Friedman: Double U.S. Troops in Iraq
Tom Friedman thinks the continued violence in Iraq is a result of the administration’s early decision to rely on a relatively small force and thinks there’s still time to reverse that decision.
Let’s Talk About Iraq (NYT | RSS)
[…] Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don’t think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don’t have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.
Motivation is primarily a function of training, though, combined with good leadership. The terrorists can get by with little training because they’re not a military force. They’re not fighting as a unit but rather using suicide bombers and IEDs against soft targets of opportunity.
Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country’s main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.
“We have no galvanizing figure right now,” observed Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi historian who heads the Iraq Memory Foundation. “Sistani’s counterpart on the democratic front has not emerged. Certainly, the Americans made many mistakes, but at this stage less and less can be blamed on them. The burden is on Iraqis. And we still have not risen to the magnitude of the opportunity before us.”
The Shiites and Kurds, representing eighty percent of the Iraqi population, have been responsible. It’s only the minority Sunnis, ousted from their former predominance, who are operating outside the system. While an Iraqi Karzai may well be desirable, it’s difficult to see how more American troops will create one.
I still don’t know if a self-sustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible. I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying, national leaders to emerge in a cauldron of violence.
Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don’t.
But American boots on the ground is a dual-edged sword. They both stand up against violence and inspire it. Getting Iraqi troops trained and making them responsible for their own security is simply essential.
If it’s motivation Friedman is after, there’s nothing like having to sink or swim on your own to provide it.
Brookings analyst Ivo Daalder, blogging at Josh Marshall’s place, shares Friedman’s concerns.
[…] [I]t is now clear that training Iraqi forces will take many more years to produce real, cohesive, and capable fighting forces — assuming that is even possible so long as the underlying politics remain as fractious as they are. Even under the most optimistic projections, though, current US troop levels would have to be maintained for two or more years just to keep some modicum of security (assuming, in fact, that we could do even that). And the political process is pretty paralyzed — with basic differences between Arab Sunnis and Shiites preventing even agreement on the process for writing the constitution. (To say nothing of the differences among Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites over autonomy, religion, and oil revenue sharing that will have to be resolved when drawing up the constitution.)
We could announce that we will stay until a new constitution has been adopted and a constitutional government has been elected. This is the position of former national security adviser Anthony Lake. It has also been advocated by Sen. Ted Kennedy and my Brookings colleagues Mike O’Hanlon and Jim Steinberg. I endorsed this view in an earlier post. The problem with this position is that it assumes the political process will in fact produce results. That is a highly uncertain prospect, to say the least.
Certainly true. As the rest of Daalder’s piece notes, though, there are few good alternatives.
Pratike argues that we instead need to broaden our ambitions and get regional actors involved. He believes diplomatic initiatives to get Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia into the mix–plus solving the Israeli-Palestinian mess–would go a long way to fixing Iraq. There’s little doubt of that. Of course, doing all of that is almost certainly more difficult than defeating the insurgent-terrorist coalition in Iraq.