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July 27, 2009

In Iraq, It's Not About Us
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at the New York Times this morning, Ross Douthat decides to weigh in about the future of Iraq:

The Iraq war isn’t finished yet. There are still 130,000 American troops in the country. As Maliki acknowledged during his visit to Washington, there will probably be thousands of soldiers there after 2011, when the current Status of Forces Agreement states that our troops must be withdrawn.

Nobody’s sure exactly what this residual force will be doing. But that’s because nobody -- nobody -- knows how Iraq will look once American combat troops are gone. As soon as we do, the current consensus will likely come apart. It holds, for now, because everybody has an interest in the idea of a swift withdrawal. War supporters want the chance to claim victory. War opponents want the chance to claim vindication. Obama wants the problem off his desk.

But America’s most important interest remains a stable, unified Republic of Iraq, even if takes longer than any domestic faction wants. Afghanistan may be “the good war” to most Americans, but Iraq’s size, location, history and resources mean that it’s still by far the more important one.

Douthat displays here a typical Washington-centric view of foreign policy - namely, he seems to think it's all about us. But one look at the recent stories coming out of Iraq shows that as far as the Iraqis are concerned - it's about them and their country:

In recent days, Iraqis have questioned American soldiers at checkpoints in Baghdad, at times preventing them from driving into neighborhoods. In one incident, an Iraqi soldier drew a weapon on a U.S. armored vehicle, American officials said.

Senior U.S. commanders have played down the tension, saying that the relationship remains fundamentally strong and that "hiccups" are to be expected at a time of transition. But soldiers and junior commanders called the situation alarming.

"I worry that an Iraqi army soldier will shoot at my truck with his 20 AK-47 rounds and my gunner will shoot back with his 100 50-caliber rounds instead of ducking down," a U.S. officer said on the condition of anonymity.

Another officer said U.S. soldiers have been taken aback by the sudden intransigence of their Iraqi partners. The Iraqi army seems "more and more willing to conduct operations on their own and less willing to accept our operational guidance," said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "But they continue to look to [us] for support. Their independence is like a 16-year-old who just got his license and doesn't want to listen anymore but still wants you to pay for the gas and the insurance and bail them out of jail" when they mess up.

Ross and others should read the whole story because it makes clear that Iraq's future isn't about anti-war and pro-war debates in Washington - and it hasn't been for a very long time. This isn't to say that the United States shouldn't do everything in its power to influence the country's future diplomatically, but folks have to start realizing that our ability to shape Iraq's future is severely constrained.

Douthat is typically vague on what he thinks the US should do differently beyond "paying attention" to the conflict. But I'll take this opportunity to 'go there.' If our militarily isn't doing much to shape Iraq's future in a positive way or if tensions are increasing between our soldiers and Iraq's security forces then the right course of action is not to slow down redeployment - it's to speed up. We've met our objectives in Iraq as best we can. The time has come to declare victory and start bringing the troops home .  . and sooner rather than later.

*** Also, check out Spencer Ackerman (the smartest and most charming man I know) as he takes down Douthat's analogizing of Iraq with the Philippines.


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The time has come to declare victory and start bringing the troops home . . and sooner rather than later.

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