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ABC News obtained a copy of a simple slide presentation created by a US Captain serving in Anbar Province. ABC explains that Captain Travis Patriquin "had fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. A gifted officer, he spoke numerous languages, including Arabic." In his stick-figure presentation, featuring "Joe" the American soldier and various Iraqi people, Captain Patriquin tried to explain to other officers what US forces needed to do to restore order in that region.

In a military known for its sleep-inducing, graphically dizzying PowerPoint presentations, the young captain's presentation, which has been unofficially circulating through the ranks, stands out. Using stick figures and simple language, it articulates the same goal as the president's in Iraq.

If you go to the link and find Click here for Patriquin's presentation, you can pull up the presentation, "How to Win in Al Anbar," and then walk through each of the 18 slides. Make sure you watch them in order.

Got the picture? The Captain's point seems to be that if we relied on the local Iraqis to decide their own affairs, including how to sort out the "bad Iraqis" from the "good Iraqis," conditions would be a lot better. That seems a helpful concept, but there are just two problems with this.

Look again at the slides with "Joe" in them. Then ask yourself: For this strategy to work, does Joe even need to be there?

The second, tragic problem is that this simple idea comes too late for nearly 3,000 American soldiers, and countless Iraqis. And the insight came too late for Captain Travis:

But Patriquin will not see victory in Iraq. He was killed by the same improvised explosive device that killed Maj. Megan McClung of the Marine Corps last Wednesday.

"How to Win in Al Anbar" may not make it to the desk of the president, but maybe it should.

So what does reach the president's desk? As Swopa discussed here, there's continued talk about "surging" 20,000 to 35,000 additional US troops, just the opposite of what Americans thought they voted for. Finally doing what he never did as Secretary of State, Colin Powell said publically on Face the Nation that the US was “losing” in Iraq and that the surge idea was misguided unless/until someone could define a coherent, achievable, and finite mission for those troops. Kinda an important question, no?

Powell also noted that we don’t have any “new” troops to surge; all we can do is delay the rotation out, and speed up the rotation in, of the limited numbers available. Powell was reinforcing the views of many in the Pentagon who fear the Army is breaking. But do the WH neocons whose hands are on the steering wheel listen to real soldiers who might actually know what they’re talking about? Probably not if the main co-driver is Dick Cheney, who said of his departing co-driver “Donald Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had.” Given who’s driving the bus, one has to wonder why so many (including Jack Reed, Kerry, et al) think we need a bigger, faster bus. No one seems willing to point out the obvious: the drivers are reckless and need to lose their licenses.

Beyond that, there's the debate conducted via Whispers and Why Nots, summarized in this morning's New York Times article by Helene Cooper. In one corner, we have the "diplomatic and reasoned" position of Secretary of State Rice:

As President Bush and his deputies chew over whether there’s a Hail Mary pass to salvage Iraq, it has become increasingly clear that the president will probably throw the ball toward his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. . . .

In this plan, America’s Sunni Arab allies would press centrist Iraqi Sunnis to support a moderate Shiite government. Outside Baghdad, Sunni leaders would be left alone to run Sunni towns. Radical Shiites, no longer needed for the coalition that keeps the national government afloat, would be marginalized. So would Iran and Syria. To buy off the Sunni Arab countries, the United States would push forward on a comprehensive peace plan in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

And in the other, darker corner, we have the "Darwinian Principle" applied to foreign policy, coming from unknown persons in the Vice President's office:

The Darwin Principle, Beltway version, basically says that Washington should stop trying to get Sunnis and Shiites to get along and instead just back the Shiites, since there are more of them anyway and they’re likely to win in a fight to the death. After all, the proposal goes, Iraq is 65 percent Shiite and only 20 percent Sunni.

Sorry, Sunnis.

But not to worry, there's a good reason to apply Darwin to Iraq, but it's only whispered, for obvious reasons:

Darwin? Try Machiavelli. An even more far-fetched offshoot of the Darwin Principle is floating around, which some hawks have tossed out in meetings, although not seriously, one administration official said. It holds that America could actually hurt Iran by backing Iraq’s Shiites; that could deepen the Shiite-Sunni split and eventually lead to a regional Shiite-Sunni war. And in that, the Shiites — and Iran — lose because, while there are more Shiites than Sunnis in Iraq and Iran, there are more Sunnis than Shiites almost everywhere else.

Wow.

Wow, indeed.