RealClearPolitics has a transcript of Senator Lugar’s Iraq speech on the Senate floor. The problem with Senator Lugar’s ideas is that they’re simply incoherent — the goals he professes to support would be actively undermined by a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq. It’s bad enough that Senator Lugar has the audacity to sit in judgment on the “surge” when it’s only now begun to take effect, but the dichotomy between his suggested course of action and his long-term foreign policy goals is massive.
To determine our future course, we should separate our emotions and frustrations about Iraq from a sober assessment of our fundamental national security goals. In my judgment, we should be concerned with four primary objectives:
First, we have an interest in preventing Iraq or any piece of its territory from being used as a safe haven or training ground for terrorists or as a repository or assembly point for weapons of mass destruction.
Certainly, the Senator is right about that. That is the first and foremost goal of the operation in Iraq. The problem is that such a goal cannot be met without significant numbers of boots on the ground.
You can’t do counter-terrorism from 35,000 feet in the air. Effective counter-terrorism requires the kind of intelligence that can only be gotten from talking to people and learning how to distinguish the non-combatant population from the terrorists. A smart missile, no matter how smart, doesn’t know the difference between a compound of AQI operatives and a room full of children. The only way to prevent Iraq from being a safe haven for terrorists is to cultivate the web of relationships on the ground that lets us identify and eliminate terrorist cells. A withdrawal from Iraq — even one that leaves a residual force behind, won’t cut it. We need to develop intelligence in every community and be able to act on that intelligence immediately. We barely have enough manpower to do it now — how can we be expected to pull it off with half the number of troops or less?
Second, we have an interest in preventing the disorder and sectarian violence in Iraq from upsetting wider regional stability. The consequences of turmoil that draws neighboring states into a regional war could be grave. Such turmoil could topple friendly governments, expand destabilizing refugee flows, close the Persian Gulf to shipping traffic, or destroy key oil production or transportation facilities, thus diminishing the flow of oil from the region with disastrous results for the world economy.
Again, the Senator is right. But how will we do that when we have nothing more than political leverage? The only way to stop terrorist organizations like the Jaish-al-Mahdi and AQI is to neutralize them with force. They’re not inclined to peaceably give up their terrorist goals, and no amount of diplomatic or political pressure is going to work against them.
Ideally, we’d have a strong and stable Iraqi government to deal with them, but we don’t have that yet, and it’s going to take more time and patience to get there. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have the patience to see that through, and Senator Lugar’s ill-advised comments only add fuel to the fire.
Third, we have an interest in preventing Iranian domination of the region. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni government opened up opportunities for Iran to seek much greater influence in Iraq and in the broader Middle East. An aggressive Iran would pose serious challenges for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other Arab governments. Iran is pressing a broad agenda in the Middle East with uncertain consequences for weapons proliferation, terrorism, the security of Israel, and other U.S. interests. Any course we adopt should consider how it would impact the regional influence of Iran.
A US withdrawal would allow Iran to continue to destabilize Iraq. If Iraq falls apart, and without us it would only be a matter of time, Moqtada al-Sadr and his band of Iranian-backed thugs would almost certainly take over a large swathe of Iraq. President Ahmadinejad has stated that he wants to form a Shi’ite crescent from Iran to Palestine, and us leaving Iraq makes that much more likely than less.
Again, Senator Lugar is good at identifying the problems, but all his solution does is make them infinitely worse.
Fourth, we have an interest in limiting the loss of U.S. credibility in the region and throughout the world as a result of our Iraq mission. Some loss of confidence in the United States has already occurred, but our subsequent actions in Iraq may determine how we are viewed for a generation.
And that loss of credibility would be dramatically greater when al-Qaeda can claim without any hyperbole that they brought the world’s superpower to its knees. A withdrawal from Iraq would send an unmistakable sign of weakness that every hostile power would exploit for years to come. The lessons of the Vietnam War make that clear — and in a world of terrorism and WMDs, having hostile regimes feeling unfettered in their ability to kick the US around is fatal.
This is what Senator Lugar calls a “sustainable” military posture:
Our security interests call for a downsizing and re-deployment of U.S. military forces to more sustainable positions in Iraq or the Middle East. Numerous locations for temporary or permanent military bases have been suggested, including Kuwait or other nearby states, the Kurdish territories, or defensible locations in Iraq outside of urban areas. All of these options come with problems and limitations. But some level of American military presence in Iraq would improve the odds that we could respond to terrorist threats, protect oil flows, and help deter a regional war. It would also reassure friendly governments that the United States is committed to Middle East security. A re-deployment would allow us to continue training Iraqi troops and delivering economic assistance, but it would end the U.S. attempt to interpose ourselves between Iraqi sectarian factions.
Again, we’re fighting an unconventional war. We need to know the local populations intimately in order to know who the bad guys are. We can’t do that from Kurdistan, Kuwait, or even outside those neighborhoods. We need to be closer to the Iraqi people, not farther away. We can’t achieve the very goals that Senator Lugar finds necessary under his own plan.
Here’s what Lugar calls for on a wider strategic front:
In this era, the United States cannot afford to be on a defensive footing indefinitely. It is essential that as we attempt to re-position ourselves from our current military posture in Iraq, we launch a multi-faceted diplomatic offensive that pushes adversarial states and terrorist groups to adjust to us. The best counter to perceptions that we have lost credibility in Iraq would be a sustained and ambitious set of initiatives that repairs alliances and demonstrates our staying power in the Middle East.
The Iraq Study Group report recommended such a diplomatic offensive, stating “all key issues in the Middle East – the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism, are inextricably linked.” The report stressed that diplomacy aimed at solving key regional issues would “help marginalize extremists and terrorists, promote U.S. values and interests, and improve America’s global image.”
A diplomatic offensive is likely to be easier in the context of a tactical drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq. A drawdown would increase the chances of stimulating greater economic and diplomatic assistance for Iraq from multi-lateral organizations and European allies, who have sought to limit their association with an unpopular war.
I’m sorry, but this is the same old mealy-mouthed bullshit. Who here really believes that a “diplomatic offensive” scares the mullahs in Tehran in the least? Because anyone who thinks that true is a sucker.
Our problems are only partially based on poor diplomacy. The European Union is absolutely feckless and have economic ties to Tehran that give them reason of self-interest not to upset the status quo. Even when that status quo is intolerable. Furthermore, the European left has been infected with a vicious anti-Semitism that means that some of them wouldn’t mind of Israel were “counterbalanced” by a nuclear Iran — even if that almost certainly would mean a nuclear arms race in the region.
What we need is more than diplomacy, it’s about talking softly while carrying a big stick. We have to make it quite clear that all options are on the table, and that includes the assassination of the leadership of hostile countries, economic sanctions, and targeted attacks against economic interests vital to those countries. Damascus and Tehran have nothing to fear from a “diplomatic offensive” but they are scared shitless than their own restive populations will turn against their autocratic rule. Instead of trying to talk with regimes that hate us and have nothing but contempt for our weakness, we should be doing whatever we can to dispel the idea that we’re a weak power. A withdrawal from Iraq — especially when Iraq is part of a US-Iranian proxy war is like putting a giant KICK ME sign on this nation — and Damascus and Tehran would certainly be less willing to compromise if they know that we don’t have the guts to fight the regional war in the Middle East that they’re already well on their way to sparking.
As usual, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis rears its ugly head. It seems like every foreign policy expert thinks that solving the unsolvable is the key to Middle East peace. If that’s the case, let’s go the Curtis LeMay route and nuke the Middle East into a glass parking lot. The simple reality of the situation is there is nothing that anyone can do to fix the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. It is not a diplomatically solvable problem. The only people who can fix it are the Palestinians, and they’re unlikely to do so until things continue to spiral out of control for a much longer time. Trying to make that issue the cornerstone of every single plan in the Middle East is idiotic and counterproductive. It simply justifies the Arab tactic of using the Palestinians as an excuse for not doing anything. Iraq has nothing to do with Israel, nor with Palestine. Trying to solve that problem as a precondition for solving problems that are far more pressing is an affectation of a foreign policy elite who have bought into the Arab cult of victimhood and who seem pathologically unable to comprehend that the Palestinians are being used as a convenient excuse to justify keeping the autocratic status quo in the Middle East in place.
Senator Lugar tries to draw a “third way” between withdrawal and staying the course. He has failed. His own goals are destroyed by his suggested policies, and if he really believes that the four goals he sets out in his speech are truly important, then withdrawal is the single most irresponsible thing we can do.
ADDENDUM: Some time in the next few days, I hope to draw up a more realistic plan for victory in Iraq, one that recognizes many of the same factors that Senator Lugar does, but suggests ways in which the United States can actually achieve those goals rather than take actions that will weaken the United States for decades to come.