The exit is the strategy

The president's announcement on Friday that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year took many people by surprise, since both the White House and Pentagon had been repeatedly emphasizing that negotiations with Iraq were ongoing, that no decision had been made. In truth, the decision was made even before Barack Obama was president: he got elected campaigning that Iraq was the wrong war, not worth the lives and money.  

He did what he said he was going to do. He set an end date for combat operations so that he could show "progress" before the midterm elections. Progress not toward consolidating our gains in Iraq, but toward being out of Iraq. Having appointed special envoys for every problem he considered important, there was no special envoy for Iraq, to help build fostering regional relationships and coordinate our policies. He appointed an ambassador who knew nothing about Iraq.  

He allowed the political crisis to fester more than seven months after Iraq's parliamentary elections, declined to put our considerable leverage behind a coalition of national unity, instead stood mutely by as Nouri al-Maliki subverted the electoral law to form a government and then did so with the vehemently anti-American Muqtada al-Sadr. That was the point at which the United States actually left Iraq -- the withdrawal of troops is a lagging, not a leading indicator of the administration's indifference.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to affirm our commitment to Iraq. The QDDR says "in Iraq, we are in the midst of the largest military-to-civilian transition since the Marshall Plan. Our civilian presence is prepared to take the lead, secure the military's gains, and build the institutions necessary for long-term stability." State grandiosely imagines a wholly civilian mission of 17,000 personnel most of whom will be "third country nationals" supporting 1,750 diplomats and other USG government personnel. Eighty percent of the mission will be contractors. Current plans call for them to operate at five consulates around the country, costing $6 billion a year.  

The Commission on Wartime Contracting (including Shadow Government colleague Dov Zakheim), the Government Accountability Office and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee all take a dim view of State's plans for Iraq. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee assessed that "fundamental questions remain unanswered," including whether the scope of the mission in Iraq is compatible with the resources available, including State Department capacity. They question whether the State Department can sustain its proposed presence without military support and the cost effectiveness of consulates requiring 1,400 security and support personnel for only 120 diplomats. They recommended that if a complete withdrawal occurred, "given the prohibitive costs of security and the capacity limitations of the State Department, the United States should consider a less ambitious diplomatic presence in Iraq." This is likely to end badly.

Moreover, the President having announced we are leaving Iraq because the Iraqis are making us is not a recipe for robust Congressional support to pay such a hefty bill. Members of Congress could be forgiven for wondering why should we provide $5 billion to Iraq in a time of austerity when the Iraqis are so ungrateful. The Wartime Contracting Commission's conclusion that "significant additional waste -- and mission degradation to the point of failure -- can be expected as State continues with the daunting task of transition in Iraq," will also tighten Congressional purse-strings, as it should.

The way President Obama has played Iraq policy, we won't be swapping out a military for a civilian mission. We will be drawing down both our military and civilian missions. For President Obama, the exit is the strategy for Iraq. And it always has been.     


Shadow Government

U.S. troops to Uganda?

The Obama administration's decision to deploy 100 U.S. special operations forces to Uganda to help defeat the ludicrously barbaric Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) -- or, in Obama's lawyer-esque euphemism, to "remov[e] from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA," -- is another example of just how muddy the Obama foreign-policy is.

To start with, deploying troops to defeat Africa's Hitler, as Kony will inevitably be called any day now, is not "in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States," as Obama claimed in his letter to Congress. The LRA is not even a remote threat to our homeland, our allies, or our way of life. We have no important economic stake in Uganda or the region. Uganda is even more removed than Libya from vital American security interests -- and Libya's war was not "a vital interest of the United States," according to the Secretary of Defense who oversaw our intervention there. Uganda's fight is about as peripheral as it gets.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't go there. Obama would be on safer grounds if he gave up all pretense of our having an interest in Uganda and simply said "We're going after Joseph Kony because he's an insane barbarian with guns and if we don't take care of him, no one will." The United States is the global provider of public goods, and seeing off a well-armed lunatic megalomaniac wreaking havoc in states too failed to protect themselves might just be our human duty. Jonah Goldberg thinks so.

But what really confuses me is Obama's willingness to embark on adventures in Libya and Uganda while simultaneously calling for some of the deepest cuts in the defense budget in twenty years.

According to this analysis by Lt.Gen. David Barno, looming budget cuts may compel us to cut an aircraft carrier, reduce our strategic airlift, slow down or halt our procurement of next-generation weaponry, and eliminate several divisions from the Army and Marine Corps. Whether or not you think these cuts make sense, the question should be obvious: if we are in an age of austerity and cannot afford the missions and force posture we have, what are we doing taking on more?

The Ugandan deployment is unlikely to be the straw that breaks the budget camel's back. Considered in isolation, it amounts to less than a rounding error. But there are two reasons to be wary. First, it will almost certainly grow larger. Today, 100 advisors; tomorrow, a Foreign Military Financing (FMF) package; next year, access to excess equipment; and then more trainers to teach them how to use all the new equipment -- and soon Uganda costs $1 billion a year. Add in Libya and the next three interventions, and that's real money.

Second, Uganda appears to be a part of a pattern, of which Libya was also a part. Uganda and Libya together illustrate that Obama is perfectly comfortable using the U.S. armed forces not only in service of vital U.S. security interests, but in defense of peripheral interests, for humanitarian goals, and in defense of the global commons. I think those are at valid, defensible roles -- they are the price of global leadership which Obama says he wants to maintain. But those roles cost money.

By cutting budgets with one hand while maintaining U.S. military commitments around the world with the other, Obama is showing a lack of strategic thinking. A coherent strategy would match resources to requirements, increasing the former if insufficient, reducing the latter if necessary. Obama is doing neither. If Obama is going to use the military these kinds of missions, he'd better be prepared to foot the bill. If he, or Congress, is not willing to pay up, the missions to Uganda and Libya should be the first we no longer expect our military to perform.