Monday, November 17, 2008

Withdrawal Instead of Patience As Center of U.S. Strategy In Iraq

Marc Lynch is an associate professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, and runs the Abu Aardvark blog as well. In the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs, Lynch has an article, “Politics First,” which is a response to an earlier piece in the journal by Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution. They, like many other Iraq analysts, argue for strategic patience. They believe that the U.S. should keep large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq until the country completes its provincial and national elections. The argument is that a continued U.S. presence is the key to political change within the country. The Iraqis need U.S. troops to stay until they can work out their difference and reconcile. Biddle, O’Hanlon, and Pollack wrote that the U.S. should not consider drawing down its forces until 2010 at the earliest, and perhaps have half out by 2011. Lynch makes the counter view that the U.S. needs to set a specific withdrawal date to pressure the Iraqis to negotiate over power sharing.

Lynch begins by refuting the strategic patience argument. He says that most American analysts and military officials are right when they point out that Iraq’s improvements are tenuous, but their solutions are wrong. Their policy would mean an open-ended commitment of large numbers of troops waiting for political changes that may never happen. For example, Iraq’s parliament has passed several reconciliation laws, but they are often implemented in ways not originally planned or not at all. The Amnesty Law for example, made the main anti-corruption office in the Iraqi government, the Commission on Integrity, drop more than half of its cases. The largest group affected by the law has been fugitives, people who were wanted, but were never arrested in the first place. The Accountability and Justice Act that was to replace the old DeBaathification process, has only been applied by the Interior Ministry even though the law says it can’t, while the rest of the government has refused to follow it.

Lynch argues that the improved security since the Surge has actually made Iraq’s politics atrophy. Washington believes that the reduction in violence will allow Iraqi politicians to make crucial decisions about reconciliation that will help hold the country together. Lynch writes that Baghdad actually sees no reason to make any deals. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has become complacent because the insurgency has been weakened, his main opponents the Sadrists have been defeated for the meantime, the Iraqi security forces are improving, and the U.S. has given his government an open ended commitment. The upcoming provincial elections set for January 2009 could open up Iraq’s political system, but could also lead to more divisions or the consolidation of the ruling parties. Overall, the Prime Minister is now in a position of strength, therefore why should he compromise?

The major recommendation of the article is that in order to break this deadlock in Baghdad, the U.S. needs to set a withdrawal date. Lynch argues, only when the U.S. announces that it will begin drawing down its forces will Iraq’s political geography change. It will force Iraqi politicians to face their country’s problems, rather than expecting the U.S. to do it for them. That would make Baghdad more answerable to its public, and might force them to come to decisions they might not otherwise. The U.S. might also set some preconditions for its support, something the current White House has refused to do. This might actually become American policy now that the U.S. presidential election is over. At the same time, there is no guarantee that the Iraqi government will change if America withdraws or even if it stays. As Baghdad has become stronger, U.S. influence has weakened. Maliki is already dealing with some of the major issues in the country often times to consolidate his power and that of the central authorities. In the end, Iraqis will decide their future, and it will be up to them whether they want to reconcile or not, no matter what U.S. policy is.

For other analysts’ opinions on Iraq see:

Iraq Needs Real Governance Center for Strategic and International Studies Report Says

Cordesman Interview: U.S. Needs To Stay For The Long Haul In Iraq

Council on Foreign Relations-Brookings’ Experts Call for Patience In Iraq

Council on Foreign Relations and Brookings Institution Experts Voice Their Opinions After Recent Trip To Iraq

Is Iraq Going To End Up Like Eastern Europe?

June 18, 2008 Charlie Rose Interview With Vali Nasr of the Council On Foreign Relations, Stephen Biddle of the Council On Foreign Relations, and Michael Gordon of the New York Times

SOURCES

Biddle, Stephen, O’Hanlon, Michael, and Pollack, Kenneth, “How to Leave Behind a Stable Iraq,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2008

Cordesman, Anthony, “The Evolving Security Situation in Iraq: The Continuing Need for Strategic Patience,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1/21/08

Lynch, Marc, “Politics First,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2008

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/08

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