U.S. Strategy For Iraq Is Flawed

CBS News Consultant Col. (Ret.) Mitch Mitchell provides commentary on military matters for CBSNews.com.

On Dec. 15 another major milestone will be reached when a new Iraqi parliament is voted into office by the Iraqi people. To ensure the election's success, the country will go into virtual lockdown. Security will be at the highest possible level. Insurgent and terrorist attacks may increase slightly, but they will be largely ineffective. Slowly, but surely, democracy is taking hold in a country where two generations of its citizens were totally repressed by one of the cruelest dictators on the face of the earth. It is a truly remarkable achievement, though an imperfect one, since many Sunnis have yet to buy into the process.

Rising above fierce debates among his staff in the Oval Office, President Bush has consistently maintained the timetable to form a democratic government established by the former U. S. civilian administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer. Thus far, his bold adherence to arbitrary dates has moved Iraq dramatically forward politically, especially in the face of stubborn insurgents and foreign terrorists trying to derail the process. Over time, we will learn if his boldness will help or hurt the achievement of our objectives in Iraq.

Looming large in the political equation is the requirement to sustain Iraq's fledgling democracy. The best guarantor of its survival now is U.S. military presence. Ultimately, the security of Iraq will be turned over to the Iraqi armed forces and police. That objective is clearly stated in the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, a Nov. 2005 document released to the American people more than two-and-a-half years after Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

The document itself is well laid out. It contains three levels of detail on every strategic objective we have for Iraq. It addresses the three major elements of national power — political, military and economic — and shows how they are mutually supporting in the accomplishment of our objectives. The strategy points to our successes thus far and also missions still to be completed. The document gives us a clear understanding of what we are trying to do in Iraq and how we are going to accomplish each mission. Everything appears to be on track for victory, though no specific timetable has been established.

Anyone reading the strategy should have reason to be optimistic about victory in Iraq. Yet, there is still virulent and growing opposition to our continued involvement in that country. In fact, the strategy is flawed. It is incomplete, and what has been left out is critical to a determination of whether the objectives of that strategy can actually be accomplished.

Since the beginning of time, strategists have used three simple elements to define strategy — ends (what is to be achieved), ways (how to achieve the ends) and means (the resources to be applied in achieving the ends). It is axiomatic that the three must be balanced if the strategy is to be successful. For example, if you are given the mission to defeat insurgents (ends) and you determine the best way to do that is to clear and hold known insurgent strongholds (ways), and you have only 150,000 troops to do the job (means), when it is obvious that many hundreds of thousands more troops would be needed to do the job, you can rightly conclude that the ends, ways and means are out of balance, and the mission can not be accomplished. Sound familiar? That is exactly what we are facing in Iraq today. We could remain there another 20 years and still not defeat the insurgents.

A similar case can be made for the number of resources we are using to train the Iraqi forces. Will the Iraqis ever be able to assume and maintain responsibility for the security of Iraq? Are we training them fast enough? Are we devoting sufficient resources to get them ready to assume responsibility for their own security, or are the resources we are applying to that mission sufficient only to produce slow progress that could stretch our involvement in Iraq for many years to come? The questions must be asked, even though our strategy doesn't address those issues.

When the president releases any strategy to the American people, he has an obligation to address it completely. Nowhere in the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq has he addressed the resources or means he intends to use to accomplish the objectives he defines. Nor has he told us whether the ends, ways and means are balanced. Until he does, there is no way to assess whether any of the missions can be accomplished or whether his strategy in Iraq has attainable goals. The strategy document is a good first step to inform us about our commitment in Iraq, but the president owes us a more complete assessment.

By Mitch Mitchell