Strategy in Iraq
Tommy Franks, Stephen Biddle, Peter Charles Choharis, John M. Owen IV, Daniel Pipes, Gary Rosen and Dov S. Zakheim discuss what victory may look like in Iraq at the National Interest. For some discussants the answer to the question all depends on what is meant by "victory". For Franks, the problem is one of expectations: "In Iraq, has too much emphasis been placed on achievement of secondary objectives or preferences as the benchmark for victory? After all, the primary objective—the removal of a hostile regime—has been achieved."
For Steven Biddle the problem was that America got switcherooed. It came in to fight terrorists and did a good job on the targets it expected to find. Then somewhere along the line the mission changed to making a multiethnic Iraq work. "But Iraq is not. The underlying conflict in Iraq is not between competing ideas of legitimate government; it is between ethnic and sectarian subgroups fighting for self-interest and group survival."
DNC strategist Peter Charles Choharis does not offer any definition of victory. (He served as the executive director of the 2004 Democratic Platform). But he is convinced that if intervening foreign countries are left alone to dialogue with sectarian groups now fighting internally they will come to a workable understanding. Somehow. All that's needed is for America to leave.
"Iraq is beset by regional interference ... One need not assume benevolence on the part of Iraq’s neighbors in order to believe that an ongoing forum for these actors, the Iraqi government and representatives from the coalition forces will lead to some common ground. Even if cooperation and compromise prove elusive on many issues, such a forum would at least allow for clearer communications and a chance for mutual progress on some matters. Maliki’s trip in September to Iran, and the prospect of more economic deals between the two countries, may encourage greater Iranian cooperation."
"Finally, there is the fate of the militias. With a more revitalized political process tackling tough internal and external challenges alike, thereby shifting power from the streets to the Parliament, the Iraqi government can start to disarm militias ... Except for the disarmament of militias, which would include military action, these goals can be achieved politically—without the use of U.S. hard power and the expansion of violence."
John Owen IV defines victory as establishing a stable successor state that does not seek nuclear weapons — and can serve as a counterweight to Iran. "An American victory in Iraq would entail the establishment of a stable regime that does not develop Weapons of Mass Destruction, support terrorism, export radical Islamism, seek the destruction of Israel or tilt the balance of power toward now-ascendant Iran."
Daniel Pipes thinks that the concept of victory in Iraq was pitched too high. American rule should have begun with an American puppet and then civility should have been slowly ground into the Iraqis. "Had the U.S.-led coalition pitched its ambitions lower, aspiring only to a decent government and economy while working much more slowly toward democracy, Iraq’s progress over the past four years would be more apparent. The occupying forces should have sponsored a democratically minded strongmanto secure the country and eventually move it toward an open political process; and this approach would have the benefit of keeping Islamists out of power at a moment of their maximal popular and electoral appeal."
Gary Rosen argues that civility should be forced on the fractious Iraqis, if necessary, at the point of an M-16.
We need a more achievable, concrete goal, one that would point unmistakably to progress and, ultimately, to a way out. My suggestion? A concerted effort to turn the Iraqi capital into a model city—or at least into a livable, functioning one. Call it “Baghdad or Bust.” ... Making serious headway in Baghdad would not be just a symbolic victory, a way to generate less dismal news coverage and bolster support at home. An orderly, well-governed Baghdad would give Iraqis a glimpse of what their national future might look like and would provide some breathing room to those genuinely devoted to pluralism and political reconciliation.
Dov S. Zakheim thinks the important thing is to leave Iraq in one piece, with integral borders. Anything else would be a plus. If it takes accepting a strongman, then so be it.
Can success be postulated in terms of the creation of a democratic Iraq? That approach certainly has its vocal advocates. But it is an increasingly difficult position to defend. On the contrary, it is arguable that democracy as it is understood in the United States is simply not the highest priority of the ordinary Iraqi. What Iraqis, like most people, desperately seek is stability, preferably coupled with certain freedoms—to pray, to earn a living, to live in peace.
The most interesting thing about this discussion is that the real world debate over Iraq was never about choosing between Bush's vision and say John Owen's, or Franks', or Zakehim's. It was always between choosing between Rumsfeld and the position articulated by Peter Charles Choharis which increasingly looks like it is the strategy — if the word may be applied to it — of a certain wing of the Democratic Party. It was always possible to bring some reasonable critique to bear on the Bush administration's conduct of the war. Possible but politically irrelevant. The comparison may never have been between cheap apple cider and fine wine but between cheap apple cider and Drano. Who will lay odds on which of the discussants above most clearly articulates the coming American policy? Unless there are second thoughts.