate - the seriousness of the divisions of the population. The truth is we had no preparation or plan to address these factors - and still do not today. Given the circumstances and the unlikelihood we can do much (i.e., it is up to the Iraqis and they may make decisions we do not like), staying in Iraq makes no sense as sectarian violence cannot be absolutely controlled by us and a foreign presence - which is what we are - over the long-term only contributes to the nation’s instability.

NO POST-INVASION PLAN. The U.S. had no viable plan to stabilize Iraq once the invasion was over and did not know what to do as an occupying force. This was reckless and irresponsible - especially given the number of people who expressed concerns over this gross planning deficiency. There is pervasive poverty among the Iraqi people and many infrastructural problems remain very severe - including the provision of electricity (which still is not provided 24/7 to most Iraqis) and potable water (whose quantity and quality can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood). The U.S. has not adequately addressed these needs.

WE HELPED AL-QAEDA. There was no al-Qaeda presence in Iraq prior to our invasion and only our occupation of the country created the opportunity for al-Qaeda in Iraq to develop. Iraq became a magnet for terrorism as a result of the U.S. invasion and, today, remains a major source of terrorist activity. While Saddam Hussein truly was a despicable despot, his absolute tyranny prevented the infiltration of foreign terrorist organizations.

THE COST QUESTION. Had the American people been asked to support the invasion in Iraq on the basis that at least 4,000 troops would die and another 30,000 would be injured, at a cost of at least $1/2 trillion, they would have resoundingly said “No, don’t do it.” Had they been told the cost of the War could exceed $3 trillion, we all know what the answer would have been. These numbers are exactly why these questions were never asked. To date, the U.S. already has made a commitments and expenditures on the War which could total as much as $3 trillion. At an interest rate of +/-5%, that could represent an annual tax burden of $200 billion for the next 100 years. The U.S. simply cannot afford to continue this War. From an economic opportunity cost perspective - i.e., what else could the U.S. do with $200 billion a year for a century? - the U.S. simply cannot justify continuing expenditures at this level.

NATIONAL SECURITY OPTIONS. There are other, far less expensive ways to address National Security issues. Even if the same resources were dedicated to National Security issues, the effectiveness of other approaches would likely be ten times greater than how American resources are being used today. For example, if we were to spend $500 billion a year on foreign aid (rather than the $25 billion we appropriate today), the United States could feed the world’s hungry, eradicate major diseases, and help many nations on a path to economic self-sufficiency. Such an endeavor would do far more to (a) provide global stability, (b) make terrorism far less attractive among many populations, (c) create markets for American services and products, and (d) drastically improve our image - making America the nation almost all other countries would respect and appreciate. Even shifting just $25 billion annually - not $500 billion - into new foreign aid would have an extraordinary effect on the world and on our reputation.

DEFINING VICTORY. We have not articulated what “victory” in Iraq is and may not be able to do so. If this is true, it makes almost no sense to remain in Iraq. At best, we can temporarily provide some degree of stability and, at times, we have done that but they have come with great costs. It is possible and likely that a continued presence will have only a marginal benefit over time. Our goal should be to provide enough stability to hand over all security operations to the Iraqi Government.

YANKEES, GO HOME. The vast majority of Iraqis want the U.S. to leave Iraq as soon as possible. Survey research deemed accurate by all sides confirms over two-thirds of the adult population wants us to go with the percentages who want us to leave ranging from approximately 60 to 85%. However, at the same time, many Iraqis justifiably fear that, once the U.S. leaves, they will be subject to severe discrimination and even killed.

INCONSISTENT FOREIGN POLICY. The U.S. has a reputation of first supporting democratic movements and encouraging people to risk their lives and the lives of family members in their efforts to seek democracy and then, second, abandoning the same people we encouraged to take risks. These abandonments have resulted in the deaths of many people who seek freedom and have tarnished the image and reputation of the United States. Any decision in Iraq should take this concern into account because a premature departure would solidify this reputation.

PETRAEUS’ SUCCESS. Since the installation of General David Petraeus by President George W. Bush as the Commander of the Multi-National Force - Iraq, the U.S. Military has embarked on an aggressive effort to work with the Iraqi people, to help build and protect infrastructure, and to provide security to Iraqis without regard to their political views, religious beliefs, or social standing. Contrary to the blueprint for most military operations - i.e., militaries are created to break things and kill people - Petraeus and the American troops have demonstrated the U.S. Military truly has the capacity to build things and help people.

THE SURGE WORKED. The “Surge” has been very successful in temporarily stabilizing Iraq and reducing violence. The Surge has bought time for Iraqi political leaders to solve problems and has demonstrated to all Iraqis what life can be like when violence is reduced or eliminated.

PROGRESS HAS BEEN MADE. There have been many accomplishments during the American occupation of Iraq. These have included the ongoing peacefulness and stability of the northern Iraqi provinces constituting Kurdistan (with the exception of conflict between Turkey and the rebel PKK in Kurdistan), the reduction of violence across the rest of the country, the fact free elections have been held, the establishment of a Constitution and a constitutional government, the sharing of oil revenues (although that still needs to be perfected), and the rebuilding of Iraq’s decades-old infrastructure, the passage of a national budget, the granting of amnesty to many previously-persecuted Iraqis, the beginning of processes to bring back members of the Baath Party (de-baathification), and the progress the Iraqi Military has made in its size and capabilities.

TROOP NUMBERS MATTER. Troop reductions must be tied to how the missions of the U.S. Military are defined. If defined one way, it is possible more troops will be needed. If defined another way, it is possible fewer troops would be needed. If troop levels are set artificially, Americans must recognize this means certain missions cannot be staffed. This will, in turn, limit what successes the troops will be able to have. This tradeoff exists no matter who is proposing troop levels. Arbitrary troop level reductions make no sense if they are not tied to accomplishment of specific goals.

A STRESSED MILITARY. The U.S. Military is terribly strained by the War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan, especially with the latter creating progressively more demands in recent months. Tours of duty lasting 1¼ years are putting far too much stress on troops (not all branches of service have this requirement but the Army does). Reducing troop deployment periods may be more important in the short term than reducing overall troop levels in Iraq. Troop reductions are essential, however, in order to relieve the strain of extended and multiple deployments as well as to free up staffing for Afghanistan as well as for potential problems areas which would be difficult to serve. We are making unreasonable demands on our troops when we force them to make third and fourth tours. This practice needs to end immediately as it is harming tens of thousands of men and women as well as creating a horrendous future cost to society.

LONG-TERM COSTS. The War is the principal contributor to the recent increases in the National Debt. If the War contributes $3 trillion to a National Debt already headed towards $10 trillion, it could “bust the bank.” The War already has negatively impacted the U.S. Economy due to the borrowing done to pay for it by the U.S. Government. These impacts are contributing to rising interest rates for borrowers and higher costs of goods - having a potential multiplier effect which could cost American citizens hundreds of billions or ultimately trillions of extra dollars in addition to the actual War costs of $3 trillion.

A THIRD WAY WE WILL PAY. The War in Iraq has contributed significantly to the increase in oil and gas prices around the world. The instability in Iraq and in Iran coupled with the additional instability in the Middle East possibly could be blamed for $10 to $30 of the $80 per barrel price increase the world has seen since the invasion of Iraq. The War has contributed to the decline of the U.S. Dollar which, in turn, has resulted in increases in the prices of goods and services from overseas - including but not limited to energy products. And the costs of almost all goods and services which have any kind of significant petroleum-based or energy component are going up due to higher energy prices. These costs eventually are passed on to American consumers- meaning Americans are paying more to buy less. This ultimately could force Americans to pay the equivalent of $1 to $1½ trillion in higher energy prices over the course of the next several decades. These costs could be in addition to the $3 trillion ultimate cost of the War.

AN ECONOMIC DEATH SPIRAL. Due to increased fuel prices, the War in Iraq’s contribution to a global increase in the cost of products such as food, clothing, medicine, and shelter is putting millions of people at risk because so many of life’s necessities are getting out of reach financially. The just the cost to U.S. consumers of this ripple effect on goods and services could reach $1 trillion annually. Even if these price changes due to the War represent an average of just 3% of the American Economy, the cost to citizens could be $500 billion annually in real dollars - far more than the direct costs of the obligations incurred by the War itself. If these price changes are permanent, this could easily raise the total cost of the War to in excess of $10 trillion. Such a number would represent the instantaneous doubling of the nation’s National Debt except that, in this instance, consumers primarily would continue to pay the higher prices today and every day into the future. Hence, if not controlled, the War could put the U.S. Economy and that of other nations into an economic death spiral. This is why getting the costs of the War under control is so important.

SUBSIDIZING THE ENEMY. The increase in the price of energy products is filling the pockets of terrorist organizations. As the United States Government knows, significant contributions to terrorist organizations are made every day by nations who sell energy resources to us. By becoming so dependent on these foreign sources, we have created a situation in which, every time we fill a tank with gasoline, we are giving dollars to terrorists who want to destroy us. The fact the nations - including those in the Middle East - do almost nothing to moderate prices and, instead, exploit obscene gains at our expense and give some of the profits to terrorist organizations, demonstrates who our true allies are. It also means we are subsidizing our own destruction.

Part 2: What we can do to end the War in Iraq.

Although some Americans want the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq immediately and others want us to stay until we can declare an absolute victory, neither vision makes sense. The following reasons explain the realities in Iraq and a course of action to successfully end the War.

EDUCATION. Americans need to become educated about Iraq and the Middle East so we can make informed and educated decisions. Iraq is a complex society with Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish constituencies in conflict with each other. The groups also experience significant internal conflicts as recent internecine Shia battles between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces demonstrated. If the Iraqi people want peace among or even within these factions, it will be up to them to forge that peace. And it is entirely possible major elements of the population do not want peace. We have to educate ourselves about Iraq - the cradle of civilization - so we, as a nation, can make better informed decisions about the best way to help. Today, most Americans know little about Iraq and would have trouble finding it on a map.

GOOD AND BAD. Our presence in Iraq is simultaneously helping and hurting. Our military forces are providing site-specific security and stability but our over all presence is contributing to nervousness and instability in Iraq and in other parts of the Middle East. While our long-term presence in Germany and South Korea may have made sense for those countries, the same conditions do not necessarily prevail in Iraq. The homogeneity of the populations in Germany and South Korea as well as the role the U.S. played in the respective wars for these two countries is in stark contrast to the situation in Iraq - a country in which we are seen as occupiers in a nation divided by multiple sects whose structure is tribal in nature.

COOPERATION. We have to come to the realization we cannot win the War by ourselves. The Iraqi people will be the ones who “win” the War as it now is an internal battle or civil war. They are the ones who can forge the only resolution of the War - a political solution. All we can do is help. And one of the best ways we can help probably is to leave as soon as possible. Currently, we are providing assistance to the Iraqi Government - which is controlled by one Shiite faction. Our presence is a disincentive for the current Iraqi Government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to compromise with the factions out of power. As the conflicts between al-Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shia factions recently demonstrated, by formally supporting the Iraqi Government, the U.S. Military is being forced to pick sides between rival political groups. If we announce our planned departure but offer a schedule which is reasonable, it will give faction in power the incentive to sincerely negotiate while simultaneously providing the Iraqi people with some security while those negotiations occur. One of the reasons the Surge failed politically was, although the U.S. Military did its job and provided a window of peacefulness during which serious negotiations could have resulted in the resolution of numerous issues, that resolution did not occur because the Maliki-led Government did not have sufficient incentives to compromise.

REALISTIC PLANNING. We need to announce our departure as one of our ultimate objectives. Given the paramount importance of this objective, an orderly withdrawal needs to be planned now because the logistical challenges of our withdrawal will be extraordinary. Contrary to the statements made by many opponents of the War, from the moment the decision is made to withdraw until the last troops leave is likely to be an 18- to 30-month process. Using a 24-month time-frame with a “soft schedule” component (i.e., we retain the flexibility to slow down the withdrawal based on security needs or even increase troop levels) probably makes the most sense because it would allow for an orderly withdrawal and the proper disposition of U.S. bases, supplies, machinery, and equipment.

CHANGING ROLES. The role of the U.S. Military should be shifted in short order exclusively to training some of the tasks it already has been doing successfully for years - i.e., training Iraqi troops, providing intelligence and strategic advice, assisting in other advisory roles, and helping to provide security for infrastructure projects. The U.S. Military also should consider a prominent role in border protection which, in turn, would justify the establishment of bases on Iraq’s perimeter - where the U.S. presence would barely be noticed by the Iraqi people.

REDUCING TERRORISM. Once we announce our plan to leave, it will reduce or even eliminate the incentive for terrorists groups and insurgents to target American soldiers. After all, they are targets because they are occupiers who the insurgents seek to run out of the country. If we announce our plans to leave, it will take the wind out of the sails of those who wish us death. They will lose whatever remaining support they have in the country because they will no longer be able to argue conflict is necessary to remove occupying foreign troops. Their entire raison d’être will vanish as they no longer have a political base founded on the emotional desire to rid a country of its occupiers. By continuing our current withdrawal process and announcing the continuation is based on a goal of complete withdrawal, we will immediately convince everyone we are on our way out. But, by having a soft schedule, we will retain the flexibility needed to address security issues and, if need be, even increase troop strength at times.

SOFT SCHEDULE. The reason a “soft schedule,” as described above, makes sense is that it (a) gives the U.S. Military the flexibility it needs to accomplish military objectives while (b) putting the United States on a course to reduce, if not end, its active military role in Iraq. A soft schedule also still (c) accomplishes the objective of reducing the interest in attacking American troops and civilians and (d) places extreme pressure on the Iraqi Government to resolve ethno-sectarian differences and bring into the government the various Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions in conflict with each other (and with sects within each group). A soft schedule accomplishes all of this.

MINIMAL PRESENCE. Whatever military presence we have in Iraq should be publicly minimized within the country. For example, the U.S. has a significant presence in Kuwait but it is almost unseen. Military bases are located away from Kuwaiti populations. When U.S. Military personnel go to Kuwaiti cities, they dress in civilian clothing. These practices, along with others, allow the U.S. to maintain strategic bases while not appearing to be a significant part of the country in which we are guests. This recognizes the sovereignty of other nations and also minimizes the risks to our troops. The same strategy should be deployed for the U.S. Military in Iraq.

FOREIGN PRESENCE. Iraq brings home the reality that we no longer can afford to support foreign bases at the level we did in the past. If a country or group of nations wants us to assist them, they should contribute a significant portion of our annual costs (e.g., 50% or more). This is a financial reality that applies to all of our foreign operations and needs to be part of a shift in cost-sharing no Administration or Congress has had the courage to implement despite the fact the falling dollar has meant many countries could do far more. When people and nations are asked to pay for something, their decision conveys the value they put on that assistance. Countries such as Germany, Japan, Korea, and even Iraq can afford to pay for a significant portion of the cost of our assistance. After all, we’re putting the lives of our troops on the line for them. The least they can do is help pay for the costs of our military support.

GETTING MILITARY HELP. We cannot rationally expect we will get significant help for general military operations from other countries. In fact, in 2003, the invading Coalition started with approximately 60,000 foreign troops teamed up with 250,000 U.S. troops. The totals now are 10,000 and 150,000 respectively. We have lost substantial support from other countries and have no reason to believe troops from other countries will be added at any time as part of the Multi-National Force – Iraq. If anything, the more reasonable expectation is the 10,000 figure will continue to decline. To avoid rejection and to demonstrate we understand how other nations perceive the situation today, we should not ask NATO or any nation for direct military help at this time. Over time, however, we should seek to replace the American presence with a truly multi-national force whose composition is only one-tenth American, at most. Hopefully, NATO will play a role but that is likely to be several years away.

GETTING NON-MILITARY HELP. We need to immediately seek help from other nations and major corporations not in the form of direct financial aid or military assistance but in the form of providing help with infrastructure projects. This needs to be in the form of a major Cabinet-level initiative. If we can get 1,200 major companies from around the world to average two $25 million projects each and can get 50 countries to contribute an average of ten $75 million projects apiece, that would total 1,500 projects worth almost $100 billion. If distributed over a five-year period, the investment of $20 billion a year would be very significant in a country with a population of only 26 million people (i.e., slightly more than the population of the State of Texas). While $25 billion a year might not seem to be much (especially given our own current rate of expenditures for our military operations in Iraq) it would have a tremendously positive impact. Additionally, the presence of so many nations and companies assisting the Iraqi people would not only have a incredible impact on the country’s infrastructure but would send such a positive message to the Iraqi people - telling them the entire world cares and is there to help.

ULTIMATE MILITARY AID. The reason to pursue an aggressive infrastructure initiative with other countries and multi-national companies is it not only will bring much-needed resources to Iraq but will give us the opportunity to ask each country to provide security for its own projects. Hence, although we likely would have no success getting other countries to join the Multi-National Force – Iraq at this time, many of them would be willing to provide troops for the protection of their own people working on projects in Iraq. In some cases, this may only be two or three dozen soldiers. In other cases, it could number in the hundreds or even be a few thousand. And because the military role of these troops would be purely defensive in nature, most countries would not have a problem with providing security forces. If this were done for 50 countries and the average force was just 400 troops, this would mean there would be an additional multi-national force of 20,000. This presence and participation could significantly add to the security of Iraq - all at no cost to Iraq or the U.S. Furthermore, it would help the U.S. reduce its own troop levels in Iraq.

SETTING AN EXAMPLE. The United States can set an immediate example for the rest of the world by making a long-term (e.g., at least 10 years) commitment to provide economic development support and aid to Iraq. The level of support should be substantial - probably on the order of $10 to $20 billion annually - especially given the condition of the country. That would mean a cumulative commitment of $100 to $200 billion. This would have a substantial and very positive impact on the country. It also would set a high standard which would serve to challenge other countries and organizations to participate in the reconstruction and rebuilding programs needed by Iraq. The Iraqi people’s view of Americans would be transformed from a primarily military role to a civilian, humanitarian role. And our commitment at this level would give us the leverage we need to convince hundreds of other countries and organizations to join the economic development effort in Iraq.

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By being honest with ourselves, by recognizing our mistakes and limitations, and by making the appropriate tradeoffs between the actions we want to take and the costs of those actions - in terms of both lives and dollars - we can formulate a policies which allow us to reasonably and successfully help Iraq.

The above-described plan is not a “Democratic Plan” or a “Republican Plan.” It is not a plan based on wishful thinking or what is politically expedient. It is a plan based on honestly answering the tough questions which need to be asked as Americans look at the costs of the War and the alternatives available to them and to the Iraqi people.


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