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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Victory in Iraq

Over the past five days, most of my blogging has been in comments here, at the Duck of Minerva, or on Red Stater's blog (follow this link).

Red argues that I favor defeat in Iraq, simply because I do not think that the US should continue to prosecute war there.

My argument is that war is merely a means to achieve the national security interests of the US. In Iraq, it is currently a poor means because of the civil war now raging. The pre-war goals have also been completed (overlooking the fact that many threats did not exist). Iraq is not pursuing WMD, it is not a state sponsor of terror and the Saddam Hussein regime is gone. It would be great if the government became a stable democracy and sectarian violence ended, but neither of those goals is best attained with US military force. Nation-building is a different problem.

Apparently, General Tommy Franks agrees. See this piece in the December 2006 "The National Interest," which is a conservative journal:
Now, without a doubt, there has always been this desire to create within Afghanistan and within Iraq conditions where the people in those countries have a representative form of government, and where this government is integrated into the international community of nations. This is a worthy goal. But we have to ask ourselves, “What was it that moved us into Afghanistan in the first place? And what moved us into Iraq in the first place?” The answer is clear: to ensure the security of the people of the United States of America.

So the first question we need to ask, then, is not whether Afghanistan and Iraq are flourishing democracies, but, since 9/11, how are we doing vis-à-vis the protection of the people of the United States?
Franks reminds everyone that the primary goal in both Afghanistan and Iraq was to assure that those states are not safe havens for terrorists.

Iraq clearly is not. There are nationalist insurgents trying to kick the US out of Iraq, there are a small number of foreign fighters attracted to Iraq for the opportunity to fight the USA, and there are growing sectarian militias trying to gain control of Iraq. If the US leaves Iraq, the first two forces lose their reason for fighting and most will put down their arms and/or leave Iraq. Some will join up with the sectarian forces and escalate the civil war.

Since Iraq serves as an al Qaeda recruiting tool, there's no evidence suggesting that the US can find and eliminate active foreign (or Iraqi) members or partners faster than they can find and recruit still more, motivated by US occupation of Iraq.

It is not at all certain that the US wants a clearcut Shia victory, even though al Qaeda is a Sunni operation. The US wants Iraq to recognize minority rights, but the Sunni minority is petrified that they will be left out of the governance of Iraq. Many Shia militia members want revenge for years of oppression under Saddam.

Those grievances are not much related to the primary US purpose for being in Iraq. I'm in favor of employing conflict resolution and/or management techniques, for bringing highly motivated neighbors into the discussion, and for stepping up nation-building efforts. Lots of strategies alternative to war could and should be explored (remember, it is supposed to be a last resort). I'd even support linking withdrawal to achievement of specific benchmarks related to non-violence, rather than immediate removal of all troops.

But the US troops are a major part of the problem in Iraq and must come home soon.

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