Is there room for Plan B?

Readers may recall that I did not favor the Baghdad troop surge. My main objections were (1) I doubted that it would achieve lasting success given the scope of the mission and the serious shortcomings of the Iraqi government, (2) I questioned whether sectarian violence in Baghdad is the kind of threat to our interests that would justify the cost of intensified efforts to deal with it, and (3) I was concerned that the surge would be viewed as a last throw of the dice, and as such might produce a disastrous defeat and withdrawal.
My Plan A would have been to pull back from Baghdad and focus on Anbar province. This approach, I thought, would enable us to take on our primary enemy in Iraq, keep our casualities down, and thereby sustain a presence in Iraq.
However, the administration saw things differently and opted for the Baghdad surge plus a mini-surge in Anbar. The decision was a reasonable one. Although the surge is high risk, it is also potentially high reward — much more so than the approach I urged. Time will tell whether the administration made the correct choice.
Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer proposes that my preferred Plan A become the administration’s Plan B — the fall-back if things don’t work out in Baghdad. Krauthammer suggests that Plan B is not on the table. However, Brett McQuirk, one of the administration’s point men on Iraq policy, has said that it received serious consideration. According to McQuirk, the administration rejected this approach mainly due to concern over genocide in Baghdad and fear that sectarian violence there would stoke support for al Qaeda in Anbar province and elsewhere.
But with the surge universally viewed as “fourth and long” and a “hail-Mary,” is there any room for a Plan B? I have come to suspect that there is. If the surge fails, or is perceived as failing, there certainly will be strong calls for abandoning Iraq altogether. However, if the administration were to reduce our troop level to the 70,000 or so that Frederick Kagan says would be needed for a plan of this sort, and if this drawdown were accompanied by a major reduction in casualties, it’s possible that we could continue on in Iraq instead of pulling out, Vietnam-style, with our tail between our legs.
But let’s hope ( unlike so many Democrats) that Plan A works.


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