Foreign Policy Blogs

The Latest "Plan" for Iraq

Stephen Biddle, Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack have a plan for withdrawing from Iraq.  Their article, published in the September/October 2008 Issue of Foreign Affairs states that Democratic and Republican goals can both be met through a withdrawal timeline.  They argue that serious draw downs should not occur until after the Iraqi national election, set for late 2009.  Further, by 2011, at least half of our current troop population will still be there.  This means that we will continue to have quite a large number of US military in Iraq for the next five years.  I personally, do not see how this addresses the Democratic goals, and I further do not see how this addresses the increased need for more troops in Afghanistan. 

The article starts with a recent history of the violence in Iraq, and explains how much the situation has improved in less than three years.  Sectarian violence is at an all-time low, and the authors explain how the Iraqi and US governments have remedied the once dangerous situation.  They then address what the US should and should not do at this point, and this is where I begin my critique. 

The authors argue that threatening withdrawal will be counterproductive, and I agree. Many of our threats are becoming empty, and most Iraqis would see a threat like this the same way, especially with Bush still at the helm.  Instead of threatening, we should be talking.  We should address conditions to our withdrawal, such as a clause stating that US troops will be brought back if elections do not go as planned and violence erupts again.  Why should we assume that Iraqis, who, according to this article, have shown such progress, cannot conduct elections?  Obviously, we should be prepared, but shouldn't we react to disaster after it happens? 

The “New Problems” facing Iraq, such as integrating the Iraqi Security Forces, reestablishing refugees and improving central government control, cannot be fixed by the US military.  These are problems that should be addressed by diplomacy, the UN, and US political advisers to Iraq.  The authors make a wonderful suggestion for offering vouchers for refugees and displaced persons to come back and build a home, and state that this would have to be undertaken by the Iraqi government.  The problem of improving the central government and their spending should be addressed by sharply curtailing US financial support for the Iraqi government.  At this point, American money should only be used after that of Iraq.  Therefore, letting their government stand on its own two feet would perhaps address the problem of its lack of responsible spending.  I also agree when they state that a coup would be disastrous, and that a US presence will help to avoid that situation.  However, we cannot let this be our excuse for continuing our occupation; a coup could happen the day after we leave, even if the government is considered completely stable by US standards.  We simply cannot stay there forever. 

The article addresses Kirkuk as a continuing and sticky problem, which I believe will be a large source of contention until the Kurds feel that they have been granted independence.  Whether this means actually granting their wish for “Kurdistan,” I do not know.  The place of Iraqi Kurds has been a problem long before the time of Saddam, and I believe should be addressed, and fixed, on its own, not wrapped up in the general topic of rebuilding Iraq. 

In addressing Iran, Biddle, O’Hanlon and Pollack state that there should be more Iraqi-Iranian-US dialogue, as well as incentives for Iranian cooperation in Iraqi reconstruction.  I believe that Iran has incited violence in the past in order to take pressure off of itself and its nuclear program.  The best incentive to offer Iran now is dialogue and diplomacy (not threats) concerning its nuclear progress.  As long as the US is bogged down in Iraq, Ahmadinejad knows that we cannot physically come after him.  Withdrawing our troops from Iraq would not only offer Iran some piece of mind, but also would allow us to bargain properly with them about their nuclear program, and give our threats (only if necessary) some real credibility. 

The end of the article addresses the importance of peacekeeping forces, especially when we look at Bosnia and Kosovo.  However, instead of taking on peacekeeping alone, we should be including the UN, NATO, the European Union and our allies (if we have yet to alienate them).  Peacekeeping is much different than occupation, which is the transition the US military will be forced to make with increased troop withdrawals.  This is something that the UN is familiar with, and with which our allies might be willing to help. 

The issue of whether a state is ready to succeed on its own can be debated until the end of time.  It was only my grandparents’ generation when Germany was considered the epitome of evil, and the mention of Japan made Americans nervous.  Now, Japan and Germany are close US allies.  Less than forty years ago we considered Vietnam a lost cause when we withdrew the last US troops, and today we are working toward an alliance.  Even twenty-five years ago, I highly doubt that a Russian father-daughter gymnastics combo would have become American Olympic heroes.  Things change; power cycles; states rise and states fall.  I believe that asking for independence is the best evidence that a country is ready.  And obviously the US will be there if disaster strikes.  This is, after all, how the United States came to exist. 

McCain said it best when he stated that our first priority is to make sure that US troops are safe.  Our troops are no longer as safe in Afghanistan as they are in Iraq.  'staying the course’ will only continue this trend.  It is time to change our priorities. 



Jennifer Bushaw

Jennifer Bushaw holds an MA from the University of Chicago in Middle Eastern Studies with an emphasis on policy. She focused her research, including her Thesis, on modern Iraq and the Iraq war. She also has a Bachelor's in History from the University of Michigan. Jennifer is currently working as an Investigative Research Associate for a security advisory and management firm in Chicago, Illinois.

Areas of Focus:
Iraq-US Policy; Security; Coalition Operations;