National Security Network

A New Era in Iraq -- and U.S. Foreign Policy

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Report 19 August 2010

Iraq Iraq CAP Eaton iraq Kahl Lynch Obama Odierno redeployment

 "Today is a marking point in the long process of responsibly transitioning ownership of Iraq back to Iraqis -- a shift that has been made possible by the sacrifices of America's fighting men and women, along with those brave Iraqis who have stood up to rebuild their country. While the U.S. continues to provide training and support, the future of Iraq belongs to the Iraqis." - NSN Senior Advisor Major General Paul D. Eaton (Retired) 


Today marks a symbolic end to American combat operations inIraq - and two significant beginnings. With the departure of the last U.Scombat brigade, Americans can now look ahead to a new civilian-led mission,comprehensive in scope and unprecedented in scale. This is a momentous steptoward a long-term, strategic relationship that will benefit both Iraq and theU.S.  and a style of engagement that willmake success more likely.  It is clearthat Iraq is not without challenges. A political stalemate and periodic, butdeadly insurgent and terrorist attacks threaten the county. But these areproblems that Iraqis must take the lead in addressing.  They will not be solved by keeping troops inthe country indefinitely, or by intruding on Iraq's political scene. 

Second, this shift marks a significant step towardimplementing a progressive vision, years in the making, for a U.S. foreignpolicy that is strong and effective without being blinkered by ideology andover-reliance on our military.  Foryears, progressives steadily drove home the view - shared by the president -that transition to a civilian led-mission in Iraq was the best policy forAmerican national security.  With astrong regional security presence, a genuine partnership with Iraqis, and afocus on diplomacy, trade, and development, that vision is now gaining real substance- and gaining broad praise.

Last combat brigadeleaves Iraq, signals unprecedented civilian engagement. The departure ofthe last American combat brigade from Iraq brings U.S. combat operations to asymbolic close ahead of the formal transition to commence next month. Butredeployment is not abandoning Iraq. According to Deputy Assistant Secretary ofDefense for the Middle East Colin Kahl, redeployment "signals a transformationin our bilateral relationship, and in many respects an increase or a deepeningof our engagement in a way that's sustainable over the long term."  In contrast to the military dominated missionof the last seven years, America will transition to a comprehensive,civilian-led mission. The Washington Times' Eli Lake reported on the contoursof this mission: "The State Department is setting up two new consulates inIraq, one in the southern city of Basra and another in the northern Kurdishregional capital of Irbil. Political interface between the United States andIraq that occasionally went through military channels now will be conducted throughcivilian-level diplomats."   AmbassadorJames Dobbins, who has served in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo calledthe mission "unprecedented in scale." "I don't think State has ever operated onits own, independent of the U.S. military, in an environment that is quite asthreatening on such a large scale," said Dobbins.

As the Center for a New American Security's Marc Lynch wrotethis past March, the intent of this effort is "to develop a normal,constructive strategic relationship with the new Iraqi government, with themain point of contact the Embassy and the private sector rather than themilitary, and adhering in every way possible to the SOFA and to the drawdowntimeline."  Thus, the transition out ofcombat operations is an important step in the process of building an enduringrelationship with Iraq, to the benefit of both Iraqi and American security.[Colin Kahl, 8/17/10.Washington Times, 8/18/10.NY Times, 8/19/10.Marc Lynch, 3/8/10]

Iraq's challengesremain - including a political stalemate and violence - but they must beaddressed with Iraqis, not U.S. troops, in the lead. Iraq is not free ofchallenges. Anthony Shadid reported earlier this week that apprehension overthe country's political difficulties had "seized the country," which is stillwithout leadership five months after Iraqis voted in an election meant toenshrine a new government." And as this week's bombing at a militaryrecruitment center showed, violence - though reduced substantially from thedarkest days of the occupation - is still present.

The U.S. can and should assist Iraqis as they address thesechallenges, but it is Iraqis who must take the lead. On the political side,experts agree that heavy-handed U.S. interference is not desired by Iraqis andwill not stand the best chance of producing a sustainable political settlement.Brookings expert Ken Pollack, who in the past has argued for more active U.S.involvement in Iraqi politics, urged patient involvement, warning that "[i]f wewant a government bad, we can get one bad, but that won't serve anyone'sinterests." And while security remains a concern, the Iraqi armed forces havegrown increasingly capable of handling insurgent and terrorist elements, whichhave dramatically weakened over the last few years. According to Kahl, Iraqisecurity forces now number approximately 660,000 and public confidence in them- an important measure of their capability and professionalism - is at 80percent.

According to U.S. commander General Ray Odierno, "Iraqdoesn't need more troops now." Instead, Iraqis need constructive U.S. supportas they take the lead in managing their own affairs. [NY Times, 8/18/10.NPR, 8/17/10.Ken Pollack, 7/23/10.Colin Kahl, 8/17/10.General Ray Odierno, via the Washington Post, 7/13/10]

Redeployment is apromise kept by the President and culmination of years of work by progressives.The end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq this month is the culmination ofyears of effort to replace the failed invasion strategy with one that betterserves core American interests.  In 2006,Brian Katulis and Lawrence Korb explained the objectives of a redeployment fromIraq: "to protect the American people at home and abroad; to get Iraq tothe most stable position as quickly as possible; to make sure Iraq's tensionsdo not spill over into a regional conflict; and to turn the tide againstextremist Islamists." Then-congressional candidate Darcy Burner's "Responsible Plan toEnd the War in Iraq," released in 2007, situated progressives' push forwithdrawal in a larger national security context. The report argued thatredeployment would allow the U.S. to address more capably a litany ofchallenges, including "proliferation, pandemics, terrorism, climate change,and energy supply bottlenecks."

Iraq redeployment is also the fulfillment of a majorcampaign promise by the president, and an important correction of years offoreign policy mismanagement by his predecessor. Middle East historian JuanCole said of the redeployment: "Obama'sfaithfulness to the US self-imposed withdrawal timetable is intended as areturn to legality and a repudiation of aggressive unilateralism." Despiteacknowledging the moving troops out of Iraq will not erase the significantchallenges for the U.S. in the region, Cole called it "a significantachievement that many doubted he would attain." [CAP, 5/06.The Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, 3/07. JuanCole, 8/19/10]

What We're Reading

A suspected bomb attack killedseven people and wounded 14 in China's far west region of Xinjiang, a regionbeset by ethnic conflict and separatist violence.

The floods in Pakistan have upendedthe Obama administration's carefully honed strategy there, confronting theUnited States with a vast humanitarian crisis and militant groups determined toexploit the misery.

The Obama administration decided to backefforts to create an international commission investigating alleged human-rightsviolations in Myanmar.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou renewedcalls to Washington to sell the island an upgraded version of the F-16 fighter,following a Pentagon report warning of China's growing military might.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah says it has handed overevidence which it claims implicates Israel in the assassination of the formerLebanese PM Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Dozens of Roma have left France in thefirst wave of a controversial crackdown ordered by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The kidnapped mayor of Santiago, Mexico, was founddead, extending a rash of deadly attacks on political figures in an areabesieged by drug gang battles.

Sudan's government confirmedit will expel a number of international aid workers from the restive westernregion of Darfur for unspecified "violations."

South African police fired rubber bulletsand water cannon at crowds of more than a million striking civil servantsprotesting for higher wages outside a hospital in Soweto.

Twenty years after the last Russian soldier walked out ofAfghanistan, Moscow is gingerly pushingits way back into the country with business deals and diplomacy, and promisesof closer ties to come.

Commentary of the Day

Bruce Riedel explainsthe assassinations al Qaeda is plotting to exploit an Israeli bombing or Iran.

Lawrence Korb and Loren Thompson writethat with costs rising and the budget deficit growing, it's time for the rethink its military commitments overseas.

Peter Feaver arguesthat we should stop talking about the mosque and start doing something to helpPakistan.