Can we lose the military engagement in Iraq, yet the country is placed on the road to stabilization? It is a possibility. While American forces are watching an insurgency become more intractable and harder to defeat, and even while there is a strong possibility that Iraq will cease to exist as a unified country, there are signs that an American pullout will be a defeat for us in that we fail to stop an insurgency, but also that it will mark the point when Iraq truly becomes a self-determinant state.
Early voting in the elections for Iraq’s first four-year government began today. While the Bush administration is pointing at this election as proof yet again that Iraq is a free and functioning democracy, there is no doubt that the Iraqis themselves are unable at this point to be the guarantor of this new era in Iraqi history. Without sufficient indigenous troop and police levels, and with powerful political/religious leaders wielding small armies of their own, the situation in Iraq resembles in many ways the warlord mentality that is the modus operandi of Afghani politics. And there is also an insurgency to deal with.
When discussing the future pullout of American forces from Iraq, we tend to look at the situation, naturally, as Americans. We tend to see a pullout before the insurgency is quelled as a defeat. In military terms, it is. But there is a point when the cost of battling the insurgency in Iraq becomes too high. Many knowledgeable people, such as Andrew F. Krepinevich and Kenneth Pollack, have posited that an effective counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq could require up to a ten-year commitment to achieve victory. When that possibility is considered, the cost of continuing the war jumps too high.
The American people are not willing to consider a ten-year commitment after the assurances we received from the Bush administration at the outset of the war that it would be quick, and that we would be out by August of 2003. That hogwash has so damaged the administration’s credibility with the American people, that when combined with the worse sins of faulty and manipulated intelligence, false justifications for war, some outright lies, and a growing death toll, ten more years of the same in order to achieve a positive outcome is far too much to ask from a nation of people as weary of this war as we.
And even as the Bush administration foists a “Plan for Victory” propaganda campaign on the American people, the Pentagon is readying troop withdrawals just in time for next year’s midterm elections, when many Republican lawmakers find their political careers endangered by their fellowship with the man in the White House.
When we begin to leave Iraq next year, what happens there next? The Bush administration would have you believe that without American troops completing their mission, the country will descend into chaos. Lately, this idea has not been playing well, simply because the country already appears to be in chaos. A more refined, and contradictory, position is coming from the White House that works as a direct compliment to the Pentagon’s plans for next year’s withdrawals. In this latest fiction, there are 315,000 Iraqi troops and security forces ready to take up the fight from their American liberators and secure their country. There are some Iraqi forces that are ready to engage the insurgency, probably less than 10,000, but the vast majority of them are not. Also, various news sources have placed the number of total Iraqi forces, trained and untrained, at between 100,000 and 250,000, far less again than the number as given by the administration. The disparity between reports from the ground in Iraq and the rhetoric from the White House has become so disparate that Frank Rich has compared making sense of it to deciphering official reports from Stalin’s Kremlin during World War II. The consistency of the lies is an indication of the truth.
But the policy of handing off this war — in effect, handing off the country of Iraq — to Iraqi security forces is the correct strategy for beginning a withdrawal. The fact that we will be handing the security responsibilities for an entire nation to people who are not ready for it is less an indictment of the plan’s viability, than it is an indictment of the administration’s ability to carry it out. This administration has shown that it can botch anything it touches, good ideas and bad.
The Iraqis will have a hard road ahead of them, but they will have a fledgling, elected government, which is the starting point we wanted for them after we scaled down our own expectations. From there, things get rocky. This new government is a governing coalition. This federalist government will have to expend enormous amounts of time and political capital in order to maintain a unified country, much less begin to run it effectively. Much of the first decade, if not its entire existence, will consist of ruthless political jockeying amongst the factions in power, and some of it will turn violent. Indeed, the international community will be holding its breath constantly as the country teeters on the brink between outright conflict and totalitarianism. While this is going on, the infrastructure of Iraq, which has been slowly creeping towards a state of normalcy, could continue on its snail-like pace, or it could begin to reverse, thereby destabilizing Iraq further.
Recently, it has also become apparent that there still exists a culture of torture in Iraq, with some Sunnis being tortured at the hands of Shiite government ministries. This will have to be stopped. Torture is the type of issue where there is no such thing as a soft position. It ends cooperation between peoples instantly. If it is not addressed to the satisfaction of the aggrieved, escalation into open conflict is a possibility.
The Iraqi people will have a monumental decision to make that will determine their future. Are they Iraqi, or are they Shiite, Kurd, or Sunni? How they answer could save or cost many lives.
The role of Islam in Iraq will be as great there as in any Middle Eastern country. Iraq was a secular nation, it’s religion held in check by despotism. Without the brutality of a secular dictator, Islam has flourished. Whether or not the fundamentalists will find a way to further spread their brand of despotism still has yet to be determined, but the sounds of the mullahs in Iran rubbing their hands in anticipation should be an indication of how tough it will be for those Iraqis who wish to stem that fearsome tide in their new nation.
All this, and more, will confront the Iraqis as the American commitment to their country’s future is scaled down, and all the while the insurgency will still be there, capitalizing on moments of weakness and sowing fear, doubt, and death among the populace.
The American military’s main mission, at this juncture, should be to use all available resources to train and equip Iraqi security forces effectively. Only then can they begin to spread security throughout the country. Security in Iraq is a two-tiered effort, however. Effective security forces cannot exist without an effective central government, and vice versa. It is up to the Iraqis to provide the leadership in Baghdad and the provincial capitals, but it is up to the American military to ensure that they have the ability to enforce the authority of their new government. Our last task in Iraq will be difficult, and ultimately, it will have little effect on when we leave. Therefore, we must be extremely vigilant, in the time we have left, to make sure that we have given these new Iraqi forces our best effort, because when we are gone, it will be up to them to fight the insurgency we created. It’s a bum deal, but it will only be worse if we continue to half-ass our commitment to Iraq’s future security.
The argument that is shaping American policy in Iraq today — the effect on Iraq of us leaving — is moot. We are leaving. It is how we manage the pullout that will be a factor in determining the future of Iraq. If we do cut and run, we could make it impossible for Iraq to become a stable nation, but if we try our best to prepare the Iraqis for what lies ahead, Iraq could meet its troubles, and eventually overcome them.
With this in mind, this page has decided to endorse phased pullout of American forces in Iraq beginning next summer, to be completed by the end of 2007. We would like to see American troop levels halved by the end of next year, combined with real training of Iraqi security forces.
A timeline may embolden the insurgency, but it will also provide the Iraqis with a deadline for readiness that they will fail to meet at their own peril. That being said, it is incumbent upon the Untied States to pull out all stops in ensuring an effective transition of security and counterinsurgency to the Iraqi government. This will mean possibly leaving a small force in Kuwait for a time that can respond if the Iraqi government faces dire peril, some ability for Iraqis to call upon our air forces, and also the continued presence of military trainers and advisors, but at the very least, American ground combat must end before New Year’s 2008, hopefully by the summer of 2007. All support beyond materiel must end shortly thereafter.
We have passed the point where the United States is willing or able to defeat the insurgency, because of our lack of candor when it comes to our tactics and the length a successful commitment would entail. An immediate pullout would also be irresponsible, bringing to bear the worst-case scenarios that we constantly hear from the White House when they respond to talk of withdrawal. But our continued presence in Iraq is a detriment to our foreign policy around the world, one we can no longer afford. The war is also a drain on our military, and places our national security at risk by tying up our forces. Finally, there is the human cost, both American and Iraqi.
It is time to bury this mistake, for that is exactly what fighting this war was. It was a war of choice, based on lies. We failed to plan correctly for it, beyond destroying an already battered conventional army. We failed to commit to the levels necessary to win the peace, and to secure a country whose government we removed. We failed to take responsibility for governing this nation we had liberated, and left the Iraqis in a vacuum of anarchy. All these things we failed to do have been compounded by the hubris of our leadership.
The best we can hope for from Iraq is that it not become a vassal state of Iran. In addition, hoping against hope that the thousands of Iraqis who have taken up arms against us do not follow in the footsteps of the mujahadeen who fought in Afghanistan in the 80’s, and become the terrorists of the future, is a possibility we cannot afford to fantasize about. While we wish to see an end to the war in Iraq, we recognize that the war on terror is not over. With the end of fighting in Iraq, it will finally be possible to refocus our efforts on this far more pressing conflict. It is unfortunate that we have spent so much time these past few years creating people who are motivated to do us harm, instead of chasing down those who already are our enemies, or reversing the policies in the Middle East that are fodder for those who spread fundamentalist hate.
The best we can do towards securing ours and Iraq’s future is to end our part in this disaster of a conflict. We owe it to ourselves to get back on the track that we left the day we invaded in March of 2003, and we owe it to the people of Iraq. Mr. President, end this war.