The Iraq Study Group will release its 142 page findings today on what to do in Iraq. I thought I’d get a few words out before that was published.
I’ve written little about the war in Iraq because I have little original to contribute to this ongoing debate. As a result, it is not obvious from this blog that I have been opposed to United States intervention since before we chose to commit troops, ostensibly to find and remove weapons of mass destruction and because of alleged ties to Osama bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Center. We know, now, that this was concocted rubbish and misleading by a war hungry administration.
In spite of how much our previous actions, bad planning and resulting chaos pains me, our decisions and actions going forward must be just that: forward. We must consider the situation today, and decide what is best for United States’ interests from here on, even if we are the impetus behind the quagmire that exists there.
Today, Iraq is a country with a fledgling democratic government that is ineffective at basic needs, such as security for its people, and it is considered an illegitimate puppet by a significant minority of the country. Three cultural factions vie for power, or perhaps simply independence in the region—Suni, Shia, and Kurds. Unfortunately the surrounding nations of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran all side with one of those factions.
The presence of the United States military clearly contributes to violence. It is difficult for the Iraqis not to feel occupied after four years of occupation. It is difficult for them not to wonder about their own government’s legitimacy when it demands that the occupiers remain. It is difficult for them not to be angry at the U.S. military, in spite of all the good that they do, when there are still examples of deplorable behavior such as prison tortures and rape-murders of Iraqis (we won’t even discuss that these crimes go almost unpunished.)
Iraq is no longer just a civil war. True, Suni and Shia no longer live next to each other, instead retreating to separate parts of the cities and now shelling each other with shoulder launched missiles. Alas, it’s worse than just a civil war. It is a proxy war between the Suni-led (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) and Shia-led (Iran) powers in the region. Each side is sending in troops, weapons and money to its factions and the Iraqis fight alongside the foreign insurgents. Without U.S. presence, the region would be far more destabilized then when we got there and this would result in more deaths and more economic disruption for the entire world. Good job, Mr. Bush…glad you thought this one through.
What can we do going forward? Our presence contributes to the problem but pulling out could cause the whole place to fall apart. First, we must acknowledge that U.S. politics will not settle the problem that Bush caused. He screwed up and everyone who sided with him, republican, democrat or otherwise, ought to be voted out. Fortunately, U.S. Americans made plenty of headway here during our last elections. But now that that’s progressing, there is no need to be simply against Bush. We must have a plan going forward that is comprised of more than “well we don’t want to do what he’s done.”
Furthermore, unless we are comfortable with the economic disruption and innocent death that would ensue from a broad war in the middle east, we must admit that troops in the region, while contributing to the problem, also keep it from spreading. Any proposed plan must accept these painful realities.
Iraqis and others in the region believe that the Iraqi government is a puppet of the United States and that the U.S. intends to be a permanent occupier. In spite of what the Bush administration tells us: that setting a timetable would give the insurgents a wait and attack strategy; it is exactly our continued presence that strengthens them. We must provide a timetable for withdrawal, except it should not be based on time, but rather action. When the Iraqi government achieves a goal, we will no longer engage in specific kinds of conflict. When they complete another one we will withdraw our troops from certain regions. When Iraq has achieved a specified level of security, then we will remove a set percentage of our troops from Iraqi soil and so forth. For each milestone, the U.S. will pull further out, until Iraq has earned the freedom that Iraqis will have fought hard for.
This would give the Iraqi government negotiating power with both sides. Their pitch becomes: if you want to be a free nation; free of United States influence, then this is what we must do, together, in order to kick them out. Insurgents could no longer just wait until the deadline, because the deadline includes them not behaving as insurgents. Iraqis, proud of their nation, would have ownership in eliminating insurgents, regardless of which sect the belong to.
Can we be sure that this will solve the problem. Of course not. But as long as we continue to have a political battle that offers only two choices: cut and run or stay the course, we make no progress at all.
Worse, this plan will likely be painfully long for the United States. It will continue to cost money and lives. We must remember George Bush Jr. as the man who put us in this intractable situation and we should never allow this to happen again, because it already has been and will continue to be extremely costly to our country and the world. Unfortunately, as politically advantageous as it might be in the short term, pulling out our troops, saving that money, and leaving the middle east to fall apart, a situation we will have contributed greatly to, will only cost more money and more lives.
This time, we really must choose between the lesser of two evils. Our goal must be to mitigate the damage from our choice. Let’s see what Iraq Study Group Report author, Mr. Baker, has to say about it.