U.S. can’t allow security vacuum in Iraq

December 16, 2010


— Among the soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division who are going home next week after a year in Iraq, it was an almost palpable feeling Monday: We’re out of here. It’s over. And in 12 more months, the same will be true for the nation that sent them. The last U.S. troops are scheduled to leave in December 2011.

What comes next after the American era in Iraq? In the trough of a nightmarish occupation, this question sometimes seemed unimaginable for Iraqis and Americans alike. But it’s being debated in earnest now by a new Iraqi government that, whatever its demerits, at least has gathered all the major players inside one tent.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met here Monday with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and urged him to start planning now for a “long-term strategic partnership” in which the United States will continue training the Iraqi military and police and providing other unspecified security assistance. Mullen said later that al-Maliki seems to want such a relationship, “but the direction hasn’t been worked out.”

The biggest story about Iraq may be what hasn’t happened. There were widespread fears that when U.S. troops pulled out of Iraqi cities in mid-2009, the country would slip back toward civil war. That didn’t happen. The same fears were expressed when the last combat troops departed last summer. Again, it didn’t happen.

The anxieties about renewed sectarian violence were stoked, again, by the eight-month delay in forming a new government after last March’s elections. But the factions agreed last month on a compromise formula that will keep al-Maliki as prime minister — this time as head of a broad coalition that includes every major player.

Al-Maliki is hardly an ideal leader: He’s sometimes described as an Iraqi version of Richard Nixon with a conspiratorial mind and a perpetually unshaven face. He’s nobody’s favorite but he proved acceptable to everyone — America and Iran, Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds.

Even the thorny issue of de-Baathification finally appears to have been solved by a compromise that will allow prominent Sunni politicians to join the parliament. The Iraqi political style is perpetual brinkmanship, in which no issue is resolved until the 11th hour (or later). That frays the nerves of more compromise-minded Americans but in the end, the Iraqis usually do find a political solution.

What the long bargaining process showed is that most Iraqis are exhausted by violence. Nobody but the terrorist fringe wants a return of civil war. As one official says, given the choice between an effective government and an inclusive one, the Iraqis opted for inclusive.

“Overall, I’m encouraged by what I hear,” said Mullen. The Iraqi security forces “are better than a lot of people predicted.” He said they’re able to handle internal security.

The numbers do show a trend that confounds the predictions that Iraqi security forces couldn’t do the job. U.S. commanders count an average of about 15 security incidents a day in Iraq, which they say is about 20 percent below the rate last year when American troops played a larger role, and roughly the same level of violence before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

An example illustrates the success of the Iraqi security forces — and also the continuing terrorist threat here. On Dec. 4, U.S. commanders passed the Iraqis intelligence that about 15 car bombers were about to attack targets. The Iraqis stopped all but three — a big success, but still a terrible toll.

The worry for Washington is that post-America Iraq will slip back toward chaos if there isn’t a strong continuing security relationship.

Officials fear a replay of the last scene of the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The Americans leave, (in that case from the CIA’s proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s), to the relief of a war-weary public, and terrorism (in that case, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida) creeps into the vacuum.

Asked Monday during a conversation with reporters if Iraq has become the “forgotten war,” the U.S. deputy commander here, Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, bristled. “What we see today has been paid for in blood and riches” by U.S. soldiers and taxpayers. He doesn’t want to see that investment lost in the relief experienced by Americans and Iraqis to be finally escaping the war’s shadow.

What comes next shouldn’t be another security vacuum. Surely there’s a midpoint between doing too much and doing nothing.

David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

Anybody who believes the USA government is out of Iraq is dreaming. The military is still there and will be be there for quite some time. Not good!

There are at least 50 new USA bases in Iraq and a new 600 room billion dollar luxury american embassy. Yes the oil fields are still there as well.

Iran Nuke program set back two years by virus: http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=199475

The 31 year war and no new USA industries is breaking the bank not social security,medicare,food stamps,unemployment benefits or public education

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

The government spent an estimated $572 billion on the military in 2007. This amounts to about $1,800 for every resident of the country. That's more than the combined GDPs of Sweden and Thailand, and eight times federal spending on education.

The level of military spending has risen dramatically since 2001, with the increases beginning even before 9/11. As a share of GDP, the military budget rose from 3 percent to 4.4 percent during the first seven years of the Bush presidency. At the current size of the economy, a difference between a military budget at 4.4 rather than 3 percent of GDP amounts to $134 billion.

The largest increases in the military budget during the Bush presidency have been associated with the Iraq War. Indeed, the $138 billion spent on Iraq in 2007 was basically equal to the total increase in military spending that caused the military budget to rise to 4.4 percent of GDP. It is often argued that the military budget is a cornerstone of the economy--that the Pentagon is a major underwriter of important technical innovations as well as a source of millions of decent jobs. At one level these claims are true.

When the government spends upward of $600 billion per year of taxpayers' money on anything, it cannot help but generate millions of jobs. Similarly, when it spends a large share of that budget on maintaining and strengthening the most powerful military force in the history of the world, this cannot fail to encourage technical innovations that are somehow connected to the instruments of warfare.

Yet it is also true that channeling hundreds of billions of dollars into areas such as renewable energy and mass transportation would create a hothouse environment supporting new technologies. For example, utilities in Arizona and Nevada are developing plans to build "concentrated" solar power plants, which use the sun to heat a liquid that can drive a turbine.

It is estimated that this technology, operating on a large scale, could drive down the costs of solar electricity dramatically, from its current level of about $4 per watt to between $2.50 and $3 per watt in the sunniest regions of the country. At these prices, solar electricity becomes much cheaper than oil-driven power and within range of coal. These and related technologies could advance much more rapidly toward cost competitiveness with coal, oil and nuclear power if they were to receive even a fraction of the subsidies that now support weapons development (as well as the oil industry).

More: http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/79988/

Paul R Getto 6 years, 6 months ago

Cork: I must agree with you on this one. Obama bought the leftover Bushco BS and prolonged the agony. We need to get out of lots of places, starting with Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, the perpetual war machine is blowing hot smoke up the skirts of both parties.

6 years, 6 months ago

Except 'Bushco BS' was not invented by Bush - it's the same Wilsonian foreign policy we've had since the days of the original Progressives. Remember "Make the world safe for Democracy" and all that noise? It's the default foreign policy position of both parties. Some presidents, like Bush, just seem to have more evangelical fervor for it.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 6 months ago

Borak: Correctamundo. We refused to listen to IKE when he retired and have pursued foolish hegemonic policies ever since. Both parties are in bed with the endless war types and it's no accident that military installations and places to make equipment and supplies are in all 435 Congressional districts. Because Bushie's skygod talked to him about foreign policy, it just got worse the last few years. Good point, though. Thanks.

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