Someone asked me recently, “What do I think of the surge?”
The current situation makes me think of me watching the Super Bowl. I'm no football fan and I really do not know the teams. I can, like anyone else, appreciate the athletic abilities on the field when I see them. But I don't know the players. I don't know the coaches. I don't really understand what is going through the players heads as the prepare for each play. I'm not a football player or fan. So what do I do when it comes to Super Bowl talk? I talk what I know, which is the cultural aspects of the celebration of this American sport. I have a hard time even picking a team to root for. So when it comes to football I just need to stick with what I know.
When the media covers the war in Iraq and Afghanistan they are sort of like me talking about football. They sort of don't understand the story to begin with so the concentrate on aspects of war they understand. Instead of talking about military operations, they talk about polls back home about the popularity of the war. Instead of talking about units going in or coming out, they are focused on the human interest side of a soldiers leaving their families behind. When is the last time you heard a story on what was achieved by a unit while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan? It is not a question asked of soldiers or their commanders. Why? Do you even know which unit is there right now?
The question before Congress as to support sending more troops or not is really off base in my opinion. The Congress and the President should be discussing what the policy goals and what do they want the Pentagon to do and they should not be discussing how to do it. If I take my car to a mechanic, I don't tell him to turn this bolt or use a drop light when working on this part or that. I ask him to trouble shoot the problem, explain my options and then fix the car. How he does it is not something I should get too deep into. I see the current rounds of discussions as misplaced and somewhat analogous to a customer hovering over the mechanic while he is working.
Clarifying policy goals in reaction to Iraqi insurgency, Iranian support of insurgency and Al Qaeda involvement are much more complex. Do we as a nation want to contain Islamic extremism or defeat it? What kind of roles are we comfortable for Iran to have in regard to their neighbor Iraq? If we expect them to sit by while their region is coming under heavy U.S. influence may not be that realistic. At the same time, just because they would oppose our goals does not mean we just need to leave and leave it to other to shape the region. In order to have military success there needs to be clear policy goals.
During Desert Storm, there was a clear policy goal which was to expel to get Iraqi troops our of Kuwait and restore the civil government of Kuwait. The military goals were quite different. The goals were destruction of key military units. The military goal was set up to achieve the political goal. Likewise we need clear political goals now so that military commanders can set their military goals.
As a citizen I would suggest the following policy goals:
1. Convince nations that have a Muslim majority that Islamic extremism is not going to usher in an age of Islamic expansion and peace.
2. Improve the ability of the middle class in the Middle East to participate in government and change.
3. Ensure that nations that have a Muslim majority are respected and players in the international political market of ideas.
4. Encourage the economic and educational development of the Middle East.
I would like to hear a good debate on what our policy goals are in the Middle East. If we know what we want politically then we can let the military planners and commanders recommend to the commander in chief how to do so. Mind you, it may not be the Pentagon nor the intelligence community that can best help in achieving our nation's goals. But that will be better understood if we have clear policy goals.