The Options for Dealing with Iraq

I guess it’s time to address the elephant sitting on the table—Iraq.

In 1991, during the first Gulf War, the U.S. Secretary of Defense said the following about sending ground troops into Baghdad:
“[It would be dangerous] to get mired down inside Iraq in a conflict that’s been raging for generations in the interest of trying to dictate who’s going to govern in Iraq. That is not something that we are prepared to see American forces do.
“For the U.S. to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle of who’s going to govern in Iraq strikes me as a classic definition of a ‘quagmire’.”

Do you remember who the Defense Secretary was at this time? Dick Cheney. Evidently, aliens stole his brain between 1991 and 2002.

Looking back on the deceit that got us into Iraq is infuriating, but useless. Whether deposing Saddam Hussein was the right choice will not be known for decades, but it will hinge on the choices made by the U.S. administration today. President Bush has dropped the “stay the course” phrase, but not the approach. Unless the results of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group persuade him to change, he has essentially abdicated the outcome of the war to the next president.

What is the definition of success in Iraq? I think we have had an idea of a little America in the Middle East as our idea of success. But reality is much less idyllic. If Iraq is able to establish some kind of semi-functioning, semi-peaceful, semi-democratic government within the next five years, it will be a success, whatever it looks like. If, on the other hand, the current course reaches its natural end resulting in the nation being torn apart by civil war, security becoming non-existent, a debilitating brain-drain where everyone who has the resources or contacts to leave does, and the country becoming a haven for crusaders, criminals, and crazies training a new generation of terrorists, it will be an obvious failure.

The current options include 1) stay the course, or continue in the current approach; 2) abandon ship—an expedited withdrawal of foreign troops; 3) partition the country along ethno-religious lines; and 4) increase troop deployment to advance the benchmarks.

1 – Continue with the Current Approach – This is a battle of wills. I guarantee that Iran wants a destabilized Iraq MUCH more than the U.S. wants a stable Iraq. All they have to do is feed the insurgency until the U.S. convinces itself that the Iraqi police and military are prepared to do the job. The standard for preparedness will continue to drop the longer the war drags on and the more casualties U.S. troops suffer. Eventually, the U.S. will hand over a broken country like a car renter who has taken a Ford Focus off-road and cracked the axle hands back the keys saying “nothing’s wrong with it; it drives like a dream.” Then the predominantly Shiite security forces will overrun (or allow to be overrun) the Sunni and Christian minority in any religiously mixed areas left in the country. The country will end up partitioned anyway, just with a lot of loss of life, limb, and property in the process.

2 – Sudden Withdrawal of Foreign Forces – This will have the same end as staying the course, only with a lot more bald-faced shame to it, rather than trying to hide the guilt. This is the car renter who leaves the broken-down Ford Focus by the side of the trail and runs away. It has its advantages politically in that it may be mostly blown over by the 2008 presidential election.

3 – Partitioning the Country – Some propose splitting the country into three parts: a Kurdish northern region (which already exists and is virtually completely autonomous; their only interest in remaining part of Iraq is in how much oil revenue they will share); a Sunni west/central area (including the part of Baghdad on the west side of the Tigris); and a Shiite southern portion (including the part of Baghdad on the east side of the Tigris). The country is already divided politically along these lines; each group voted overwhelmingly for representatives from its own membership. The biggest challenges include the degree of autonomy written into the constitution; would it be another set of Articles of Confederation, too weak to be enforced? What happens if sectarian strife breaks out on a large scale AFTER the partitioning—who comes to the rescue of the minority Sunnis?

4 – Increased Troop Deployment – Many advocate this (including the current military leaders), some as only a short-term “overwhelming force” strike, but it is extremely unpopular politically. It may drive out the insurgency long enough to allow the administration to showcase its success and convince the world that the country was “stood up.” Within weeks of a U.S. withdrawal, the same end that would result from options 1 & 2 would befall the country. But at least the U.S. could blame it on the Iraqis like it blamed the South Vietnamese. HOWEVER, this could work if the U.S. were to maintain a small long-term force in the country a la South Korea or Germany for training, emergencies, and as a reminder of U.S. interest in the continued success of the country. This would also be helpful in the inevitable and imminent Israel-Iran war.

The U.S. administration is beginning to threaten the fledgling Iraqi government with ultimatums regarding security preparedness, like a parent who won’t tie his child’s shoes but keeps honking the horn saying, “If you don’t hurry, we’re gonna leave!” The leg bones of Iraq are still too broken to bear the weight of managing the country. And them what broke ‘um (the U.S.) need to do what’s necessary not to leave the body defenseless.

There are two definitions for the transitive verb “stand up.” The one the administration has used in reference to Iraq is getting the country to a point where it can maintain its own law and order. The other meaning is abandoning someone who depended on you to keep a commitment you made. Ironic?

3 Comments

Mike W. says:

Dave,

So what is the solution? It’s obviously been a disaster to get in there and to stay, but that’s where we are. How do we get out? Do we set a hard timetable like Feingold recommends? Or do we continue to support Iraqi military until we judge that they can handle it? Give a timetable may just spur on the Islamists to attempt to disrupt it or to wait until it passes and attempt to overthrow whatever government is left in place. Whatever is left in place will have to have sooooo much power and authority, it will resemble nothing like democracy.

Centrist says:

Mike,

I think the only thing that can work is Option 4, an increase in strength to crush the insurgency, followed by a long-term deployment until the locals 1) can surely handle security and 2) can come to grips with their plurality. This long-term deployment doesn’t have to be at the levels it’s at now, but it needs to be enough to discourage and handle any resurgent insurgents. I don’t like this plan, but it’s the only thing we can morally do. Any of the other options are at best shameful and at worst criminal.

Reluctant says:

I actually agree! Option 4 is the only solution at this time.

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