Thursday, September 07, 2006

The War in Iraq

The current debate on the war in Iraq has been predominantly framed as a simple either/or proposition: "cut and run" or "stay the course". Few, if any, have proposed a third alternative.

The administration argues in favor of "staying the course". Their argument is not so much that the current strategy has been successful, but that the alternative is too risky. According to this argument, immediate withdrawal will be tantamount to an admission of defeat, and will embolden our enemies. Similarly, a timetable for withdrawal will simply encourage the foe to wait until after the deadline. The only measure of when U.S. forces might withdraw from Iraq has been "we will stand up when they [the Iraqi military] are ready to stand up." Recent polls suggest that Americans have become increasingly impatient with this measure.

The administration has characterized those who have argued in favor of some form of withdrawal (either immediate or according to some timetable) as people who would "cut and run." The obvious implication is that these people are cowards – and few Americans care to be associated with cowards.

There seems to be little question that, if there were such a thing as a hind sight do-over, most Americans would not support the invasion of Iraq. The original justifications for the war – weapons programs and an al Queda relationship – have proven to be mistaken, if not false. It's difficult to say that the average American citizen is any safer (or less safe) as a direct result of the invasion of Iraq. One can certainly say that military personnel are less safe, as are Iraqi civilians.

It's clear, therefore, the current strategy is not working. One definition of insanity is performing the same action and expecting different results. The administration's current military strategy in Iraq is an excellent example of that definition.

If we must remain in Iraq, a new military strategy must be developed. A troop increase would seem to be the minimum needed, which would almost certainly require a draft. Any type of military draft is about as popular as a tax increase these days. But the fact is, if the goal is to repair the damage done in Iraq, both of these unpopular things are likely to be necessary.

Additionally, a broader international security force should be sought, with an emphasis on forces from Muslim countries. Granted, the administration burned some significant diplomatic bridges when it invaded Iraq. Granted, the international community – especially Muslim countries – have little motivation to trust the current administration. Granted, such a move would be more likely to happen once the U.S. has new leadership (preferably Democratic).

My fear is that none of the players – least of all the Iraqi people – have 2½ years to wait for a new administration. With Iran on the east, Syria on the west, and Turkey to the north, Iraq is in a very volatile region. Civil war in Iraq could well trigger involvement by these other players. There is already reason to believe weapons are entering Iraq from Iran.

If only there were someone in the administration able and willing to make an argument on the basis of mutual enlightened self-interest!

The only alternative I can think of is for U.S. forces to withdraw within a reasonable benchmark – say, for example, another 6 months to a year. The current administration will only be effectively in power for another year past that point. It's possible (though unlikely) the current Iraq government will maintain a semblance of order for a time. If civil war does become a reality, the international community could well be motivated to become involved – especially if the U.S. has new leadership by that point.

On the whole, all the options seem rather bleak. Whether the U.S. stays in Iraq or withdraws, we will seem less of a superpower, and more of a stumblebum.

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