Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Obama Administration Needs A Real Iraq Strategy

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies is one of the leading military analysts on Iraq. Every month he authors a few reports on the subject, and at the end of July issued a short paper on the short-comings of the Obama administration called “Iraq: A Time To Stay? The US Needs an Exit Strategy, Not Just an Exit.” Cordesman thinks the Obama White House is solely focused upon withdrawing, and isn’t adequately planning for a long-term Iraq policy afterward.

June 30, 2009 was the beginning of the American pull out of Iraq. That was when U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq’s cities. Until today’s slew of bombings in Baghdad, things were going better than expected. What will come next is Cordesman’s main concern. The U.S. needs to leave behind a stable Iraq that can defend itself. There are still some major barriers to overcome before this can happen. Those are continued development of the Iraqi security forces, the Arab-Kurd divide, political divisions, fighting insurgents and Special Groups, and the development of Iraq’s economy. Cordesman believes that the Obama White House will fail if it doesn’t adequately manage this situation properly. They have to come up with a sustainable strategy for Iraq that switches emphasis from a military led effort to a civilian one.

There are several policies Cordesman suggests that could help with this process. First, American trainers need to remain in Iraq for the long-term until the Iraqi forces are self-sufficient. Second, the U.S. needs to work with the United Nations to try to moderate the Arab-Kurdish disputes, something that could take years to resolve. Aid needs to be sustained, and used strategically to push for reforms in the Iraqi government and economy, as well as alleviate differences. Fourth, Iraq’s economy needs serious investment and reform. The U.S. could help by providing business models for Iraq’s oil and agriculture sectors, as well as getting an investment law passed in parliament. Last, the White House needs to prepare the Congress and the American public for a lasting relationship with Iraq so that these policies can be implemented.

Cordesman’s sees some planning going on in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for this change, but none in Washington. According to him, this is mostly happening on the military side in Iraq. The civilian agencies in comparison are caught up in short-term goals such as finishing on-going projects instead of planning for the future. In the U.S. Cordesman sees no leadership by the Obama administration on Iraq. This seems like a strong call for action, but one that may not be heeded. According to members of the Tamim provincial council, when Vice President Joe Biden talked to them this year, he told them that development aid was coming to an end since the U.S. had such a large deficit. There are plans to cut the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams that work in each province by more than half. While administration officials are talking about the need to mediate the Arab-Kurd dispute and Kirkuk, there is no strong push by the U.S. to actually do something. Whenever a U.S. role is mentioned, it appears to be going on quietly behind closed doors, when this needs to be a major policy push before U.S. forces are out and America’s influence fades even more. The Americans are not the solution to everything, but they can definitely help in selected areas like governance, development, security, and the Baghdad-Kurdistan dispute. With domestic issues taking a precedence, and emphasis switching to Afghanistan in foreign affairs, the Obama administration may not have the time, focus or patience to deal with Iraq adequately. The White House talks about Iraq every now and then, but actual action seems lacking.


Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraq: A Time To Stay?” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 7/30/09

Dagher, Sam, “2 Blasts Expose Security Flaws in Heart of Iraq,” New York Times, 8/19/09

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2009

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09

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