Glenn Reynolds has a set of links on what should be done on Iraq — is it wise to send more troops? John Henke argues that what’s needed in Iraq is a political solution, and more troops won’t get anyone closer to that end.
Henke’s position isn’t without merit or logic, but I don’t think Iraq is any longer in a position where a political solution is possible. It was a year ago, before Nouri al-Maliki failed to contain the bloodshed in Baghdad. Right now, none of the parties have any incentive to follow the political process any more. Even the reasonable voice of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has been drowned out as the radicals have taken the upper hand in nearly every way. So long as that status quo remains, a political solution in Iraq is impossible.
What must predicate any political solution is a cessation of the violence. I believe that the United States must send more troops to Iraq to control the situation — so long as no one has a monopoly on violence in Iraq, violence will continue to spiral out of control.
It’s a risky proposition. We’ll incur more casualties, and we may end up undercutting the authority of the central government in Baghdad. That’s a risk we must take — the al-Maliki government has already lost control of the situation. There’s not much more that could be done that would make their situation any worse. At this point, our primary obligation to Iraq is to get the violence under control — and that requires clearing each and every snake pit in Baghdad and the provinces of the Sunni Triangle. Once that is achieved, and the Iraqi forces demonstrate that they can take security responsibilities for each area, then we can start pulling out.
The problems that we’re having in Iraq are emblematic of what happens when we’re not sufficiently involved in security. The violence in Baghdad and elsewhere is only a preview of what would happen were we to leave before security is restored. Everything is predicated on the Iraqis having the security to rebuild their shattered nation. Every bit of progress we’ve made in the past three years is on the line — if we lose control, Iraq’s current civil war will get a lot hotter very quickly.
We need to establish that the authorities, not the militias have a monopoly on violence. That means bringing down decisive force against all non-democratic groups. It’s not going to be pleasant for anyone, but it’s ultimately necessary to keep things from getting infinitely worse. As one Iraqi commentator has put it, American hesitation has been our greatest sin in this conflict. We put the Iraqi people in this situation, and we can’t just wash our hands of it all now. That is morally and strategically reprehensible. Now is not the time to abrogate our responsibilities towards the Iraqi state we helped create — if we can’t establish the monopoly of force necessary to reach a viable peaceful solution, then Iraq’s future — and ours — will be dark indeed.