Cutting and Running With Honor
Via Jim Henley, I see that former NSA head William Odom argues in the LAT that cutting and running is our only option in Iraq and that the only question is how to overcome the political obstacles to doing so.
To be sure, Odom has been opposed to the war from the start and is former member of the Center for Defense Information, a think tank famous for hiring relatively liberal retired generals. Still, he’s worth listening to on defense issues (as are CDI types generally) if for no reason that to get an informed alternative perspective.
Whether he’s ultimately right as to the merits of getting American forces out of Iraq is difficult to say. I still think victory is possible there but don’t think it will happen any time soon. I am sure, however, this his plan has little chance of working.
First, the U.S. must concede that it has botched things, cannot stabilize the region alone and must let others have a say in what’s next. As U.S. forces begin to withdraw, Washington must invite its European allies, as well as Japan, China and India, to make their own proposals for dealing with the aftermath. Russia can be ignored because it will play a spoiler role in any case.
Unlike many conservatives, I think multi-lateralism generally makes a lot of sense. In this case, though, I hardly see how adding additional diametrically opposed agendas to the mix helps anything. The Russians at least have some experience dealing with Iraq going back to their Cold War alliance with Saddam; the others would just be in the way.
Rapid troop withdrawal and abandoning unilateralism will have a sobering effect on all interested parties. Al Qaeda will celebrate but find that its only current allies, Iraqi Baathists and Sunnis, no longer need or want it. Iran will crow but soon begin to worry that its Kurdish minority may want to join Iraqi Kurdistan and that Iraqi Baathists might make a surprising comeback.
Although European leaders will probably try to take the lead in designing a new strategy for Iraq, they will not be able to implement it. This is because they will not allow any single European state to lead, the handicap they faced in trying to cope with Yugoslavia’s breakup in the 1990s. Nor will Japan, China or India be acceptable as a new coalition leader. The U.S. could end up as the leader of a new strategic coalition — but only if most other states recognize this fact and invite it to do so.
This is essentially a Rube Goldberg device to that would, if successfully implemented, get us back to where we are now. That strikes me as somewhat less than helpful.
The second initiative is to create a diplomatic forum for Iraq’s neighbors. Iran, of course, must be included. Washington should offer to convene the forum but be prepared to step aside if other members insist.
How, exactly, would this make the Sunnis more likely to play ball? Or the Kurds less likely to secede?
Third, the U.S. must informally cooperate with Iran in areas of shared interests. Nothing else could so improve our position in the Middle East. The price for success will include dropping U.S. resistance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This will be as distasteful for U.S. leaders as cutting and running, but it is no less essential. That’s because we do share vital common interests with Iran. We both want to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban (Iran hates both). We both want stability in Iraq (Iran will have influence over the Shiite Iraqi south regardless of what we do, but neither Washington nor Tehran want chaos). And we can help each other when it comes to oil: Iran needs our technology to produce more oil, and we simply need more oil.
Accepting Iran’s nuclear weapons is a small price to pay for the likely benefits. Moreover, its nuclear program will proceed whether we like it or not. Accepting it might well soften Iran’s support for Hezbollah, and it will definitely undercut Russia’s pernicious influence with Tehran.
I agree that accepting the inevitable is a small price to pay. Still, as already noted, I hardly see how Iran could be helpful.
Fourth, real progress must be made on the Palestinian issue as a foundation for Middle East peace. The invasion of Iraq and the U.S. tilt toward Israel have dangerously reduced Washington’s power to broker peace or to guarantee Israel’s security. We now need Europe’s help. And good relations with Iran would help dramatically.
The Arab-Israeli issue has absolutely nothing to do with Iraq. If we rounded up every Jew into a concentration camp and gave the Palestinians every square inch of the former Israel, the reduction in sectarian tension in Iraq would be zero. Ditto the Kurd problem. Or the militias. Or al Qaeda.