Jay Reding.com

One More Year?

Ralph Peters argues that we should give the Iraqis one more year to get things together, and that’s it. In the end, I disagree, as a successful counterinsurgency takes time. Furthermore, we can’t risk sending a signal of weakness to our enemies by pulling out on more or less arbitrary timetables. Still, Peters makes an interesting argument:

As this column stressed months ago, the test for whether we should remain in Iraq is straightforward: Will Iraqis fight in decisive numbers for their own elected, constitutional government? The insurgents, militiamen and foreign terrorists are willing to die for their causes. If “our” Iraqis won’t match that strength of will, Iraq will fail.

If Iraq’s leaders stop squabbling and lead, and if Iraq’s soldiers and police fight resolutely for their constitutional state, we should be willing to stay “as long as it takes.” But if they continue to wallow in ethnic and religious partisanship while doing as little as possible for their own country, we need to leave and let them face the consequences.

Give them one more year. And that’s it.

Peters is harsh — Iraq’s civil society has been utterly smashed by decades of Ba’athist rule, its ethnic tensions only temporarily suppressed at the barrel of a gun, and its government institutions hollowed out by corruption and autocracy. The Iraqis have had to start from what amounts to essentially nothing. The Kurdish north gives us our best view of what Iraq can be — but the Kurds have had a ten-year head start on the rest of Iraq, and that came after a two-year state of virtual civil war between 1994-1996.

Still, it is beyond question that we cannot allow Iraq to become a vassal state to the United States — that has never been our intention. Sooner or later the American military will leave Iraq. The question is how much good we can do before that happens. Can we really leave Iraq in a better state through our actions or is it now up to the Iraqi people themselves?

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been severely decimated. The vast majority of the fighting is now sectarian in nature. The Iraqi police and military has to step up to the plate sooner or later — they have the manpower and equipment, what they lack is the political will to unite their country.

Here at home, there’s a strong chance that the defeatist Democrats will take the House, and possibly the Senate. Were that to happen, it would be virtually certain that the American military would be forced to leave Iraq.

We no longer have the luxury of time, even though that’s what we need. Already joint US and Iraqi forces are working to dismantle the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army. That is a positive development, but ultimately it’s the Iraqis who will have to provide their own security. Either the Iraqi government has the strength to keep it all together, or they don’t. If they don’t the Iraqis are going to have to sort things out themselves — we just don’t have time to start back at the beginning once more.

Peters is quite sour on our post-war performance, which is becoming an increasingly common outlook. Whether we should or should not have committed more troops in 2003 and 2004 is now an academic question: Iraq is today what it is. Our ultimate question needs to be how we can help the Iraqis get out their own two feet before the political will runs out on one side or another.

Iraq must be ruled and safeguarded by the Iraqi people themselves. Thousands of Iraqis have fought and died for their country, joining with their American allies in what was and is one of the center battles of this war. It is ultimately up to them whether those deaths will have been largely in vain. The hopes of a more democratic Middle East rest on their shoulders, and if they falter, the region as a whole will suffer. We must pray that they do not.

6 responses to “One More Year?”

  1. Mark says:

    “Here at home, there’s a strong chance that the defeatist Democrats will take the House, and possibly the Senate. Were that to happen, it would be virtually certain that the American military would be forced to leave Iraq.”

    And why is that? Even if the Democrats get the majority, there are enough conservative Democrats in the House to obstruct any efforts to “cut and run”. Furthermore, Bush is the Commander-in-Chief. Aside from defunding the troops (which would be PR suicide for the Dems), what can the Dems do to “force the military to leave Iraq” now that they’ve given the executive branch the authorization for war in Iraq? That strawman needs some legs if it’s gonna stand upright.

  2. Jay Reding says:

    And why is that? Even if the Democrats get the majority, there are enough conservative Democrats in the House to obstruct any efforts to “cut and run”.

    I’m not so sure about that.

    Furthermore, Bush is the Commander-in-Chief. Aside from defunding the troops (which would be PR suicide for the Dems), what can the Dems do to “force the military to leave Iraq” now that they’ve given the executive branch the authorization for war in Iraq?

    They can pass a resolution calling on Bush to withdraw. Bush wouldn’t have to, but then Congress could begin passing appropriations bills which are contingent on a pullout from Iraq.

    The amount of political will to continue in Iraq is dwindling, and one more year could be all we have regardless of what the President would like. Once Congress begins pushing, it would be very difficult to sustain operations for much longer.

  3. Seth says:

    Laying it on pretty thick at the end of that post, huh?

    Peters is ridiculous. He downplays the nature of the sectarian differences to the point that it seems like he is scolding a child for not sharing. Oh, and one more thing: our failures in Iraq have quite a lot to do with the success of the radical religious groups that are now accounting for, as you put it without any evidence whatsoever, the “vast majority” of the violence in Iraq. We played a large part in allowing the problem to fester and now he says that we should tell the children to play nice or we’re leaving.

    We do seem to agree that we need to equip the Iraqis to deal with Iraqi security, though. Too bad Bush is failing miserably. Three and a half years later and barely a few soldiers can fight without the Americans holding their hands.

  4. Mark says:

    “The amount of political will to continue in Iraq is dwindling, and one more year could be all we have regardless of what the President would like. Once Congress begins pushing, it would be very difficult to sustain operations for much longer.”

    Any timeline for withdrawal would be a bluff if conditions in Iraq don’t improve, just as Bush’s predictions for tens of thousands of troops coming home in 2006 ended up being a bluff. The bluff would hopefully motivate Iraqis to take their own sovereignty seriously. Longshot, but it’s the best we can hope for being entangled in this quagmire.

  5. Justin says:

    “In the end, I disagree, as a successful counterinsurgency takes time.”

    How much time? The invasion was over in a matter of weeks, which is when the insurgency began. So we’ve been facing an insurgency since May 2003. Now, of course, it took a lot longer to get conservatives to even admit there was an insurgency, but are you telling me that three years to get your shit together isn’t enough time?

    Jay – at what point do we conclude that the administration has been incompetent in the prosecution of this war? I think it’s past time to set a timetable for withdrawl – Bush and Rumsfield’s withdrawl from the White House.

  6. Justin Paul says:

    If Iraqi Kurdistan is a model for what Iraq could be, then I think we are in trouble. There is nothing optimistic to be found in a region which sent KDP thugs to keep the Assyrian Christian community from the polls. Even though at times Assyrian and Kurds have gotten along, their relations seem utterly strained now, mostly because of Kurdish government actions. Kurdish society is very clan oriented, and we are seeing that effect the status of both Assyrian and Turkmen communities in their midst. Yes, the region is better off than other parts of Iraq, but it is by no means pluralist. If anything it is less pluralist with each passing week.