Saturday, March 13, 2010

Universal Insurance Policy

Iraq's election is a good thing. But it is just one more good thing on a path that requires many more good things to achieve a lasting victory. We're past the military victories that were good things on the past, but the future good things are important to transform the victory of flipping Iraq from Saddam's enemy status to the current friend status.

As I've written since even before the Syrian- and Iranian-stoked violence that required the surge, we need to stay in Iraq to cement rule of law and provide a visible guarantee to all Iraqi groups that they don't need to worry about another group going outside the law to seize power.

Gerecht has a good piece on Iraq, including this advice:

The next few months will be telling as politicians come down to earth after the campaign. If the Sunnis can live with the fact that a democratic Iraq will always disappoint their clannish aspirations for political preeminence and a right to live off state subsidies, then Iraq’s future is pretty bright. The Americans really ought to have one overwhelming goal: hang around. Not in large numbers. The drawdown of U.S. troops is a good idea. But we should view Iraq the same way we viewed postwar Germany, France, and Italy. The presence of American troops was the ultimate guarantor that those countries would not slip back into dictatorship.

Washington shouldn’t choose sides in Iraq, and it shouldn’t intervene in Iraqi politics except in extremis. But we do want to be there, in the background, as we were in Europe. Even Shiite politicians who vociferously oppose an American troop presence can privately suggest a more nuanced view. As the journalist Tom Ricks has suggested, American combat troops could be given a more anodyne label—stabilization forces, a support presence. Our training mission with the Iraqi Army and police is going to take years. Needless to say, most Sunnis will be thrilled. The problem will be with the Shia. We’ve not played Shiite politics brilliantly (as the stupid war against Chalabi demonstrates). But a constructive, unobtrusive U.S. presence is doable if the Obama administration handles the issue deftly.

If the White House really is worried that Iraq could become an Iranian satrapy, that’s another reason for a small but potent U.S. military force to stay there. Iraqi democracy is a big deal. The American left and right, which have dismissed its evolution and belittled the American achievement in giving it birth, are stuck in the past, in an unchanging Middle East that never existed. What’s happened in Iraq since 2003—and what’s happened in Iran since last June 12—really ought to plant the possibility that the Islamic Middle East isn’t a hopeless case. Some change there just might be progress. Accepting this will cause indigestion for those who’ve been unalterably attached to the image of post-Saddam Iraq as “the biggest strategic failure in American history” and who’ve denounced the pointlessness of promoting democracy “through the barrel of a gun.” Unfortunately, Barack Obama once belonged to this group. But as president he has proven flexible in foreign affairs. With him, as with Iraq after another successful election—freer and more competitive than any election in the history of the Middle East—there are reasons to hope.

I do have hope that President Obama can shepherd Iraq forward by refusing to bug out too early. My hope isn't based on any particular confidence in the president's ideology or foreign policy skills. As I've long thought, I still think that the president practices foreign policy in a manner to minimize the distraction it provides from trying to achieve domestic transformation to the left. If it would cause more distractions to lose a battle, he'll try to win it. If it causes more problems to win, he'll retreat. In Iraq and in Afghanistan, so far, I believe the calculation thus far is that losing would cause more domestic problems than continuing Bush policies that put us on a path to victories.

I'll have more confidence if the president negotiates a pact with Iraq's new government that continues to allow American combat brigades (regardless of what they are called, like the new "advisory and assistance brigades" (BCTs with more advisors in them) that are replacing our brigade combat teams) in Iraq after 2011.

I'd like to see a Stryker brigade in the north to reassure Kurds and try to hold the line on sectarian violence upt there, while helping to hunt  the rump al Qaeda. Add a heavy brigade and motorized infantry brigade combat teams deployed from Fallujah to Baghdad in the center; and a couple heavy brigade combat teams in the Shia south to watch the Iranians there. With a battalion task force in Kuwait centered on equipment that can quickly be reinforced to a full BCT, another BCT equipment set in the region, and an afloat Marine Expeditionary Unit in the region (plus air and naval assets, of course), we'd have a potent combat force both to worry Iran and Syria and reassure Iraqis that we hold the ring against both internal and external threats.

While the calculations could change and lead to retreat, I hope that the current math doesn't change and we can pursue victory in Iraq.