The Alphabet of War

Last month, presidential spokesman Tony Snow referred to the troop surge in Iraq as Plan A, and said there was no need for Plan B. But former Army captain and Slate writer Phil Carter says the surge is actually something like Plan F. Carter explains why he thinks the administration is trying to sweep four years of plans in Iraq under the rug.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

The war in Iraq and the alphabet of plans to win it. Early last month, White House spokesman Tony Snow was asked if there is a plan B should the so-called surge of troops in Iraq fail to work.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): Let me put it this way. Plan A is barely underway. The idea that the administration would talk freely about a plan B is - it's silly.

CHADWICK: But in the online magazine Slate, writer Phil Carter assigns the surge a different letter designation. Not plan A. Phil returned to civilian life about six months ago after a yearlong tour in Iraq as an Army reserve captain. He's a frequent contributor to DAY TO DAY. Welcome back to the show.

PHIL CARTER: Thanks, Alex.

CHADWICK: This is not plan A, you say. What was plan A?

CARTER: A plan A was the original war plan. This was the shock and awe, move in with just enough troops to win. This was Don Rumsfeld, the original plan that would call for us to get out very quickly.

CHADWICK: And then comes plan B?

CARTER: Right. Plan B was freedom is untidy, there's a little bit of chaos, looting in the streets. Let's just let things go for a little while and see how they develop. And that was the original plan B. We see now that that really didn't work that well.

CHADWICK: Right, because there followed plans C, D and E as well, which you all lay out in your piece in Slate, involving or reacting to changes of commandant on the part of the U.S., the growth of the insurgency, the sectarian divide between the Sunnis and the Shiite Muslims in this unhappy land. So by your count, the surge is actually plan F.

Mr. CARTER: At least plan F, that's right. The plan right now is a good one as far as military constructs go, given the amount of resources we can put on the ground and the ability of our military to affect change over there in Iraq. But the question is really, can plan F lead to victory? There are serious political questions about whether the Iraqi government is stable enough to support and whether the regional powers are going to continue to stir up trouble. And plan F itself may not even be enough.

CHADWICK: Militarily, this looks like a good strategy, but it's not really a military question that we're confronting there. I think that's what you're saying.

Mr. CARTER: Right. There are parts of it that are. So for example, you have to provide order on the streets, you have to provide security for the Iraqi people so that they'll both support their government and also so that they'll be able to engage in commerce and all those other things. And I suppose, ironically enough, plan F is what we should have done in 2003 once we realized that there was disorder in the streets, and looting, and a nascent insurgency. It's really what should have come in and been the plan all along.

CHADWICK: F, as it happens - I think your piece in Slate is headlined a FUBAR -that's a military acronym that might stand for fouled up beyond all reason. FUBAR - it's a term you hear a lot in the Army.

Mr. CARTER: That's right. And that's the clean version, but I think it reflects a recognition that even if we try every repair method we can at this point, things may still be too far gone.

CHADWICK: Phil Carter writes on Military Affairs for the online magazine Slate. He's got a piece up now on the alphabet plans for the war in Iraq. Phil, thanks again.

Mr. CARTER: Thank you, Alex.

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