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A New Plan: Winning in Iraq

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," is victory still possible in Iraq? As the president gears up for a major strategy change, a new plan is afoot to secure Baghdad and regain control of the war-torn country. We'll have the details. Plus, what's the reaction inside Iraq to the Baker-Hamilton report? Find out. And more than half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, the nation's highest court is still wrestling with school desegregation. But first, these headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, a new report says victory is still possible. The collaboration of several top military and regional experts, the report calls for a sustained surge of U.S. forces to secure and protect critical areas of Baghdad.

Fred Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and one of the authors. He joins me now from Washington.

Fred Kagan, thanks for being here.

Kagan: Pleasure to be with you.

Gigot: You've put together a pretty impressive group here for this proposal. Why do you all think that military victory is still achievable?

Kagan: Well, let's be clear. We don't think that military victory is achievable. We agree with everyone that there has to be a political solution here. What we think is that we've reached a critical moment in this war, and that the absolute prerequisite for any forward progress in any of these areas that people talk about is establishing security, especially in Baghdad. And that's, in the first instance, primarily a task that only the U.S. military can really undertake with success.

Gigot: Why is Baghdad so crucial? And how many more troops, if indeed you're proposing more troops--and I think you are--

Kagan: Yeah.

Gigot: --how many more American troops is it going to take to do that? That's a huge city.

Kagan: Well, it's a large city. But we mustn't be dismayed by that. If you look at Baghdad, there are areas of it that are more important. You don't do the whole city all at once. Proper military planning techniques don't involve just doing everything that you'd like to do all in the first shot. We're proposing a surge of four brigades, which is about 20,000 American combat troops, into Baghdad and a number more, totaling about 35,000 American combat troops, into other places in Iraq.

But the key thing is not the troop strength. The key thing is their mission. We've never had it as a top priority in our military effort to secure the population, and that's an essential prerequisite to success in counterinsurgency. And it's really lamentable that we haven't done it to this point. But we think that it is still possible, still within the acceptable troop levels.

Gigot: Well, you're talking about securing certain areas of Baghdad to secure the population and once--and then clear out the insurgents, and then make that safe for the Iraqi people, and then spread out from there to larger areas in the rest of Baghdad, right?

Kagan: Yes. We are securing the critical areas that are primarily mixed neighborhoods and Sunni neighborhoods that have been suffering from a very high level of violence, and that's generating this very bad cycle where the Sunni insurgents then strike into Shia neighborhoods and the Shia strike back. If we don't get that violence under control, then it's going to continue to escalate. But we have cleared and held areas in the past, but we have almost always sent in too few troops actually to hold the areas after we cleared them, and so the security situation that we create collapses. This plan would rectify that problem.

Gigot: What kind of timeline are you talking about here? Are you talking about six months, and then we'll be able to draw back down? Or are you talking about 18, 24 months, which would run right up through the end of the Bush presidency?

Kagan: I think that there's going to have to be a sustained surge through the end of the Bush presidency. I think it's a real mistake to imagine that we can do this with some sort of temporary bump and then pull back quickly. That's been our pattern consistently all along. And the problem is that when you pull back, the situation tends to collapse. It takes longer than that to establish Iraqi security forces that are actually able to come in behind and hold the areas that we've cleared. We can do it. We have done it successfully in places like Tal Afar. But it does take more time than a few months.

Gigot: One of the main criticisms of this and other ideas for more troops is that we just don't have the troops. The Baker-Hamilton study group made this criticism explicitly and said we just don't have them. How do you respond to that point?

Kagan: It's simply not true. We looked very carefully at that problem. We looked at the troops that the Army is proposing to bring into Iraq over the course of the next year. We looked at various ways of extending the tours of some of the troops that are going to be in Iraq, accelerating the deployment of a couple units by a matter of a few weeks. This is perfectly feasible, even within the active component in 2007.

On the other hand, we do think that the nation is going to have to make a real commitment to this war, and that's going to include increasing the size of the Army and the Marines significantly. We think that we need to do this anyway. Even if we weren't in Iraq, we would need to do this. But it will help support and sustain this surge as well.

Gigot: One of the arguments you also hear is that the generals on the ground in Iraq, Gen. Casey and many at the Pentagon, also don't like this idea. They like the idea of the embedded--embedding more U.S. soldiers in Iraqi units and handing the authority to act more quickly to the Iraqis themselves. What's your response to this reluctance on the part of the chiefs?

Kagan: This is what we've been trying to do all along. Ever since we went in, in 2003, this has been our strategy, has been to train up the Iraqis and stand up and stand down. And you know, in case anyone hasn't noticed, it's not working, and we need to find another way to solve this problem. And one of the reasons it's not working is because it is throwing away one of the fundamental precepts of counterinsurgency warfare, which is that you have to secure the population.

Now the generals in charge are very smart men. I think I understand why they've been pursuing this approach and why they think it's going to work. But I think we have to bow to the realities on the ground that it isn't working, and trying to speed up a process that isn't working is not going to make it work better.

Gigot: Just to be candid about this, you have no doubt this would result in more American casualties, certainly in the short term, correct?

Kagan: You will have more American casualties in the short term. I believe that you will have fewer American casualties taken overall. And I think that there will be American casualties in a winning effort, which I think matters a great deal, tragic as any loss of life, of course, in this war is.

Gigot: And you've been watching this administration all along through this war. How do you think President Bush is going to finally come out on this idea? Is he open to your suggestions? Is this the direction he's going to head?

Kagan: Well, no one knows what the president is going to do. At the end of the day, he is getting a lot of advice, and he's going to have to find a way forward. I think what is very positive is that all of the indications that we've seen out of the administration is that it's taking this crisis very seriously, and it is really relooking its options in a very fundamental way. There is a very deliberate process. They're working through it, and we'll just have to see where it comes out.

Gigot: All right, Fred Kagan, thanks for being here. We'll be watching.

Kagan: Thanks.

Gigot: More on a plan for victory after this short break. Plus, we'll take a look at the reaction inside Iraq to the Baker-Hamilton report. And the Supreme Court revisits the issue of school desegregation, asking whether programs in two cities are acceptable moves toward student diversity or a means for imposing illegal racial quota. Our panel tackles that topic when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: We're back with more on a plan for success in Iraq. Joining the panel this week, editorial page deputy editor Melanie Kirkpatrick, as well as Rob Pollock and Jason Riley, both Wall Street Journal editorial board members. Rob, you heard Fred Kagan. What chance do you think is there that President Bush is going to follow that advice and increase troop levels to secure Baghdad?

Pollock: Short answer is I don't know. I really hope he does follow that advice, because I think the one thing we know about the situation in Baghdad is that the troop levels are not sufficient. We either need to surge American troops or we need to let the Iraqis take more control over their own forces and start doing some surging of their own as some Iraqi leaders have been arguing for.

Gigot: Well, it does seem to be that the president's rethinking this. I mean, he was going to give a speech before Christmas; now he's delayed it to a speech after Christmas. I've talked to some people in the administration who are saying that one of the things he wants is options. He's trying to shake up the bureaucracy to make sure that he gets the pros and cons to really think this through.

Riley: The Kagan plan that I've read--it's addressing the reality on the ground in Iraq. I like it. But there is also a political reality here in the states. And that reality is that we have a president with a 34% approval rating, and who's just lost Congress, and, more importantly, more than 7 in 10 Americans want this new Congress to pressure Bush to get troops out of Iraq in six months, or to begin getting troops out of Iraq in six months. Bush has got to deal with that political reality. The plan that Kagan has put forward, I think, will take a tremendous amount of political capital. And I'm not sure that the president has it.

Gigot: Do you think he has that political running room, Melanie?

Kirkpatrick: It's hard to say. If he puts his mind to it and decides to communicate it to the American people, perhaps. But the casualty numbers that Kagan talked about are very distressing. I'm not sure that--Kagan, in the report, says increased casualties would not be a sign of failure. But that's not the way that the American public would interpret it. There's one other thing, though, I think we have to remember here which is that on Monday, we get a new defense secretary.

Gigot: Robert Gates.

Kirkpatrick: Robert Gates. And part of the president's listening tour is going to include the new defense secretary. And he was a member of the Iraq Study Group and possibly supports their recommendations. So that's going to weigh heavily in the White House.

Gigot: He is still president of the United States for at least two more years, Jason. He still has a lot of, it seems to me, running room on foreign policy, since that's what presidents--where they have their biggest amount of discretion. And the Democrats aren't going to cut off funds, are they?

Pollock: Look, to the extent the war is unpopular, it is unpopular because we are not winning it in Baghdad. If we start turning that situation around, I think the popularity of the situation will turn around. America is a great nation. America wants to believe it is a great nation. If we decide that we can't pacify one city, we can't surge troops to do that, what's that going to do to American morale?

Gigot: The president is never going to win over the people who didn't want to go to war in the first place, who want to get out. But there are people, Jason--John McCain, Joe Lieberman and some others--who have that criticism that Kagan has, which is we haven't been prosecuting this ware in the right way. We haven't been doing enough to win. Those, it seems to me, are the people, politically, the president can't afford to lose. And they have been saying more troops. So why not move in that direction?

Riley: Well, I'd like to, personally. I think the president would like to. But I just think that the political reality here would make it very difficult for Bush to do that. Kagan's plan calls for increasing troop levels by some 35,000 over the next two years. In '07? In the run-up to a presidential election? And when congressmen, who are nothing but political animals--

Pollock: All that means is decreasing--all that means is decreasing the length of some breaks from tours of duty and increasing the lengths of some tours of duty. That's not a hard thing to do when you've got 1.4 million troops.

Riley: We'll see. I just--I think Congress is nothing if not a political animal, and the polls--the way the polls look now, I'm not sure that they're going to want to make the commitment. It doesn't mean they're going to cut off funding, Paul. I mean, there's a difference between cutting off funding and--

Gigot: Because they don't want to be--

Riley: --implementing the Kaplan plan. There's a big difference.

Gigot: But they don't want to be responsible for taking--for doing something that would look like they damaged the war effort.

Kirkpatrick: Whatever plan the president ultimately decides on, he's going to have to do a better job and than he has in the past of communicating it to the American people and selling it to us.

Gigot: We'll be back after this short break. Still ahead, the Supreme Court hears arguments on school desegregation in two cases that could have a profound impact on students across the country. We'll have the details when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: The United States Supreme Court heard arguments last week in two cases that could decide the constitutionality of school desegregation policies. At issue is whether local authorities in Seattle and Louisville have the legal right to make race a factor in deciding which students attend what schools. A ruling, which could affect millions of students across the country, is expected this summer. Melanie, what's at stake in these cases?

Kirkpatrick: Ultimately, what's at stake is the parent's right to choose what public school their children attend, or whether it is up to the city or the state to decide for them based on race.

In the Louisville case, for example, a mother wanted to send her kid to kindergarten to a neighborhood school, and instead the city said no, the white quota for that school is full, so you have to put your kid on a bus and he'll travel 90 minutes to a school that--where the white quota isn't full. Now that sounds a whole lot like Brown v. Board of Education, where the little girl, Linda Brown, was bused to a black school.

Gigot: Yeah, and that's despite the fact that they're bused like this, even if the kids and parents don't want to go.

Riley: If the court upholds these integration plans, the court will being saying it is OK to do to white kids today what Brown v. Board of Education said you couldn't do to black kids in '54. I mean, that's essentially what's at stake here.

Pollock: And the other interesting thing about this is we're not talking in this case about remedying any kind of past wrong. What we're talking about is a kind of social experiment going forward where the government says, We think a certain racial and ethnic balance in the schools is just "good" for some reason. Look, if this logic is accepted that the government can engage in that kind of social engineering, why can't they tell people where to live? Why can't they say--seriously! Why can't they say we think neighborhoods should be mixed?

Kirkpatrick: There are two interpretations of Brown here. One interpretation says what Brown--what the court in Brown was saying was that schools must and integrated, no matter how you do it. The other interpretation says you can't use race in determining the composition of a school.

Gigot: The issue is diversity for its own sake. They seem to be making that point. Is there any--where does quality education come into this calculation, whether your kids are really learning something?

Riley: It doesn't. I think Rob's use of the term "social experiment" is exactly what is going on here. No one has any hard evidence that a black kid needs to be sitting next to a white kid to learn or vice versa. We just like the way it looks aesthetically, and we push for it. But in Louisville, the average bus ride in Louisville is 45 minutes. Some kids have to be on a school bus at 5:30 in the morning for a 90-minute ride to school. You're telling me that improves learning?

Gigot: Now there are some so-called controlled--not controlled, but regular choice plans and--vouchers for example in Milwaukee and Cleveland and Washington, D.C. When those plans have been in place--some of them for a few years--the schools turn out to be more integrated than they are under these kinds of plans, about 8 to 10 percentage points. Are magnet schools or these kinds of plans an alternative?

Riley: They are, although I don't really buy the diversity argument in the first place, so it is not a primary concern of mine. I just think that if the instruction is--the school choice plays a factor--I mean, we have a lot of charter schools and voucher programs that end up with segregated schools essentially, mostly minority schools. But these kids are learning, and they're learning for other reasons. And we should promote choice because it helps kids receive a better education, not because it leaves us with the right racial mix in the classroom.

Gigot: All right, Melanie, what's the Supreme Court likely to do here? We've got a new justice. Sandra Day O'Connor is gone. Samuel Alito is there hearing one of these cases. What's going to happen?

Kirkpatrick: Well, it's up to Justice Kennedy. We ran an editorial on the first--when the court opened its session in October that said the Kennedy Court, question mark. We can take away the question mark, I think. The court's divided--based on the argument, it looks like the court is divided with the conservative wing being against racial quotas and the liberal wing being for them. And Kennedy will be the man in the middle. He is the deciding vote. And in the arguments, a couple of weeks ago, he did say that race must be used as a last resort. So the indications are that he's going to vote with the conservatives on this.

Gigot: On racial issues, Kennedy has tended to side with the conservatives, and Justice O'Connor was the swing vote. So it looks as if maybe--it will be hard for him to kind of wonder over to the other side, would it not?

Riley: I think it would, and the questioning during the oral arguments leads me to believe that he has no intention of wandering to the other side. I will say this for the administration. I think they've been very good on this in their brief, which was against using racial quotas. They said a well-intentioned quota is still a quota, and I think that is the point to make.

Gigot: And Justice Roberts, briefly, Melanie? What's he likely to do?

Kirkpatrick: He'll, I think, vote against the quotas.

Gigot: All right, thank you. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses." It's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week. Item one, the American Tort Reform Association issues its annual list of judicial hellholes. Melanie?

Kirkpatrick: Remember the old John Denver lyric, "almost heaven, West Virginia"? Well, it is not heaven if you happen to be sued there. West Virginia has just been named the No. 1 judicial hellhole in the country. This dubious honor is for having the worst judges, the worst court procedures and the worst laws in the country. Other judicial hellholes this year are South Florida, two jurisdictions in Texa,s and--here's a trifecta--three in Illinois: Cook County, Madison County and St. Claire County. Naturally, these places are all favorites of trial lawyers for whom West Virginia is a little piece of heaven.

Gigot: All right. I guess Mississippi somehow made it off the list this year, or reduced some. That's some kind of progress. OK. Next, incoming House Intelligence Committee chair Silvestre Reyes seems to have trouble keeping his Sunnis and Shiites straight. Rob?

Pollock: Yes, Mr. Reyes gave a rather embarrassing interview to Congressional Quarterly. When asked about the sectarian makeup of al Qaeda, he said probably Shia. Now, of course, everybody knows al Qaeda is a Sunni extremist group. And then when he was asked about Hezbollah, he said why are you asking me this question at 5:00? Now--

Gigot: It's cocktail hour. We've got to go.

Pollock: Now obviously, this is embarrassing for Mr. Reyes. But I think it's frankly more embarrassing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who passed over the very qualified Jane Harman, who had been ranking member of the Intelligence Committee--and Ms. Pelosi did this sort of for naked reasons of personal pique and political ambition. She passed over the qualified Ms. Harman to give us this guy, in an important position for the next two years of the war on terror. This can't be good news for Democrats who had been hoping to establish some credibility on national security matters ahead of the 2008--

Gigot: And Jane Harman is a real hawk on the war on terror as well.

Pollock: Yeah.

Gigot: All right. Finally, some new progress against an old, but deadly disease, malaria. Jason?

Riley: Yes. The administration held a summit this week on malaria, trying to draw some attention to this tropical disease--affects roughly a million people, mostly pregnant women and children in sub-Sahara Africa. We know how to treat it. It is not expensive to treat. It deserves more attention, and I think the administration deserves some credit for drawing people's attention to it.

They also deserve credit, though, for promoting interventions that we know work, but that aren't particularly politically correct--that is, spraying insecticides, DDT in particular. It's how we got rid of the disease here. And the administration said publicly that they will promote its use in Africa. And I think that's a good thing.

Gigot: All right, Jason, thank you. That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to Melanie Kirkpatrick, Rob Pollock and Jason Riley. I'm Paul Gigot. Thanks to all of you for watching, and we hope to see you right here next week.

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