Foreign Policy Blogs

Decision 2008: The Strategies for Iraq

As the election is almost upon us, this is the best time to become more informed about the issues.  My goal with this post is to display the facts, and let you judge for yourself.  The only thing that I will tell you to do is register and VOTE (if you didn't know, many states are allowing you to vote early this year, so scheduling conflicts should not be an issue!).  The right to vote is a rarity in some places in the world, and we should consider it a privilege, not an obligation.  (Additionally, I encourage you to participate in the Foreign Policy Association's Election Guide, which takes a poll on a variety of issues.  It's a wonderful project to be a part of, as the results will be sent to the new administration, Congress and other elected officials.)  So without further preaching, here are your candidates. 

Decision 2008: The Strategies for Iraq
Senator John McCain (and Governor Sarah Palin):

Senator McCain believes that we should not leave Iraq before it becomes a stable, democratic state and is capable of sovereignty.  We also should not leave until al-Qaeda in Iraq is defeated, and we should not allow Iraq to become a failed state, a breading ground for terrorism, or allow Iraq to be overcome by Iran's influence.  Most importantly, Iraqi security forces should be completely capable of defending their country without US help. 

McCain advocated for the Surge from the beginning, after four years of troop mismanagement, and it paid off; it decreased sectarian violence and increased economic and political development.  If Obama is elected, he will extract most of the troops, leaving behind only a small “strike force” which will not work in quelling terrorism.  McCain proposes continuing with this counterinsurgency strategy that began with the surge in 2007. 

With political development on the rise in Iraq, John McCain believes that this growth should continue.  He advocates for giving the UN a larger role in the upcoming provincial and national elections in late 2008 and 2009, respectfully.  He would like the US military to stay through these elections, ensuring safety and security for every Iraqi citizen who votes.  He does not want Iraq to think that we have abandoned them. 

Iraqi economic growth needs to continue.  In order for this to happen, Iraq should use a portion of its income to provide employment for all citizens.  However, the international community has an obligation to provide continuing financial support in order to get the private sector up and running, which will allow for the majority of Iraq's economic growth in the future.  Iraq's neighbors should also be investing in its economy with their large oil profits. 

Senator McCain believes that the international community should pressure Syria and Iran to stop supporting terrorism.  He believes that for this to happen, the US must also increase its military power and positioning in the Middle East region. 

He believes that it is necessary to be honest with the American people about the progress made in Iraq, as well as the difficulties still to come. 

Finally, John McCain is quoted stating, “I do not want to keep our troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary to secure our interests there.  Our goal is an Iraq that can stand on its own as a democratic ally and a responsible force for peace in its neighborhood.  Our goal is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops… To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility.”
-“Strategy for Victory in Iraq

Decision 2008: The Strategies for Iraq
Senator Barack Obama (and Senator Joe Biden):
Senator Obama first outlines the problems facing us in this war. 
Inadequate Security and Political Process: The Iraqi government is not taking the responsibility that it should in controlling its security and politics.  Although the counterinsurgency methods were successful, the sacrifices made by American troops since the surge began (over 1,000 casualties since 2007) display the fact that we cannot afford to continue on this path without full accommodation by the Iraqi government. 
Strains on the Military: These strains are too great; on both our troops and our equipment.  Troops have been sent for multiple tours, physically and psychologically stressing them and their families.  Equipment is wearing out 9 times faster than normal because of constant use in a harsh environment. 
Resurgent Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan: 2007 was the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001 and our invasion.  The Taliban and al-Qaeda have regrouped while military and financial resources remain stuck in Iraq.  We should be attending to the threat of another attack on the US. 
A New Strategy Needed: Over 4,000 Americans have died in this war.  Over 60,000 have been injured.  It has lasted longer than WWI, WWII and the Civil War, and our government may spend up to $2.7 trillion on the war and its aftermath.  While US troops have found the right tactics for decreasing the violence in Iraq, it is still the wrong strategy for pressing the Iraqi government into taking responsibility for its country. 

Senator Obama's plan:
Primarily, while President Bush pushed for this war in 2002, Senator Obama spoke out against the war, warning against the consequences.  ‘We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.’  Obama will give the Secretary of Defense and the military commanders the mission to end the war.  However, this means a responsible, phased withdrawal, done with the advice of commanders on the ground and in consultation with the Iraqi government.  Military experts have agreed with withdrawing 1-2 brigades per month, which will remove them by the summer of 2010.  A small force will remain in the country and the region for the purpose of counter-terrorism missions.  He does not advocate for permanent bases in Iraq, but continuing to train and support Iraqi security forces. 

Senator Obama states that the US must apply pressure on the Iraqi government.  A blank check has not and will not force Iraq's leaders to take responsibility for their political progress or their finances.  This is not a problem that can be fixed by the US military.  The phased withdrawal will encourage leadership in Iraqi politics and security, and the pace of the withdrawal will leave plenty of time for Iraq to get its affairs in order.  All levels of Iraqi government should be engaged in negotiating oil revenue sharing, disputed territories, elections, the equitable provision of services, federalism, displaced Iraqis and reforming security forces. 

Obama will begin a diplomatic surge in order to agree on a process of stability in Iraq, as well as in the region.  This will include Iraq's neighbors, especially Syria and Iran, in order to secure Iraq's borders, keep neighboring countries in a neutral position, isolating al-Qaeda, supporting reconciliation among Iraq's sectarian groups and providing financial support for reconstruction and development. 

The US has an obligation to Iraqi refugees and displaced persons.  Senator Obama will provide at least $2 billion to expand services provided to Iraqi refugees, inside and outside their country.  He also believes that working with Iraqi authorities and the international community to prevent humanitarian crimes and crises is very important.  The US should reserve the right to intervene militarily to prevent such crimes, such as genocidal violence or war crimes. 

Finally, Barack Obama believes that any strategic framework must be approved by Congress and have bipartisan support at home.  This includes the commitment to withdraw troops and not maintaining permanent bases in Iraq. 

Senator Obama is quoted stating, “Here is the truth: fighting a war without end will not force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future… I will end this war.  Not because politics compels it.  Not because our troops cannot bear the burden- as heavy as it is.  But because it is the right thing to do for our national security, and it will ultimately make us safer.”
-“War in Iraq

This election should be about making decisions through knowledge, not assumptions.  Don't be afraid to do some research– if you know the facts, you should be proud of your decision, no matter who your choice is. 



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;