The Iraq Debate -- New Ideas Series, Volume 2: "The Brzezinski Plan"

Last week was another hot one in Iraq. It was also a hot week in Washington, where the debate about the war in Iraq finally cranked up a few notches. But it wasn't pretty. Republicans stood in lock-step with the President. Democrats looked like crabs in a bucket. Partisanship, chest-thumping patriotism, and empty rhetoric ran rampant. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), himself a Vietnam veteran, pleaded for calm and reason saying, "Focus group-tested buzz words...like 'Cut and Run'...debase the seriousness of war." He's right. Hagel has been a consistent voice of reason, and an important critic of this war. Watch his excellent comments here. As I write in my new book Chasing Ghosts, he is one of the good ones on Capitol Hill.

This post is Volume 2 in my series presenting alternative strategies for Iraq. As I discussed in Volume 1 last week, there are a number of alternate plans out there that can offer a change in course in Iraq. But most Americans have never even heard about them. These plans fly around military and diplomatic email lists, and rarely make the mainstream media. They are different from the Bush "Stay the Course" plan, but are not "Cut and Run" either. These plans are more than just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. They take into account the enormity of the problem in Iraq. They acknowledge that the United States and our allies must work to prevent the Iraq war from expanding into a regional war. They also underscore our commitment to the Iraq people -- we have a moral obligation to try to fix the mess we have made.

This week I offer for your consideration the plan suggested by Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Born in Poland, Brzezinski was National Security Advisor to President Carter from 1977 to 1981. He is now a professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Brzezinski is an effective speaker who often uses creative analogies to make complex foreign policy seem strikingly simple. Watching him on PBS a few weeks ago was the political equivalent of watching Dwyane Wade carve up the Dallas Mavericks on the basketball court.

Brzezinski recently described his plan in this must-watch interview on PBS NewsHour. Brzezinski proposes what he describes as "pulling out in an intelligent fashion." This plan has four parts:

1) "Talk at length with the Iraq leadership as to when we have to leave. Those who say, 'We don't want you to leave,' are the ones who leave when we leave. The real leaders, probably not living in the Green Zone, will say, 'Yes, leave.' I suspect Sistani is among them."

2) "Then, announce jointly a date, but a date set jointly."

3) "Let the Iraqi government convene a conference of all of Iraq's Muslim neighbors about stabilizing Iraq and helping it to stabilize. Most of them will want to be helpful, maybe even Iranians."

4) "We then announce as we're leaving a donors conference of interested countries in Europe and the Far East who benefit from Iraqi oil on helping to rehabilitate Iraq. I think this would enable us to leave and still say we achieved basically what we wanted -- the removal of Saddam -- though not a secular, stable, united Iraq under a perfect democracy because that, frankly, is a fantasy."

Now, my thoughts. First off, I like Brzezinski. I hope we see much more of him in the media discussing Iraq -- or discussing anything for that matter.

Second, setting a date is a key component of his plan. I think this is reasonable. It doesn't have to be an exact date, but a general idea. I am not convinced by critics who say setting a date gives the enemy some kind of tremendous advantage. We had a timeline for the invasion. And that was alright with everyone in the White House. The President held a press conference from the Oval Office. We had a countdown on televisions like we were getting ready for the kickoff of the Super Bowl. We told the whole world when we were moving on the way in to Iraq, why not on the way out? Even if we don't set an exact date, how about a timeframe? The American people and the Iraqi people are frustrated. They all want an idea of when US forces will be leaving Iraq. Are we talking 5 months? 5 years? 50 years? Give us a ballpark here, Mr. President. Our troops are coming home sooner or later. As we now know from the latest news reports even General Casey is thinking about timelines. So let's lay it out so we can all discuss and prepare.

Third, Brzezinski's points 3 and 4 emphasize coalitions. This is something we rarely hear out of the White House. He is right to bring attention to this major shortcoming. We need to find ways to bring more of the world's countries to the table. Having Iraq do the asking, after the US has announced it is leaving, could make those new commitments possible. My biggest criticism is that the Brzezinski plan seems unrealistic given the current administration. I'd love to see these four points develop, but I really can not see the President emphasizing this extensive degree of diplomacy. And giving Iran a place at the table -- no way Bush will allow it, no matter who does the asking.

Those are my quick thoughts on the Brzezinski plan. What do you think? The discussion last week was fantastic. Post your thoughts and let's hear what people think of this proposal.

I'll be back with the next installment in this series in about a week.