Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How Soon is Too Soon?

If U.S. forces were to withdrawal from Iraq tomorrow, would Iraqi security forces be able to stand up on their own and defend their country? Certainly not. Would they have those capabilities a year or two down the road? It’s hard to tell. At best, “staying the course” is prolonging that desired outcome from becoming a reality. At worst, it is not only prolonging that desired outcome from becoming a reality, but it is also making that outcome less and less likely.

In Iraq, we now have just enough troops to perpetuate the perceived role of occupier, and just enough troops to stifle the sense of urgency the Iraqi government desperately needs to accelerate the training and deployment of their own security forces. At the same time, it is becoming clear that we may not have enough troops or resources in Iraq to effectively wage the type of war that the current situation requires. Although the President, with the steadfast support of Barney and Laura, believes we have sufficient troops levels, it’s clear to the rest of us that difficult decisions lie ahead and that they need to be made sooner than later.

Do we withdraw our troops and turn over security responsibilities to the Iraqis whether they’re ready or not? It would bring American men and women out of harm’s way and refocus our nation’s attention on the global war on terrorism. Meanwhile, it might also create a security vacuum in the region that would provide sanctuary for terrorists and engulf millions of innocent civilians in an increasingly violent civil war.

Do we “stay the course” and maintain an open-ended commitment until the Iraqis eventually decide they can stand on their own? It would show the world, particularly those who wish to do us harm, that America has the will for this fight and would reassure Iraqis that we stand beside them until they are strong enough to defend themselves. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground might also continue to deteriorate while Iraqi security forces slowly stand up, Iraqi politicians squabble in Baghdad, and Iraqi citizens endure the resulting violence, bloodshed, and lack of essential services. Of course this would all happen while the American military is stretched further beyond its breaking point.

Do we increase troop levels to bolster our security capabilities? It may provide American forces with much-needed flexibility and resources to expand our security and counterinsurgency operations. Meanwhile, it might also be a politically disastrous decision, both at home and abroad, that would dig us further into an open-ended quagmire and reinforce the notion that we are an occupying army with intentions of maintaining a substantial and permanent presence in the region. Undoubtedly, this course would also stretch the American military further beyond its breaking point with troop levels that could only be sustained by conscription.

Although it’s been deemed “cut and run” by a stubborn Commander in Chief whose gut instinct is to politicize differing viewpoints rather than take them into serious consideration, a recent plan was put forth in June by Senators Levin and Reed that deserved much more attention than it received. It seems like a subtle shift in policy, a hybrid of “cut and run” and “stay the course”, but it has potentially far-reaching implications.

It doesn’t address the speed or pace of troop redeployment, but urges that “phased redeployment begin this year as a way of moving from an open-ended commitment and Iraqi dependency”. In doing so, it would allow U.S. forces to begin standing down and moving toward a more limited role of training and logistic support for Iraqi security forces, protection of U.S. personnel and facilities, and counterterrorism activities.

Beyond 2006, it calls upon the Bush Administration to submit a plan for our continued redeployment as dictated by conditions on the ground; chiefly the progress made by Iraqis in forming a stable government that can provide basic services and security to its own people.

This war is not going to be won militarily and it’s not going to be won in the short-term. We’re in so deep and we’ve bungled the post-war planning so badly that we’re left looking for the most sustainable options, not the most effective, and the least counter-productive options, not the most productive.

So, at this crossroads, why not begin the process of bringing our troops home sooner than later? It would allow us to redeploy our troops where they’d be better positioned to combat terrorism and carry out our national security objectives. It would also force the Iraqis to stand up more quickly and more actively help shape the conditions that will ultimately allow us to bring ALL of our troops home.

1 comment:

Chainz said...

It seems to me that the argument to bring our troops home rests on the following assumption: that Iraqis are working too slowly to develop their own security forces because they don't feel any urgency.

There have been at least two times during this war that people have blamed Iraq's inability to defend itself on Iraqis themselves. President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld said Iraqis should have stopped the looting. Now Democrats are saying that Iraqis need to wake up and take their own security seriously.

Neither of these make sense to me. I can't imagine that Iraqi security forces sense anything other than urgency as the number of Iraqi deaths grow daily and are probably close to 100,000 (although one estimate with questionable methodology claims it might be as high as 600,000).

The Bush administration is learning slowly, but it is learning. Based on recent reports, the military is developing much better counter-insurgency methods (which they ignored early on and we are still paying for that). The military is learning to refrain from major attacks against insurgents, instead choosing to be patient and show local Iraqis that they are there to protect them. In time, those Iraqis then help turn in insurgents.

Other news reports suggest that Sunnis are growing very tired of foreign insurgents and are ready to fight. We have also turned a radical militant (al Sadr) into a political leader, but we need more time to keep him from falling back on his milita for power and control.

I think we will be able to make some serious progress in the next year or two and then might be able to leave without watching the whole region fall into war. As the debate on Iraq becomes more about substance, more good ideas have come out and Iraq has improved.

I think the administration's labels, like "cut and run" take away from the debate. But that said, I don't think now is a good time to withdraw from Iraq. There is still more good to be done.