Now, finally, some in Washington are beginning to admit that the scene in Iraq may not be all that we might wish come September. It has been obvious from the beginning that a backup plan would be necessary. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said as much in February. Well before that, Dov Zackheim, comptroller at the DOD during the first George W. Bush administration, put forth a proposal that made a lot of sense to me. It went like this:

Draw our forces in Iraq down to 75,000, about half the number we have there today, and station them at strategic points along the border.

Group one would be placed in the north to serve notice to the Turks that we will not permit them to send troops into Kurdish Iraq to track down their own Kurds who sneak back across the border from time to time to make mischief. We’re sympathetic, but we cannot tolerate Turkish forces in Iraq.

Group two to be sent west, to Anbar province, to keep the Syrians at bay.

Group three would be deployed to southern Shiite Iraq to try to prevent the influence of Iran from becoming any greater than it already is.

What this would do, said Zakheim, is contain the troubles in Iraq and prevent more trouble from pouring in from neighboring states. What it also might do is keep the chaos in Iraq from spreading to other parts of the gulf. It would be a way to maintain a military presence along critical borders without the impossible provocation of sending our forces to Iran or Syria. Certainly U.S. troops in Turkey would be out of the question.

Of course, it would mean permitting the Iraqis to settle their own fate, which would be a bloody business, but at least far less of the blood would be American. Moreover, it would mean an acknowledgment of the inevitable–domination of much of the country by Shiites, and/or the de facto division of Iraq into three parts: Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni, with the most troublesome likely to be Sunni extremists who some Iraqi politicians believe would overtake the west.

House Republican leader John Beohner said in early May that Plan B must be developed. Sen. Dick Lugar, another Republican, said the same day that no matter what the plan is the American military will be in Iraq for a long time.

Also in early May Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute warned that Plan B was premature. Developments in Iraq, he explained, “will proceed in unpredictable ways. Each eventuality would require a different response.” Then he stressed that it is time “to consider the possibility that any Plan B in Iraq will focus on exploiting the success of the current surge rather than on mitigating a failure.”

Maybe so, but I’m not persuaded. I hope the president will swear off the advice of neo-conservatives like Kagan, whose arguments are tactical, and pursue in earnest a practical approach like the plan of Dov Zakheim. It is not a fanciful strategy for success in Iraq but rather a solid program for the survival of American interests in the Persian Gulf.