Will Democrats never think long term? I just read the Center for American Progress'  latest foreign policy offering, "Strategic Redeployment ," and I am simply angry at the shortsightedness and cynicism. Far from being a progressive plan for Iraq, this 10-page report is a masterful revival of the same myopic foreign policy thinking that lost John Kerry the election in 2004. This time, it will be at the cost of a million Iraqi lives and continued GOP dominance in Congress. We must do better and we can.
First, the summary. Strategic Redeployment is CAP's prescription for Iraq. As the title suggests, its main element is the withdrawal troops from Iraq, starting in January 2006. The plan calls for a reduction of 80,000 troops in 2006 and most of the remaining 60,000 in 2007. Of the first 80,000 all 46,000 Guard and Reserve troops would return home and be demobilized. Up to 20,000 would be sent to Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Asia. The remaining 14,000 troops would be sent to Kuwait and to a Marine Expeditionary Unit standing by in the Persian Gulf.
Of those personnel remaining in Iraq, they would be pulled out of cities and re-tasked to concentrate on "core tasks" such as military training, counterterrorist operations and border security. By the end of 2007, the United States would only retain a small number of military trainers/advisers and the standard Marine detachment at the embassy.
On the surface, the plan is clearly designed to attract the 60-plus percent of Americans who are sick of the fighting in Iraq (and the Democratic senators seeking the presidency in 2008). By sending the Guard and Reserve home it wins points among those concerned about the all-volunteer Army and those who feel Katrina demonstrated we need to keep our first responders here at home. By doubling our forces in Afghanistan, it sends the message that we mean to finish the job started in 2001 and finally capture or kill bin Laden and his remaining leadership team.
But when you scratch that surface, a deep layer of cynicism and cold calculation appears. First, CAP seems content to ignore the inconvenient reality of an imminent civil war  in Iraq. Juan Cole estimates  casualties from a full-scale civil war in Iraq would total 1 million dead and 5 million displaced. Already Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'a are engaging in low-level ethnic cleansing  and, in the case of the Sunnis, targeted assassination of moderate leaders. Civil war, if it is going to break out, will do so after the coming elections and will be accelerated by the withdrawal of American troops, which, though incapable of preventing small-unit tactics, will open up the possibility of larger militia-led territorial aggression.
Second, as we know from last month's warning from the Saudi foreign minister  , the disintegration of Iraq threatens access to Persian Gulf energy supplies. These resources—providing more than 20 percent of the world's oil production and the majority of the world's proven reserves—are a central, if not the most important, national interest short of the physical defense of the nation itself. Strategic Redeployment aims at drawing forces down to levels sufficient to deter large-scale border incursions—either out of Iraq heading for the Ras Tanura oil complex across the Saudi frontier—or into Iraq by Iranian or Turkish units come to fight in the name of holy sites or ethnic minorities, respectively.
And that choice, to abandon the Iraqi people to the scourge of an avoidable civil war while securing the energy supplies that have kept us intervening in the region for decades, is only half of what is wrong with this plan.
The other half of this bad idea can be seen when we ask what this kind of plan means for domestic politics. Strategic Redeployment is, I believe, a plan that the White House and Karl Rove can get behind for two reasons. One, the surface features of the plan will be very appealing to Republicans very concerned about mid-term elections in 2006. The CAP plan cuts their losses by taking the edge off the rising popular demand for a significant withdrawal, while bringing many of the nation's first responders home. Two, since it has been offered by the centrist foreign policy shop at CAP, it will garner some centrist congressional backing. In doing so, Democrats are giving Karl Rove a bye—they are letting the president off the hook of his own Iraq policy. In other words, CAP is calling on the president to do that which will be politically advantageous to the GOP. It's a no-brainer.
Why would Democratic strategists do such a thing? The threat of 20 percent of global oil production shutting down would devastate the American economy and the current international order. Someone at CAP, perhaps the authors, but perhaps Mort Halperin as well, think that such a devastating blow is reason enough to abandon the one issue on which the GOP is most vulnerable in 2006.
In other words, the folks at CAP are willing to sacrifice 1 million Iraqis and perpetuate the Republican congressional majority if that's what it takes to secure the energy supplies in the Persian Gulf. That's assuming they thought through the political ramifications of their plan. I cannot believe otherwise.
And Karl Rove will take that to the bank.
What is a progressive strategy on Iraq? The first thing to do is to unify the Democratic Party and moderate Republicans behind a call for all-party negotiations on Iraq, brokered by an outside third party. That could be the U.N.'s Lakhdar Brahimi, the soon-to-be-outgoing German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, or even former World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn. While those negotiations are going on, the delegates and their families need to be protected and offensive U.S. operations must cease. For more details see my post, "Iraq: Now Or Never  ."
With proper back-channel talks, this domestic initiative can be met with a parallel international call for the same, putting extraordinary pressure on the president to act. Given his weakened standing and the fissures within his own party, now is the best time for such a move.
Those talks must include not only a political track, but also a security and an economic track. With political parties controlling the majority of militia groups, consensus at these talks can result in a significant reduction in the insurgency. U.S. strategic planning, then, would be designed to support the three-track agreement, avoiding civil war and creating the most expeditious withdrawal possible.
In the meantime, Democrats will have to come up with a national security strategy that removes the war on terror from its center, as many leading foreign policy strategists called for last month . But it will have to go beyond that and end the 25 year reign of the Carter Doctrine , the policy of treating threats to the Persian Gulf as if they were threats to the homeland—that got us into this mess in the first place. That will mean dealing decisively with our dependence on oil. These two studies (one , two ) show it's technically and economically possible. What are we waiting for?