Iraq War Now Peacekeeping Mission?
Michael J. Totten weighs in on the Iraq War is Over and We Won argument and decides that, while he’s “reluctant” to answer that question in the affirmative, “The war in Iraq is all but over right now, and it will be officially over if the current trends in violence continue their downward slide. ”
[Michael] Yon is braver than the rest of us for declaring the war over, but it’s important to understand that there are no final battles in counterinsurgencies and it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact dates when wars like this end. The anti-Iraqi insurgency — a war-within-a-war — really is effectively over. As long as another such war-within-a-war doesn’t break out, Yon will appear more perceptive than the rest of us in hindsight when the currently low levels of violence finally do taper off into relative insignificance.
The problem, which I noted in my post on the subject, is that, given the possibility that the Mahdi Army could end its ceasefire at any moment or another spectucular event could reignite sectarian fighting (Totten notes that there have been zero such fatalities since April), there’s no way to distinguish a lull from closure. He observes that NATO has not fully secured Kosovo nine years after the end of major combat operations there, and that conflicts in Lebanon, Algeria, and Palestine have an on again, off again nature that’s almost wholly unpredictable.
What most of us still think of as “war” in Iraq is, at this point, a rough and unfinished peacekeeping mission. Whether it is officially over or not, it has certainly been downgraded to something else, and it’s about time more analysts and observers are willing to say so.
The problems with that are manifold. While there’s relative peace at the moment, there has been no cessation of hostilities. Terrorist attacks continue, obviously. More importantly, it’s not even clear who the parties are who would have the ability to negotiate and sign an armistice. It simply doesn’t feel like a peacekeeping mission. Until we’ve got a better handle on Muqtada al-Sadr and company, it’s just too early to break out the blue berets.
Moreover, we haven’t achieved our mission. Once Saddam’s regime was toppled and it was clear that his WMD program was more notional than real, the tangible goals of the war were achieved. We’ve remained in the last four plus years, and took the lion’s share of our casualties, fighting for something more abstract and elusive: a stable democracy capable of governing a unified Iraq without our assistance.
Security is a precondition for that goal, which was the impetus behind the Surge. But, thus far, there’s not a whole lot of evidence that the Maliki government has built much sectarian consensus. Elections are scheduled for October 1st that could conceivably be a major step in that direction but, alas, they can’t even agree on the rules for said election. Of course, there’s only so much that the United States can do to move that process along. Horses, water, and all that. There’s even less that the United States military can do.
If the primary purpose of American combat troops at this stage is simply continuing to give the Iraqi politicians breathing room to build consensus, then Totten’s right: it is mostly a stability and security operation at this point more than a traditional counterinsurgency.
Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said this yesterday:
“I won’t go so far as to say that progress in Iraq from a military perspective has reached a tipping point or is reversible — it has not, and it is not,” Mullen told a Pentagon press conference. “But security is unquestionably and remarkably better. Indeed, if these trends continue I expect to be able early this fall to recommend to the secretary and the president further troop reductions,” he said.
At the same time, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates was warning against the militarization of foreign policy and stressing the need for civilian leadership under the State Department and moving the military to a support role.
So maybe, just maybe, we’re making the transition from Thomas Barnett’s Leviathan force to the SysAdmin force. Time will tell whether we’ll need to switch back into kinetic mode.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Timothy Kingston