Sunday, May 16, 2010

Life in 2012 and Beyond

I've long assumed that our military presence in Iraq will continue long after 2011, notwithstanding the existing agreement to get out by then. It makes no sense--for America or Iraq--for us to leave. I just don't believe the world ends in 2012.

Cordesman worries about our departure and wonders if Iraqis can agree to continue our presence:

Recent events in Iraq have made it all too clear that Iraq is not yet stable and secure, and it is unlikely to become so before US withdrawal at the end of 2011. At the same time, it is far from clear that the US could maintain a significant military presence there even if it desired to do. Iraqi politics may well be able to accept a strong strategic partnership with the US, but both Iraqi leaders and Iraqi public opinion still strongly support the current deadlines for US withdrawal.

This raises two critical issues for US policy. The first is how ready Iraqi security forces are to assume sole responsibility for national security. The second is what level of US security assistance, and what kind of advisory missions, should be put in place as US forces leave. These are critical questions that directly affect vital US national security interests. A strong strategic partnership with Iraq is key to countering Iranian and Syrian pressure on Iraq, and ensuring the secure flow of Gulf oil to the global economy.

I don't know how we can leave, since US arms sales alone will require the presence of US forces for training and maintenance alone. I suspect we will come to a new agreement that keeps US forces in place for years or decades to come. We got around the deadline of removing US combat brigades by the end of this August by basically reinforcing combat brigades with advisers and just not calling them combat brigades. We'll have six of those brigades in Iraq after August.

But just in case Iraqis can't come to some type of agreement with us, we will need to figure out how to replace uniformed American presence in Iraq with a virtual presence of limited trainers for arms sales, civilian contractors for training, maintenance, intelligence, and other support services, prepositioned US equipment sites with small maintenance staffs to allow troops to fly in and deploy combat brigades, and off-shore and presence in neighboring countries for military missions that can't be ended if we are to preserve Iraqi independence and democracy.

Iraq needs us beyond the end of 2011. I hope everyone comes to their senses before the end of next year.