Friday, November 10, 2006
Powerline makes some suggestions for our newn Iraq policy:
To analyze this question, we need to identify the reasons we have remained in Iraq for the past few years. I can think of five: (1) to avoid a humiliating Mogadishu-style defeat that will embolden our enemies, (2) to prevent parts of Iraq from becoming a base for anti-American terrorists, as Afghanistan was under the Taliban, (3) to prevent Iran from becoming the dominant player in portions of Iraq, (4) to prevent Iraqis from killing each other in sectarian strife, and (5) to promote a democratic Iraq. To me, the first two objectives are vital to our national security, and the third probably is very important to it. The fourth and fifth are extremely worthwhile objectives, but are not of high importance to our national security.
In terms of attainability, the first objective -- avoiding defeat -- is just a matter of will. The enemy can't defeat us; defeat occurs only if we choose to withdraw. The second objective is also attainable. We have proven that we can crush al-Qaeda and other insurgents when they attempt to seize and hold territory. The third objective -- blocking Iran -- can also be achieved. The pro-Iranian militias cannot take out-and-out control as long as we're around.
The fourth goal -- preventing Iraqis from killing each other -- has proven to be a bridge too far. There's little reason to believe that we can accomplish this with our present level of force. Indeed, it's not clear that we accomplish it even with higher levels. In any case, higher troop levels, and the death toll that would accompany them, are not politically sustainable.
As for promoting Iraqi democracy, we've done most of what we can do. A democratic system is in place. It's up to the Iraqis to make it work.
It follows from this analysis that any scaled-down effort in Iraq should focus on achieving the first three objectives -- the ones that are most vital and most attainable. What would this mean in practice? It would mean that we substantialy reduce our efforts to police Iraq and focus instead on military missions designed to kill anti-American terrorists and drive them out of territory they are attempting to hold.
Kagan estimates that the type of scaled down mission I'm describing would enable us to cut our troop level in half. If I'm right, it would also reduce our casualties even more dramatically. There would, of course, be a price . . . We would be blamed for it in Iraq, in the Middle East generally, and in Europe. Our prestige would suffer. But there would be no repeat of Mogadishu or Beirut, no Taliban/al Qaeda style state or sub-state, and no Iranian takeover. And in time, the Sunnis and the Shia would probably sort things out by separating along sustainable boundaries.
I think there is a lot to be said for this approach. A key question: if the United States is able to keep its casualties low -- say 1/4 of what they are now -- would there still be strong public pressure to withdraw from Iraq?