Thursday, February 25, 2010
CNAS just released a new "policy brief" by Tom Ricks entitled The Burden: America's Hard Choices in Post-Election Iraq. Basically, it is a 6-page version of his NY Times op-ed from yesterday with pretty graphs and maps (ostensibly to give some semblance of 'analysis'). I don't think this violates my New Year's resolution because it was emailed to me and is not on his blog.
I think there are quite a few things wrong with this brief, but I'll just focus in on a couple points. First and foremost is the complete and utter lack of analysis used to derive his recommendations. Ricks recommends keeping 30-50K troops in the country to prevent another civil war from breaking out. This fails in two ways. First, he does not adequately show that a civil war is likely in post-election Iraq. Saying that there was a lot of violence over a couple of key issues, and that those issues are not yet resolved, and considering the last year of relative calm in spite of this is "isolated", does not prove, suggest, or even hint at the fact that violence will break out again. Secondly, he does not tie his recommended troop levels to any concept of how they might actually prevent his imminent civil war, other than by sheer presence. Where did he get these figures from? I'll guess a random number generator because I don't see the connection. As a side point, if 110K U.S. troops weren't enough to stop the 2006 civil war (requiring the surge of 30K additional troops), what the hell are 30K going to do to stop one? And if their mere presence doesn't stop an outbreak of violence, what are those troops supposed to do?
Second is his recommendation to renegotiate the SOFA. Unlike his op-ed, at least here he says it needs to be Iraqi driven. "Sending signals, early but privately" that the U.S. might stomach staying longer has been done very publicly this week by GEN Odierno. The Iraqis know they can ask for more help if they need or want it - but this completely ignores the fact that Iraqi politics probably prohibit their asking for more help unless significant violence does break out.
Third (and I'll end on this instead of beating a dead horse), is the complete lack of sources. I know: this isn't a dissertation. But the constant use of "observers", "leaders", footnoting his own two (somewhat dated) books, and anecdotes is not a substitute for rigorous research and analysis. Ricks is just screaming into his own echo chamber.
Should you chose to read this briefing, just keep these things in mind. This is not analysis. These are not serious policy recommendations based on anything tangible. This paper is using anecdote to support preconceived beliefs. In other words, it's a piece of Tom Ricks' recent work.