How soon withdrawal in Iraq?
Associate since 1991
Comments directly to
May 25, 2010
What is not often realized is how deep were the reservations by senior officers in both the US and UK armed services about going to war against Iraq. Some felt that the process of discovering whether Saddam Hussein's Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction had not run its course. Others felt that Saddam Hussein was pretty well contained already and that his military machine remained broken following his defeat in the first Gulf War. The UN had done a very good job of disarming Iraq after the first Gulf War that ended in 1991. Nevertheless, true to Tennyson's poem of the Crimean War, "Ours not to reason why, Ours but to do and die", the top officers went along with obeying the orders they were given.
The big question now is how to withdraw "with honour" from Iraq. That is important to the soldiers. President Barack Obama has promised to be out by next year. How he sees it today, given the post election infighting in Iraq, is unclear. When he was a senator he told a Congressional hearing that if the US wanted to totally eliminate Al Qaeda from Iraq and have a solid Iraqi state they would be there for decades but "if our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo, but there's not huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country is struggling along but it's not a threat to its neighbours and is not an Al Qaeda base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable time frame."
The best book on the war in Iraq is "The Gamble" by the Washington Post's military correspondent, Thomas Ricks, who has interviewed almost everybody in senior positions. He concludes, "The quiet consensus emerging among many people who have served in Iraq is that we will likely have American soldiers engaged in combat until at least 2015. In his penultimate paragraph he quotes the American ambassador, Ryan Crocker, "The story of the new Iraq is going to be a very, very long time in unfolding.....What the world ultimately thinks about us and what we think about ourselves I think is going to be determined much more by what happens from now on than what's happened up to now."
Ricks' final sentence is unsettling: "In other words, the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened."
If that is a sober judgement based on a great deal of research it is also a frightening one. As senior military men and diplomats have observed in Afghanistan, the US and NATO forces have often created more enemies than they've killed off. Doesn't this apply to Iraq too? Won't it be even truer the longer the occupation goes on? It surely will be.
Iraqi voters may not demand leaders who insist on an instant US exit tomorrow but one can be sure that if Ricks' words were read to them they would throw up their hands in despair knowing that it is an untenable conviction and one that can only be counterproductive - enabling the politicians to put off the day of biting on the bullet of real compromise and giving Al Qaeda a new lease of life in the country. (After all it doesn't need a base in Iraq in order to attack America and therefore would probably withdraw its cadres if the Americans were gone.)
When I talked to Zbigniew Brzezinski (a former US national security advisor and a mentor to Obama) I got a very different take on the subject. He wants to see "a political conclusion without too much delay, precisely because an ongoing conflict is inherently dynamic and in the internationally unstable conditions of the Persian Gulf it could embroil us in a collision with Iran....... We must start talking to Iraqi leaders, all of them, not just those in the Green Zone, about jointly settling a date for American disengagement". ....[The president should] "use the fact of an American-Iraqi dialogue termination date as the point of departure for approaching all of Iraq's neighbours about regional talks about assisting Iraqi security problems upon our departure. Every one of its neighbours, including Syria and Iran, has a stake in Iraq not exploding. And, beyond that, try to engage other Muslim countries- Morocco, Egypt, Algeria etc.- in being willing to assist post-occupied Iraq with some military security. And last, but not least, some major international effort, probably using the UN to that end, to undertake a really large-scale rehabilitation of Iraqi."
To my ears this proposal, in effect, is based on the template of a classic UN peacekeeping formation. Contrary to prejudiced myth it often works - as in the Congo today, in Liberia after the ouster of Charles Taylor who is now being tried by the UN War Crimes Tribunal and, in earlier years, in Lebanon, Cyprus and the Golan Heights.
Obama should do what Brzezinski has advised. I have a feeling that once Obama forces them to reflect many US senior commanders would agree to a fairly fast withdrawal. After all, many of them never thought the US should be there in the first place.
Copyright © 2010 Jonathan
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