Friday, January 14, 2011

Can Soft Power Be Hard Enough?

Publicly, we're preparing for the State Department to assume the major role in Iraq starting in 2012, with contractors and our military personnel greatly reduced, to train Iraqis and bolster capabilities that Iraq does not have.

I noted media notes of this plan before. I still find it hard to believe that both sides really believe it would be better for Iraq and America to pull out military out completely at the end of this year. But on the surface, that's what the Post article says:

Although a troop extension could still be negotiated, the politics of Iraq's new government make that increasingly unlikely, and the Obama administration has shown little interest in pushing the point.

Do the Iraqis really believe they don't need us? Does the Obama administration really think that we aren't needed? At some level, I fear that President Obama would love an excuse to just wash his hands of Iraq and walk away. I hope that in his two years as our president, he has learned that duty to protect us requires him to abandon his Left-wing beliefs about the distastefulness of American military power. We are needed in Iraq, and I heartily endorse this objection to letting State take over:

Critics of the U.S. plan to transition to a civilian-led presence and to withdraw the 48,000 troops stationed here argue that American forces still play a critical psychological role in keeping relative calm. If the U.S. military leaves, they say, Iraq could quickly spiral back into sectarian violence. Even if the country is able to hold together internally, weak air defenses and porous borders could leave it vulnerable to outside forces for several years, critics of the plan say.

"I cannot imagine that this fresh and fragile democratic process can continue without the presence of American troops," said Qassem Dawood, a former Shiite legislator who thinks Maliki will ultimately request that some U.S. forces stay.

Yes indeed, our troops provide a safety net that establishes the limits of what Iraqis will do to win political arguments. Could the drawn out but peaceful negotiations of 2010 over the Iraqi elections have been done in a post-US military presence? Maybe. But why risk that?

I hope that both sides are just posturing to avoid giving that piece of garbage Moqtada al-Sadr leverage to disrupt quiet negotiations over extending our military presence. The article says Maliki hasn't decided yet. It makes sense that he wouldn't look for unnecessary trouble with Sadr's bloc until he has to push the issue.

A State Department-led effort might work, but if Iran wants to win in Iraq, this path would be easier than one that relies on a more robust American presence. I'd still like 25,000 troops with 3 combat brigades (heck, I'd really like 7, but that isn't going to happen) organized for an advisory role, plus air power, intelligence, special forces, logistics, and other support, augmented by contractors to keep our numbers down to levels that Maliki's government can justify over Sadr's objections. Other forces should be capable of reinforcing these troops on short notice.

We shall see. We've gained much that could be put at risk if we get distracted. And we could gain so much more if we can make Iraq an example of what a Moslem country in the Middle East can become if it sets aside the social forces that have hobbled the entire region and religion.