Anthony Cordesman on Iraq — Part 3: Where We Should Go From Here

June 28, 2005

[Part 1: The Stakes and the Odds, which introduces this 3-part series and transcribes in full Dr. Cordesman’s opening statement can be found here.]

[Part 2: The Progress and the Problems to Date, can be found here.]

Concluding our discussion of Dr. Anthony Cordesman’s speech on June 24 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (audio here, video here) regarding his recent two week tour of Iraq in early June at the behest of the Departments of State and of Defense, we now arrive at the key question: "Where should we go from here?"

Though Dr. Cordesman main recommendations can be summarized as a few relatively succinct bullet points, it is worth prefacing these points by the following exchange during his post-speech Q&A:

Q: …The President is probably going to make a speech to the nation Tuesday night, and a lot of people have said that one way for him to try to galvanize support would be for him to indicate a center of gravity for post-conflict operations in Iraq… If the president wanted to focus the American people’s attention on one thing which the US could make a forceful intervention to make a sea change in the situation, what would be that center of gravity?

A: You know, the endless search for simplicity in Washington is one of the reasons we get ourselves into so much trouble in terms of public policy. If you have a really complex problem, you better have a really complex solution…

Thus, the brevity of his recommendations is more an illustration that certain critical aspects of US policy must drastically change course as opposed to an indication that a simple solution exists.  It is also worth remembering the blunt assessment with which he opened his speech:

The fact is that [Iraq] is a country with no proven political experience, whose leaders are learning on the job to be politicians, to govern, to deal with the divisions in their society. Iraq is 5 to 10 years of instability, regardless of the military outcome. It is a country which will require some 5 to 7 billion dollars in US expenditures per month for at least several more years. In the best possible case, thousands more of Americans and Coalition partners will be killed and wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqis. And if you ask me to assign odds, I would say 50-50 under the best circumstances, simply because none of us have a basis on which to assign odds.

So, with his above words of caution firmly in mind, here are his recommendations:

  • Level with the American people with language as blunt and honest as those above words of caution. 
  • Emphatically state that the US will fully leave Iraq as soon as it is secure and that the purpose of US operations in Iraq is neither to seek greater strategic advantage in the Middle East nor to gain any control over Iraq’s oil and gas resources.
  • Toward this end and toward the end of finally having a systematic plan for cross-the-board improvements in Iraqi infrastructure and standard of living, develop a transparent vetting process for all aid money and let the Iraqi government itself directly administer all this money.   Declare that neither American nor American-preferred companies or NGOs should receive any preference in receiving this aid money.
  • Make goals, not timetables. It must be clear that nation-building goals will not be compromised to meet any given deadline.  For example, the intention to execute a gradual withdrawal of 50% or so of US personnel from Iraq over the course of 2006 can be declared, but it must be clear that such withdrawal is strictly contingent on advances secured by the new Iraqi military and police forces.
  • Remember amidst all the alarm over continued underequipping of US forces for the task of urban counterinsurgency that the new Iraqi forces have far, far less equipment in this regard.   Rectify both these problems as soon as possible.
  • So long as US forces are in Iraq there will be major deployment strain on all US active duty and reserve personnel, their families, and the communities from which they come.  However, it can be somewhat alleviated.  Step one to alleviating it is to internalize the following obvious facts: (1) The next 12 months in Iraq are a make-or-break period.  (2) Over such a short period of time, even if you somehow could get Congress to authorize a draft today, you could not generate new, well-trained soldiers in sufficient numbers to alleviate deployment strains.   Thus, alleviating deployment strains means our attention should be fully focused now, if it wasn’t already, on assuring the experienced professionals currently on or just recently back from deployments in Iraq, their loved ones, and their communities, that soldiers can indeed have family lives (and, if reservists or guardsmen, civilian careers also) in between deployments.   To this end, Dr. Cordesman endorsed Army Chief of Staff Schoomaker’s new guidelines for deployment rotations.  [Dr. Cordesman did not elaborate, but judging from pages 10 and 11 from this CSIS draft paper of his, these new guidelines, which in fact began to be implemented in 2003, envision Army deployments based on smaller, lighter brigades that deploy for 6 months in theatre and the rotate out for 18 months rather than the current larger, heavier brigade and full division deployments that deploy for 12-15 months in theatre and then rotate out 12 months.]
  • Finally, if you aim to retain experienced military professionals, then pay them accordingly.
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One Response to “Anthony Cordesman on Iraq — Part 3: Where We Should Go From Here”


  1. william, the thanks of a grateful. . .blogger go with you.


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