Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discusses the two-front war confronting the Obama Presidency.
He has less than two months to go from broad rhetoric to concrete day-to-day action. On Jan. 20, he will take over at a pivotal point in negotiating Iraq’s status of force agreement with the United States, in the middle of a winter military campaign in Afghanistan, and during a political, security and economic crisis in Pakistan. None of these issues will wait for America to deal with its financial problems. And no one involved believes that the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northern territories can be fully won, or even transferred to Afghan and Pakistani hands, by even the end of President Obama’s first term. For at least the next two to three years, the war will intensify, and virtually all of the additional burden will be borne by the United States.Fred Kagan, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, insists that we must capitalize on the common interests we share with Iraq vis-à-vis Iran.
Leaks of a new National Intelligence Estimate have shown that we are now losing the war for several reasons: a lack of Afghan competence; a half-hearted Pakistani commitment to the fight; a shortage of American, NATO and International Security Assistance Force troops; too few aid workers; and nation-building programs that were designed for peacetime and are rife with inefficiency and fraud. This is why Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, and other military leaders have called for 20,000 to 25,000 more troops and warned that even those reinforcements may not be adequate.
Even with a potential drawdown in Iraq, the military is being stretched ever thinner. The Army already extends the deployment of troops beyond their commitments, and it and the Marine Corps may well find it impossible to meet their goals for shortening deployment cycles. As things stand, it will almost certainly take until 2011 to bring enough military advisers into Afghanistan to train its army and police forces to the level where locals can replace international troops. And with increasing terrorist attacks on non-governmental groups, many aid workers are being forced to leave the country.
…Even if the United States fully withdraws from Iraq in 2011, as Mr. Obama and the Iraqi government say they would like, we will remain on something very like a war footing there throughout the next presidency. While the combat burden on our forces will decline, withdrawal will be as costly as fighting. It will take large amounts of luck (and patient American prodding) for the Iraqi government to move toward real political accommodation while avoiding new explosions of ethnic and sectarian violence.
Even with progress on those fronts, we will have to withdraw while still helping to win a war, contain internal violence, limit Iranian influence and counter its nuclear program, create effective Iraqi security forces, and help Iraq improve its governance. Not a full war perhaps, but at least a quarter war in terms of continuing strains on our military and budget. ...In spite of recent progress under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Mr. Rumsfeld’s inability to manage any key aspect of defense modernization has left the Obama administration a legacy of unfunded and expensive new trade-offs between replacing combat-worn equipment, repairing and rehabilitating huge amounts of weapons and equipment, and supplying our forces with new, improved equipment.
At best, President Obama will have to conduct the equivalent of one-and-a-quarter wars throughout his first term. At worst? The outside chance of war with Iran as well.
Iraqis want to remain independent of Tehran, as they have now demonstrated by signing the agreement with the United States over Iran’s vigorous objections. They want to avoid military conflict with Iran, and so does America. Iraqis share our fear that Iran may acquire nuclear weapons, which would threaten their independence. And they resent Iran’s efforts to maintain insurgent and terrorist cells that undermine their government. Of course, the Iraqis recognize, as we do, that Iraq and Iran are natural trading partners and have a religious bond as majority Shiite. This may be to our benefit: the millions of Iranian pilgrims who will visit Iraqi holy sites at Najaf and Karbala over the coming years will take home a vision of a flourishing, peaceful, secular, religiously tolerant and democratic Muslim state.Peter Mansoor, former executive officer to General David Petraeus, discusses an appropriate American withdrawal from Iraq that will leave that country intact.
The reintegration of Iraq into the Arab world is also under way. Many Arab states have already begun to open embassies in Baghdad. We should keep in mind that Iraq also shares interests with America regarding Saudi Arabia and Syria. Increasingly, Iraqi leaders speak quietly of replacing the Saudi kingdom as the dominant Arab state. Iraq also knows that Syria has allowed Al Qaeda fighters free passage across their common border for years, and has served as a staging base for Iranian support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Washington and Baghdad have a common interest in persuading the Syrian regime to abandon its support of terror groups.
America will withdraw its forces from patrolling in Iraq and will significantly reduce the number of soldiers there over the coming years — that is not and never has been in question. The timing and nature of that withdrawal, however, is extremely delicate. It is vital that we help see Iraq through during its year of elections, and avoid the temptation to “front-load” the withdrawal in 2009. It is equally vital that we develop a broader strategic relationship with Iraq using all elements of our national power in tandem with Iraq’s to pursue our common interests. President Obama has the chance to do more in Iraq than win the war. He can win the peace.
Barack Obama has the opportunity to recast American policy toward Iraq in a meaningful way, by providing much-needed support to its political center. His administration should view the new status of forces agreement between Washington and Baghdad as a means to shape the withdrawal of our combat forces while maintaining enough leverage to guide Iraq toward a more stable future.
…The key now is to sustain the momentum toward reconciliation, even while combat forces are withdrawn — a delicate balancing act. Although insurgent attacks have been appreciably reduced and Al Qaeda in Iraq is devastated, considerable distrust remains among various ethnic factions and religious sects and within the Iraqi government. As honest brokers, American forces keep the peace in key areas. Yet it is possible that we can complete their departure over three years, as envisioned in the status of forces agreement, assuming that the Iraqi Army has matured enough to take on added responsibilities.
Up to four brigades and their associated support — 20,000 to 25,000 troops — could be withdrawn in 2009, which would provide reinforcements for the war in Afghanistan. Withdrawals should then accelerate, as the division of power and resources is cemented locally across Iraq, with half the remaining combat forces and their associated support withdrawn in each of the following two years. By the end of 2011 — subject to Iraqi concurrence, of course — some 20,000 to 40,000 troops would remain for an extended period. These would be mainly military advisers, counterterrorist units, combat aircraft crews and support, and intelligence and logistical personnel.
Much of the stability in Iraq stems from a patchwork of agreements across the country between local leaders and the American military or the Iraqi government. To make sure that these agreements endure, the Iraqi government needs to prove to its people that it represents their interests in these ways: by ensuring adequate representation in political life of all sects and ethnicities in the political life; by incorporating a significant number of the Sons of Iraq (Sunnis who have supported the counterinsurgency) into the police forces and other government jobs; by providing tangible incentives for the return of Iraqi refugees from abroad; and by equitably distributing government funds and services to all areas of Iraq.
…Even as we pull troops out, the United States is not without significant leverage. We provide the Iraqi armed forces needed assets, from intelligence and logistics to air support and advisers; our civilian advisers are helping to improve the efficiency of the Iraqi government; our global diplomatic leverage can help Iraq in a number of ways; and Washington can encourage business investment in Iraq, particularly in its dilapidated oil industry.
To nudge the Iraqi government in the right direction, the new administration must let it know, quietly but firmly, that the blank check given by the Bush administration is no longer in force. It should make clear that we, too, want to see the expeditious withdrawal of American combat forces, but only in a manner that ensures Iraq will not again dissolve into chaos and civil war. Long-term American diplomatic, economic and military support should be contingent on a comprehensive political solution with a fair division of power. The alternative — a sectarian Shiite government that marginalizes other sects and ethnicities and is perhaps aligned with Iran as well — is