Austin Bay outlines the challenges in Iraq:
In an essay I wrote for the Dec. 9, 2002, issue of The Weekly Standard, I outlined the rough path to that "end state" in Iraq:
"Pity Gen. Tommy Franks or, for that matter, any American military commander tasked with overseeing a post-Saddam Baghdad. For in that amorphous, dicey phase the Pentagon calls 'war termination' ... U.S. and allied forces liberating Iraq will attempt -- more or less simultaneously -- to end combat operations, cork public passions, disarm Iraqi battalions, bury the dead, generate electricity, pump potable water, bring law out of embittering lawlessness, empty jails of political prisoners, pack jails with criminals, turn armed partisans into peaceful citizens, re-arm local cops who were once enemy infantry, shoot terrorists, thwart chiselers, carpetbaggers and black-marketeers, fix sewers, feed refugees, patch potholes and get trash trucks rolling, and accomplish all this under the lidless gaze of Peter Jennings and Al-Jazeera."
In summer 2003, Paul Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority weren't prepared to handle the situation that marathon sentence describes. However, by mid-2004 the U.S. military had hammered out a sound security and recovery plan. The campaign plan met guidelines promulgated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546. This resolution is no top-secret document -- it's on the U.N. website.
"Phased withdrawal" of coalition forces has always been the goal. The issue is a realistic "when."
The Iraqi government confronts extraordinary challenges. Are there rotten Iraqi military units? Yes -- but there are also some very good ones. Do Iran and Syria support terrorists and militias? Yes. The dictators want the world to conclude that democracy is culturally and politically alien to the Middle East. They want the world to conclude, like British and French imperialists did in 1919, that Arabs can't handle democracy.
But despite the public stumbles and bloody learning curve, Maliki's government says otherwise.
Enter the James Baker and Lee Hamilton-led Iraq Study Group (ISG). It's my bet that it will produce nothing original in terms of strategic and operational thinking. It may well produce a set of policy recommendations palatable to Democrats and Republicans -- in other words, consensus political cover that allows the sober and wise to continue to support Iraq's war for freedom and modernity.
I don't think the Democrats have any plans on Iraq, other than hounding Bush. What would the reaction of the left be if enough Democrats accept this theoretical consensus and don't call for immediate surrender?