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November 18, 2008

U.S. Interests in Iraq and the Three No's
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, now that the Iraqis and the Bush administration seem to set to sign off an agreement that commits all sides to work towards a full withdrawal by the end of 2011, it's worth considering what we are going to be leaving over there.  When he questioned General Petraeus back in April, then Senator Obama, made the clear point that we can't expect the situation to be perfect (i.e. zero Iranian interference and zero terrorist activity).  But that we needed to shoot for what was an acceptable or tolerable outcome that didn't present major national security threats to the United States.  I think that is about right.

Since then, I've come around to Shawn Brimley and Michele Flournoy's thinking on this from their March 2007 memo (PDF). 

Vital longterm U.S. interests in Iraq can be boiled down to Three No’s: no regional war; no al Qaeda safe havens; and no genocide.

No Regional War: The United States has an enduring interest in Iraq’s internal chaos not triggering regional conflict, and in external actors not further exacerbating Iraq’s civil war.

No Al Qaeda Safe Havens: The U.S. has an enduring interest in preventing
Iraq from resembling Afghanistan on September 10th, 2001.

No Genocide: The U.S. has an enduring interest in preventing genocide in Iraq

For a long time I was hesitant about this approach.  I thought these goals might not be achievable.  I definitely didn't think they were achievable when this piece was put out in March 2007.  And I still think these statements are too absolutist.  I'd prefer to go with "minimize the risk of" instead of "no."  I'm also not a huge fan of defining strategic interests in the negative. Preventing a particular outcome is often much more difficult to both execute and define then achieving an outcome.  But with all those reservations in place. At this point I see the CNAS three No's approach as pretty reasonable goals for what we need to continue to strive towards as our forces redeploy from Iraq.

Update:  Peter Juul takes me to task on this post, which I admit was probably written in haste and could have used more elaboration.  I especially enjoyed the Joe Biden/John McCain treatment, where he calls me a friend before ripping me apart...

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Comments

So I guess the Carter Doctrine is now obsolete? Is nuclear non-proliferation a vital interest? Won't our policies going forward in Iraq reflect these two interests?

I also wonder about this idea of "boiling down" our vital interests to just three; nor do I understand why our Iraq policy would neglect ordinary interests, and focus on just the vital ones.

But for me there is another issue: there are vital global interests that supersede US interests, and people of good will all over the world should work to secure those vital global interests, even if that sometimes means supporting policies that conflict with the interests of one's own nation. One such vital global interest is in rebuilding and sustaining respect for a vibrant and effective system of international law. Since, in my view, the US invasion of Iraq was an aggressive war for control without a plausible and compelling national defense rationale, and a clear violation of international law, then it is vital to the global rule of law that the invasion not be allowed to stand, and that it not turn into a permanent occupation. To allow it do do so would be to reward aggression, and tolerate what would be in effect the acquisition of territory or property interests by force. It is also vital to the global rule of law that the main perpetrators of the illegal war be punished for their violations.

Here's an interesting link to what purports to be the final draft SOFA agreement. It looks very fair. Of course the Iraqis, not being fools, know that an agreement signed by Ambassador Crocker on behalf of the Bush Administration is not worth the paper it's written on. I think the fact they are signing it anyway is a vote of trust in the Obama Administration. I hope they are not let down.

http://www.iraqoilreport.com/2008/11/18/breaking-text-of-status-of-forces-agreement/

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