This afternoon I had the privilege of participating in a conference call with some bloggers, including the great Prof. Juan Cole and the very good (Sorry Jonathan, can't hand out the greats for everybody) Jonathan Singer, that was offered by General Wesley K. Clark on Iraq (Note - Clark has posted a survey asking for views on Iraq.)
General Clark provided a preliminary statement in which he noted his opposition to the Iraq invasion, as evidenced by his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee and the necessary steps to be taken before even considering such an action, including the need for building a broad alliance, exhausting all diplomatic possibilities and thorough planning for a post-conflict Iraq with a definite and coherent exit strategy.
General Clark noted that the Bush Administration had failed on all counts. He then proceeded to describe the current situation and the issues he believes should be the focus of U.S. policy:
(1) The military role. Clark stressed that an effective strategy required both a diminishment of the capabilities of the insurgency coupled with a bona fide and achievable handoff of security responsibilities to Iraqi security forces. Clark noted that these goals needed to be achieved quickly as the U.S. military presence was proving a hindrance to other similarly important goals. To wit -
(2) Political Legitimacy of an Iraqi government. As Jon Singer noted, Clark said that "Paul Bremer was completely ineffective, and though Ambassador Negroponte got an election," he will be leaving soon," and much is left undone. Clark stressed the criticial importance of this issue as being strongly tied to the ability to achieve any rational military objectives.
(3) Diplomatic. Clark spoke of important diplomatic objectives as well. I believe he was referencing finding acceptable solutions to relations with Syria and Iran, again based on the premise that an acceptable security situation required ratcheting down Syrian and Iranian aid and comfort to Iraqi instability. Prof. Cole captured a great point:
I also asked a few questions. I'll discuss them on the flip.
That answer brought this question to my mind - "General Clark, given the inherent difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of the campaign against the insurgency, what are the risks involved in pulling out U.S. troops early, and vice versa, given the difficulties that the U.S. presence places on the Iraqi government's ability to achieve political legitimacy, the risks of not leaving soon enough?"
Jonathan Singer described Clark's answer as follows:
1. Staying there and overstaying your welcome. America could become ineffective and eventually be thrown out by the government.
2. Pulling out too soon. This could lead to a civil war, thus requiring America to step back in.
3. The risk to the all-volunteer army. If the Armed Forces become discredited (as they were following Vietnam), much work will have to go into rebuilding the army. Part of the problem is that American involvement in Iraq had never solely been about Iraq. This makes the soldiers' job harder.
Truly an impossible situation in my opinion.
A few other issues were covered as well -
On the attack on Abu Ghraib, Clark seemed to criticize the level of defense given the prison in light of its symbolic importance, and ventured the view that Zarqawi's attack on the prison was intended to renew his group's legitimacy.
On the value of the January 30 election, Clark stated that he remained skeptical of its value, as he was prior to the vote, because of the very low participation of the Sunni population.
On runnng for President again, Clark deftly sidestepped the question, keeping his focus on the Iraq issue.