Is Iraqi Security an Iraqi Responsibility?
Fred Kagan argues that the Bush administration is laying the groundwork to wash its hands of the Iraqi counterinsurgency effort and to shift the blame for failure onto the Iraqi government.
It’s been coming for a long time: the idea that fixing Iraq is the Iraqis’ problem, not ours — that we’ve done all we can and now it’s up to them.
Such arguments have been latent in the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy and explicit in Democratic critiques of that strategy for some time. Now Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has declared: “It’s their country. . . . They’re going to have to govern it, they’re going to have to provide security for it, and they’re going to have to do it sooner rather than later.”
The implication of these arguments is clear: The United States should prepare to leave Iraq, after which the Iraqis will work out their own troubles — or they won’t. In any event, we can no longer help them. This notion is wrong and morally contemptible, and it endangers American security around the world.
The current crisis in Iraq is no more just an Iraqi problem than it has ever been. The U.S. military destroyed Iraq’s government and all institutions able to keep civil order. It designated itself an “occupying force,” thereby accepting the responsibility to restore and maintain such order. And yet U.S. Central Command never actually made establishing order and security a priority. Its commander throughout the insurgency, Gen. John Abizaid, has instead repeatedly declared that America’s role is primarily to train Iraqi forces to put down their own rebellion and maintain order.
The ideas in Kagan’s lead sentence and the Rumsfeld quotes that follow are not synonymous. That “They’re going to have to govern it” and “they’re going to have to provide security for it” is not only axiomatic but the essence of counterinsurgency. It’s our job to ensure they have the training and logistical support to carry out the job but flooding the country with American troops is precisely the wrong answer to the problem. Government and security simply have to have a local face to have any chance of success.
The American military, in conjunction with others, toppled a repressive regime and the secret police which it employed to maintain the dominance of a minority kleptocracy. The end of that repression, coupled with a series of mistakes, has led to sectarian violence and a multi-headed insurgent/terrorist mess. Still, given that we have no interest in establishing a colony in Iraq, training up the Iraqi security forces is our primary military role.