Thursday, April 5, 2007

Don't Forget the Iraq Study Group

I’ve actually been trying to write a piece on Iraq for the last 10 days or so, but I haven’t been able to finish anything I’ve started.

I guess that is partly because I find myself still believing the notion that our goal should be to stabilize Iraq and not simply to leave as fast as possible. It is not pleasant to cling to this notion as it is rapidly becoming regarded as a fringe position – or, almost as bad – a statement of blind loyalty to President Bush. But I do not believe it has to be either of the two.

The thought of a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, on top of 10% of the world’s known oil reserves, seems wholly unacceptable to me. The genocide of Iraqi Sunni Muslims and the possibility of a broader regional conflict to prevent it seem equally catastrophic – if not to the United States’ interest than certainly to my sense of basic morality. Perhaps these notions are equally unacceptable to Democratic leaders, but if they are, they are not sufficiently addressing them.

Since 2004, the Democrats have chided the Bush Administration’s lack of tactical flexibility and its exclusive focus on military matters in Iraq (to the exclusion of economic, political and diplomatic manuevers). In my judgment, these criticisms were extremely well founded.

However, in the last 5 months, much has changed. Donald Rumsfeld has been replaced. General Petraeus (an officer with almost universal respect) has been put in command. Substantial reinforcements have been committed and are currently arriving. A new strategy to hold and stabilize Baghdad has been adopted and so far, is producing encouraging results. (Nobody jump on me here for declaring the surge “a success”. I’m just stating the fact that violence in the capital has measurably decreased – not subsided entirely or permanently)

These are many of the moves that the Democrats rightly called for in 2004 (minus the surge). Yet today, as they are being executed, the talk is now of deadlines for withdrawal and nothing more.

This is not surprising.

The public has largely turned against this war and the politically popular position is to endorse withdrawal.

Although public support is essential for prolonged military conflict, decisions regarding war and peace cannot be made wholly in response to public opinion if the nation’s vital interests are to be served.

I have been trying to write an article that lays out an alternative vision to the withdrawal, because I firmly believe one is necessary. Fortunately, people more experienced and articulate were working on the same thing.

James Baker published an op-ed today worth reading on the subject. Baker is not exactly viewed an impartial voice in this affair – particularly to those on the left. However, in this context, Baker is speaking as a member of the Iraq Study Group – which is as close to a bi-partisan view as we can get on this issue.

His words deserve attention.

In my opinion, the Democrats should use their new power to push President Bush to adopt the Iraq Study Group recommendations. If our new leadership and strategy fails, then plans for withdrawal may in fact be the best of a series of terrible options. But our long-term interests and our moral obligation to the Iraqis demand that we give it a real chance.


Unknown said...

There is a difference between "we should withdraw now now now!" and "we would like to see a proposed timetable for withdrawal." The President has given absolutely no indication as to how long he thinks we will be in Iraq, probably because he has no actual goal in mind. I am not in favor of leaving right away, but I would like some idea of how much more time we're talking about. Asking the American people to give you 12 or 18 or 24 more months is a bit more sensible than simply asserting that we have to "stay the course" indefinitely.

Jared said...

That's a fair point but I think the ideal would be to set tangible goals and benchmarks that do not explicitly call for troop withdrawals - and this is what the Democrats are advocating almost to the exclusion of anything else.

I agree that the stay the course mentality is unacceptable.

It seems like this issue is like every other these days in that it is almost impossible to discuss a pragmatic middle ground...

Unknown said...

I think that tangible goals are the absolute first order of business, but I think it's also important to be able to foresee a way for us to get the hell out of there, however far in the future it may be. This isn't just appeasement of a dissatisfied American public; it is in our best interests not to hang around. Our mere presence there is a source of tension that weakens our security, and we shouldn't prolong it any longer than we need to.