Bush's new strategy in Iraq, the centerpiece of which is a 20,000 odd surge in the number of troops in Iraq, may well be the US' last chance to "win" Iraq. I've already outlined my reservations regarding the plan so I won't repeat them here, but suffice it to say that without a winning economic strategy to complement any political and military strategies, the chance for success is considerably diminished. So what next? What is our plan B? It is not an option to simply ignore the problem, the stakes are too high; hundreds of thousands more Iraqis will die, millions more refugees will flood the region and the civil war itself could spill over Iraq's borders creating a regional conflict of unimaginable proportions.
Yesterday, Ken Pollack and Dan Byman of the Brookings Institution released a paper [pdf] examining one such plan B: containment. The authors argue that should Bush's new strategy fail, the US must do everything in its power to insulate Iraq's neighbors from the effects of an all-out civil war towards which Iraq has been slowly slipping for several years. The report is quite long and introduces a number of recommendations including financial assistance to Iraq's neighbors, stationing US troops at Iraq's borders, and engaging the neighbors-including Iran- in a diplomatic dialogue. But if this plan B is to suceed, the US and international community must commit to it completely. Pollack and Byman cite case studies in which the commitment was not entirely there, noting the disastrous results.
Another plan B that you may have heard is to partition Iraq and create a loose federation of three states defined by their sectarian identity; Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish. I won't dwell on this here as I plan on posting another entry that addresses this option featuring an excerpt from an interview I did with Rutgers professor Eric Davis, but let me just quickly say that this is a horrible idea that ignores, not reflects, the realities on the ground in Iraq.