Kerry’s Path for Iraq

I managed to miss John Kerry’s WaPo op-ed yesterday, in which he talks down our successes in Iraq. Such is the life of the wartime challenger, I suppose: One has to argue that we’re doomed if we continue with the current guy in office and yet manage not to undermine the war effort or the morale of the soldiers in the field,

A Realistic Path in Iraq

Like most Americans, I want to believe that this past week’s events — the transfer of sovereignty and the appearance of Saddam Hussein before an Iraqi court — will place us on the road to success.

Well, since it would cost you the White House, one doubts it.

But there is still no sign of a strategy that will get us there. We have transferred sovereignty, but Iraq still lacks the capacity to provide security and essential services.

As compared to what? Certainly, there’s a strategy in place–well underway in implementation–to both train Iraqi forces and rebuild the infrastructure. Doing the latter while terrorists are blowing things up makes it rather challenging, however.

To give democracy, pluralism and regional peace a chance, we need a policy that is effective — a policy that finally includes a heavy dose of realism.

Our foreign policy has achieved greatness only when it has combined realism and idealism, our sense of practicality and our deep commitment to values such as freedom and democracy. Look back at NATO and the Marshall Plan, the enduring creations of the Truman administration.

Yes, let’s do that. How long did those strategies take to deliver? Hint: More than 15 months.

Our military performed brilliantly in the war’s first mission: ending the regime of Saddam Hussein. And all Americans share President Bush’s desire for Iraqis to live with the blessings of democracy and security. But we are a practical people, and we know that all the rhetoric we’ve heard hasn’t been accompanied by a realistic plan to win the peace and bring our troops home. We know that a chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Eric Shinseki, was right when he argued that more troops would be needed to establish security and win the peace in the weeks and months after Saddam Hussein’s fall. And we know, especially, that we should have brought more friends and allies to the cause.

How is it that we know these things? Certainly, we know that we’ve yet to establish security in all parts of Iraq. But do we know that having more troops would have helped? And where were we going to get the troops from, anyway? And, sure, it would have been nice to have had more “friends and allies” helping us. We grovelled at the UN for months trying to achieve that objective. France and Germany–the only countries with significant numbers of skilled troops that could realistically have been expected to participate–decided to undermine our war effort instead.

The point here is not to revisit history but to forge a new policy based on what we know and on what will be most effective. We still have an opportunity to prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state and a haven for global terrorists and Islamic extremists. We can still succeed in promoting stability, democracy, protection of minority and women’s rights, and peace in the region, even at this late hour, if we construct and follow a realistic path. But if we are to reduce the overwhelming military and financial burden America is bearing and maximize the chances of success, we will need help from others. Getting that help will require not only convincing our friends and allies that we share an interest in preventing failure but also giving them a meaningful voice and role in Iraqi affairs. That is the only way to forge real cooperation, and it is long past time for this to be done.

In recent months the Bush administration has taken some of the needed steps. It has worked through the United Nations to legitimize the transition to an interim Iraqi government and to call for troop contributions and financial assistance. But we need a more far-reaching plan if we are to win the substantial help that is required. We have to move our allies beyond the resentment they feel about the Bush administration’s failed diplomacy so they can focus on their interest in fighting terrorism and promoting peace. The best way to do that is to vest friends and allies in Iraq’s future.

On the economic front, that means giving them fair access to the multibillion-dollar reconstruction contracts. It also means letting them be a part of putting Iraq’s profitable oil industry back together. In return, they must forgive Hussein’s multibillion-dollar debts to their countries and pay their fair share of the reconstruction bill.

Given that American troops have spilled most of the blood from this war, that France and Germany refused to fight, and that almost all of the money we’re talking about is courtesy of the American taxpayers, why would we do that? All of the countries that participated in the war–even with a token force–are eligible to bid on contracts. But what’s “fair” about giving the French and Germans millions of dollars for token support well after the fact, after they took action that–by Kerry’s own argument–helped get more Americans–and certainly Iraqis–killed?

We should also give them a leadership role in pursuing our wider strategic goals in the region. As partners, we should convene a regional conference with Iraq’s neighbors. Such a conference would have two goals. First, it should secure a pledge from Iraq’s neighbors to respect Iraq’s borders and not to interfere in its internal affairs. And second, it should commit Iraq’s leaders to provide clear protection for minorities, thus removing a major justification for possible outside intervention. Together, we should jump-start large-scale involvement with an international high commissioner to coordinate economic assistance and organize and implement these diplomatic initiatives.

Iraq is now a sovereign nation. Giving France and Germany a “leadership role” at this point would undermine our strategic objectives. The best justification for stopping “possible outside intervention” on the part of Iraq’s neighbors would be a security alliance with the United States. And isn’t protection for minority rights already enshrined in the Iraqi constitution? Why would some other piece of paper help ensure that goal?

Then, having taken these dramatic steps, we could realistically call on NATO to step up to its responsibilities. Our goal should be an alliance commitment to deploy a major portion of the peacekeeping force that will be needed in Iraq for a long time to come. Just as NATO came together to contain the Soviet Union and bring peace to Bosnia and Kosovo, with the right kind of leadership from us NATO can be mobilized to help stabilize Iraq and the region. And if NATO comes, others will too.

No. No. No. No. No. Having tens of thousands of European and American troops in Iraq indefinitely is precisely the opposite of what we need. The goal is for Iraq to maintain its own security, not become permanently occupied by white people.

Inside Iraq, the overriding need is for security, and the essential participants are the Iraqis themselves. The missing ingredient in this quest so far is a political accommodation among Iraqis. Each Iraqi group — the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis — has to feel it will have safety and a fair share in Iraq’s future. Yes, let the Iraqis move forward with their schedule for elections and the writing of a constitution, but all must realize that the results of these elections and the constitution will hold only if the parties know they can protect their basic interests. Helping Iraq come together this way, by peaceful negotiations and not by civil warfare, is the realistic way to secure the loyalty of Iraqis to their new state, and the best way to give them a future to defend. And it will strengthen our efforts, and those of others in the international community, to overhaul the program to train and build Iraqi security forces that have the will and the capacity to fight against the insurgents and terrorists. In this context too, Iraqi reconstruction of Iraq with international assistance will have a chance.

No kidding. Does anyone not know that? What is it that you’d do differently than the current administration in achieving that rather obvious goal?

Success in Iraq must be separated from our politics. It is too important to our troops who are serving there and to the security of our nation.

I couldn’t agree more. Then why did you vote against the $87 billion aid package (admittedly, after first having voted for it)?

I hope President Bush will fashion policies that will succeed. But today we are not pursuing the most effective path. It is only by pursuing a realistic path to democracy in Iraq that we can connect our ideals with American common sense. Only then can we heal the wounds between our allies and ourselves and only then can we muster the might of our alliances to isolate our enemies and win the war on terrorism around the world.

We have used our alliances precisely for that end. Haven’t you been paying attention? Again, the only countries with significant military and economic resources that didn’t participate in this mission who could reasonably called “allies” are France and Germany. France has been a virtual lost cause since deGaulle, and is almost as big an annoyance within the EU as it is within NATO. They’re a former great power that haven’t quite figured out their place in the word. Germany is already moving briskly back into our orbit.

Certainly, Democratic presidents have an easier time working with European leaders because their political visions are more closely aligned. Given the disastrous consequences the more extreme version of that vision has caused on the Continent, however, I would hardly argue that as a justification for changing presidents.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting analysis.

    As for your question about the $87 billion package, I think he claimed it was because of some riders or amendments or something like that. I don’t remember.

  2. Jonathan Kulick says:

    Umm, many of the (American and European) troops and administrators now occupying Iraq are not “white people.” And nearly all Iraqis are.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Arabs are caucasians but they’re not white. With few exceptions, Northern Europeans are both.

  4. Jonathan Kulick says:

    James: I must not be as up on the latest writings of J. Phillipe Rushton as you are, so I didn’t realize that there was some analytical distinction between “Caucasian” and “white.” I suspect that, by your accounting, I’m not “white” either. Whatever. I spend much of the year in the Caucasus, so perhaps I’m an honorary Caucasian. For what (little) it’s worth, pursuant to a 1978 OMB directive, the Census Bureau says that Arabs are White.

  5. James Joyner says:

    My point is that, although Arabs are of the same race as indigineous Europeans, they look different and are therefore perceived as distinct. Non-Arabs, even caucasian ones, stand out in Iraq and are naturally perceived as outsiders.