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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The War of Words About Iraq

The Democrats seem determined to lose the confidence of the public by not sticking to their guns about getting out of Iraq. And they seem even more determined to lose the war of words about Iraq by claiming that the war is already lost. And, of course, the Republicans have no reason to do the hard work of ending the war as long as they think they can score political points by calling the Democrats defeatists. Neither side is correct.

The war in Iraq, in fact, was won long ago. Of course, since our premise for invading Iraq turned out to be false, it’s easy to lose sight of exactly what our original goals were – at least the publicly announced goals – and therefore to not recognize that we actually met them. Our military succeeded in doing everything this administration asked of them and doing it as successfully as humanly possible.

Our original justification for going into Iraq was to depose Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein and find his weapons of mass destruction before he could turn them against his Middle Eastern neighbors or us.

We got rid of Hussein and his sons. We installed a new government. Unfortunately, we never got those WMDs. But you can hardly blame the military for that. Those unconventional weapons were never there to start with, so that’s a benchmark that was impossible to meet. All the rest the military succeeded in doing.

It’s the continuing occupation that’s so damned hard.

And that’s where we are failing. It was doomed from the start and not by the military but by an incompetent civilian administration that put inexperienced people into powerful positions in Iraq, even though their appointees lacked knowledge and were not competent to rebuild the Iraqi nation. This article from the September 17, 2006 Washington Post, taken from Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book, Life in the Imperial City, highlights the tragic missteps that certainly helped derail our efforts in Iraq.

As Chandraskekaran documents, those civilians who flooded into the country in the early days of our victory – and it was a victory – were young and their primary qualification for service was that they were ideologues, who were loyal to the Bush administration. Surprise, surprise! Like that hasn’t been the major qualification for every position of responsibility that has led to abysmal failure on the part of the Bush administration both at home and abroad.

It’s important, though, to define the real problem or we will never be able to fix it in Iraq. And the American public is as uneasy with the Democratic timetables for withdrawal as they are disapproving of Bush’s intransigent insistence on staying the course. For good reason, thoughtful people fear the consequences of pulling out and wiping our hands of the whole mess, which we largely created in the first place. It’s not unreasonable to fear a destabilized and failed state in an already volatile region that always is in danger of exploding.

But we also can’t continue an occupation that is spiraling into chaos. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing into infinity. That’s not defeatism. That’s common sense. In fact, here’s an excerpt from an article by Christopher Preble, “How to Exit Iraq,” taken from the Cato Institute’s Website in 2005.

“Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski declared last week that the United States could never achieve its goals of a democratic, stable and peaceful Iraq unless the American people were prepared to "commit 500,000 troops, spend [US]$200 billion a year, probably have a draft," and have some form of wartime taxation. Brzezinski conceded that Americans "are not prepared to do that."
Cato is not a leftwing think tank. Nor is Bryzesinski a Northeastern liberal dove. And he’s right. We’re not prepared to do those things. Nobody on the right currently criticizing the Democrats is willing to reinstate a draft let alone consider raising taxes. All they really want to do is chant slogans about defeatism and try to score political points off Democrats. That’s not a way to find a solution in Iraq.

Eventually, we have to step out of the way of the civil war going on in Iraq and let the Iraqis come up with a political solution to their political problems. We can’t do that for them. But we also can’t withdraw from the entire region. In short, Johnny isn’t going to come marching home all that soon. But he does need to get out of the Iraqis’ way.

The strategy we need is to re-deploy troops out of Iraq to nearby hot spots where they can continue to combat terrorism and defend our national interests. We also may have to leave some troops in Iraq to continue to train security forces. We cannot leave them in a lurch and abandon them. Colin Powell’s pottery rule is still true. We broke it. We have an obligation – moral and practical – to help fix it.

To do that, we also are going to have to open talks with Syria, Saudi Arabia and, yes, Iran. They are not our friends. At best, they are treacherous allies in a dangerous region. But they realize that an unstable Iraq is not in their own self-interests. In other words, while they are not our buddies, they are stakeholders in an effort to stabilize their own region. And that’s exactly how to approach them, as adversaries who happen to have a common interest with us. In the case of Iran, we will need special care. We are going to have to warn them in no uncertain terms to stop meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs. But right now, the chaos our presence is bringing to that region is actually strengthening their influence among their fellow Shia. Iran is the wild card. But we won’t get them out of Iraq as long as we are there. Our presence provides rationalization for their interference in the region.

In the end, there is a real possibility that such talks may fail. Because of that we do need to leave a door open to be able to return should the situation warrant it. Again, Preble from the Cato piece:

“The jihadis will claim that the American withdrawal represents a victory for their side. But while the United States has already suffered a blow to its credibility, it is still eminently capable of defending its vital interests. An American military withdrawal would not, and must not, signal that the United States has chosen to ignore events in Iraq.

“If Iraqis wish to retain their sovereignty and independence, they must ensure that al-Qaeda and other anti-American terrorist groups do not establish a safe haven in their country. Accordingly, the withdrawal of U.S. forces must be coupled with a clear and unequivocal message to the new government of Iraq: do not threaten us or allow foreign terrorists in your country to threaten us. If you do, we will be back.”
The truth is we had a military victory long ago. And if need be, to contain a real threat to our domestic security, we are thoroughly capable of going back in to remove a genuine threat. Americans will always support our military in actions to strengthen our legitimate national security interests.

But we have also had a diplomatic failure of monumental proportions caused by a political lack of will on the part of an incompetent and arrogant administration that still places ideology above evidence and facts.

Now we’ve got to step out of Iraq but not out of the region. Iraq must solve its own political problems with the help of the international community as led by America. We do have that responsibility. But we have got to stop losing the peace. And the only way to do that is to get out of the business of occupying another country. Let me repeat what I said near the beginning of this piece: That is not defeatism. It’s common sense.


Catzmaw said...

An excellent, thought-provoking analysis.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an excellent, intelligent discussion of the insanity of continuing in this civil war.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you both. I wish I had the power to implement a sane policy, not just write about it.