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...