A Recipe for Greater Disaster
Since President Bush unveiled his "new strategy," the debate in the House, the Senate, and the media has centered around two main options: immediate withdrawal or escalation of the troop's level. If either is pursued, it will precipitate an even greater disaster in Iraq than is the existing situation. Sadly, the President simply does not get the consequences of escalation, while the Democrats seem clueless about those of precipitous withdrawal. The reality is that there is no military solution, but the United States also cannot leave the Iraqis to their own devices having brought them to this sorry state.
The first option, advocated by many leading Democrats, calls for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces (within 18 months) as increasing numbers of Iraqi security personnel are trained and thus become capable of taking over from the Americans. This option ignores three realities: a) Iraqi security forces are not anywhere near being able to secure the nation because of logistical constraints and the time needed for training, b) they are infested with Shiite militias that spearhead much of the sectarian killings, and c) the Shiite community is not committed to a pluralistic Iraq and will insist on absolute majority Shiite rule while marginalizing the Sunnis. Thus, the critics of this option would be right to argue that withdrawing American forces, without leaving behind a politically functioning state, will be catastrophic to Iraq and the region: It will certainly lead to anarchy, all-out civil war, and Iraq's eventual disintegration. It could further plunge the entire region into violent turmoil with unforeseen consequences and severely damage America's global standing.
The President's option, increasing American combat troops by more than 21.000, is even more reckless; it will not change the dynamic of the war and is bound to usher in a greater disaster. Continuing at this stage to rely on a military option will prove to be this administration's greatest blunder since the start of war four years ago. This is not a war against terrorism as the President wishes to label it; in fact, this war promotes terrorism in both Iraq and the region. Rather, this is a war against an insurgency which, committed to violently resisting American occupation and has the staying power to outlast U.S presence. Moreover, this is a civil war between Shiite and Sunnis, which many on both sides see as a war to the finish because for them survival itself is at stake. Furthermore, the President's plan relies heavily on the Iraqi government to assume a larger responsibility in fighting the insurgency and ending the sectarian killings, requirements the al-Maliki government has thus far failed to meet. Nothing suggests that this can or will change. More American troops policing Baghdad will show some temporary, but misleading, signs of success. For, in the face of overwhelming U.S. power, the insurgents will simply melt away into their communities only to rise again with even greater vehemence, while the Shiite death squads will lie-in-wait for the Americans to ease the pressure or leave altogether. Prime Minister al-Maliki is neither interested in, nor capable of, ending the sectarian mayhem. He is weak, presides over a dysfunctional government, and relies heavily on Shiite militias (the Mahdi Army and other affiliated groups) to stay in power. What Mr. Bush offered then is not a strategy that will stabilize Iraq and lead to a secure, democratic government that can bring normalcy to the Iraqi people. On the contrary, it is the same "staying the course" strategy only camouflaged. It is a recipe for increasing American casualties, widening the sectarian gulf, intensifying the insurgency, strengthening Iran's position, and bringing Iraq to the precipice of hell.
The administration must seek instead a political solution, while it still has the leverage–a solution that addresses the root causes of Iraq's internal struggle precipitated by the American invasion. This is why the United States is responsible for what happens in Iraq once American troops are withdrawn: No political solution will work, however, unless Washington provides the Sunnis with the political and the military support they require to govern and protect them. Having lost power with no hope to regain it, a permanent political solution lies, at a minimum, in Sunnis' self-rule over their three provinces. For this to work, the United States must insist on 1) the passage of a basic federal law providing for equitable distribution of oil revenues and the creation of a federal agency in charge of oil exploring, developing, marketing and selling, 2) a declaration of amnesty to all insurgents, 3) the providing of economic and military support to the new Iraqi Sunni entity, 4) a commitment by the three main factions to a loose federal system (provided for by the Iraqi constitution) with each sect governing its internal affairs as it sees fit, and 5) the creation by each sect of its own security forces for self-protection (as the Kurds and the Shiites already have), alongside of proportionate contributions to a national army for defending the nation from outside threat.
If Mr. Bush moves with determination–something he has shown he can do — and temporarily increase the troop's level in pursuing this third option, he may well succeed in accomplishing what has thus far eluded him. He will save Iraq from an all out civil war and disintegration and America from humiliating defeat.