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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Iraq: more cracks in the coalition

While I've often noted the withdrawal of nation-states from the so-called "coalition of the willing," this post is about Republican Senators who are now expressing much stronger frustration with the Iraq war. Senator Voinovich of Ohio, for example, recently called for gradual troop withdrawal.

However, this post focuses on the views of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), a widely respected foreign policy voice. On June 25, Lugar delivered a speech on the Senate floor that has received a fair amount of press coverage. These sentences were in his opening paragraph:
In my judgment, our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond. Our continuing absorption with military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world. The prospects that the current “surge” strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate.
If you read the speech, it is quite clear that Lugar has not joined the anti-war movement. He does not call for rapid withdrawal. However, he is quite skeptical about "the surge" and wants the U.S. to pursue an alternative plan that would require fewer troops:
I believe that we do have viable options that could strengthen our position in the Middle East, and reduce the prospect of terrorism, regional war, and other calamities. But seizing these opportunities will require the President to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq and place much more emphasis on diplomatic and economic options. It will also require members of Congress to be receptive to overtures by the President to construct a new policy outside the binary choice of surge versus withdrawal.
Lugar foresees continuing sectarian factionalism in Iraq, a stressed US military and a domestic debate that is likely to become increasingly partisan as 2008 elections approach.

That means that the US has a narrow window in 2007 to come up with a bipartisan plan for Iraq that would focus on vital interests. His argument is grounded in realism (he approvingly mentions Henry Kissinger's views on Iraq). Lugar:
The risk for decision-makers is that after a long struggle in Iraq, accompanied by a contentious political process at home, we begin to see Iraq as a set piece -- as an end in itself, distinct from the broader interests that we meant to protect. We risk becoming fixated on artificial notions of achieving victory or avoiding defeat, when these ill-defined concepts have little relevance to our operations in Iraq. What is important is not the precise configuration of the Iraqi government or the achievement of specific benchmarks, but rather how Iraq impacts our geostrategic situation in the Middle East and beyond.
The U.S., says Lugar, cannot rest its Middle East policy on building a "stable, democratic, pluralist society in Iraq."

Lugar's sober assessment focuses on top priorities: preventing Iraq from becoming a terror safe haven, preventing Iraqi sectarian violence from sparking regional war, preventing Iranian domination of the region, and limiting the loss of U.S. credibility.

Lugar would lean heaving on the Iraq Study Group as a starting point, but notes that he would downsize and re-deploy US forces to more sustainable positions -- like Kuwait or other states, Kurdish territory, or non-urban areas of Iraq. The force remaining in Iraq would be "residual." Lugar would even downsize the large new American embassy in Iraq. Though he does not say it, such a move would send a strong anti-imperial signal throughout the world.

This changed strategy would take more than six months to accomplish and would necessarily be accompanied by a diplomatic offensive on many fronts. Note that Lugar has been calling for more diplomacy for at least 3 years. The Arab-Israeli conflict receives some attention near the end of Lugar's address, as does the need to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.

Let's hope the White House is listening.

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