Staying the Course

CFR: U.S. should stay in Iraq

The Council on Foreign Relations warned in a report released Tuesday that election politics should not jeopardize U.S. staying power in Iraq.

At a conference in Washington, the council-sponsored Independent Task Force on Post-Conflict Iraq, titled, “Iraq: One Year After,” asked for a bipartisan pledge to reaffirm commitment to security and reconstruction in Iraq. The council stressed the need to keep presidential election politics out of the Iraq situation.

“With the transition to democracy in Iraq at a critical juncture, and with the American presidential election nearing, President Bush, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry, and senior members of Congress must reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Iraq,” states the bipartisan report.

Noting “significant progress” in the post-conflict reconstruction and political transition effort, the Task Force reports that the planned transfer of sovereignty on June 30, combined with U.S. troop reductions from Iraqi cities and uncertainty about long-term U.S. funding, has created doubts about U.S. staying power.

To avoid destabilizing the effort and demoralizing Iraqis, the Task Force urges the Bush administration, the Democratic nominee, and congressional leaders to adopt the following steps:

— Declare that coalition forces will continue to provide essential security in Iraq until the Iraqi security forces can do so on their own.

— Emphasize that the transfer of sovereignty does not signal a diminished U.S. commitment to supporting stability, reconstruction and a peaceful political transition.

— Affirm that the United States is prepared to sustain a multi-billion-dollar commitment to Iraq for at least the next several years.

— Ensure broad involvement of Iraqis and promote a leading role for the United Nations in the political transition process.

UPI’s Claude Salhani concurs.

A premature pullout from Iraq would open the door to all sort of anti-democratic movements and would jeopardize Iraq’s still wavering and fragile march toward democracy. It would spell a clear victory for al-Qaida and its affiliates, who have been working in Iraq since the downfall of Saddam last March.

At this point, regardless of whether one agreed or disagreed that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do, there is no going back now. The only way out of the Iraqi dilemma is forward. The United States must see Iraq through this difficult phase and assist it — militarily, politically and financially.

President Bush hopes that by June 30, when Iraq reassumes its sovereignty, the United States will be able to take somewhat of a back seat in Iraq. By moving U.S. troops from the cities and towns where they are currently bivouacked to more secure back bases in the countryside, Pentagon planners hope to reduce the number of casualties sustained on a quasi-daily basis. This, of course, will look good for the administration, leading up to the November elections. And of course, Kerry will also jump onto the Iraq bandwagon if he feels it will win him votes.

However, it should be pointed out that the time of the transition of power in Iraq — June 30 — will be one of the most critical stages in postwar Iraq. If party politics can be put aside momentarily, the Iraqis must be given full confidence that they will not be let down.

U.S. foreign policy does not have a very good track record in that part of the world, and is often accused of suffering of attention deficit. “Uncertainty about long-term U.S. funding has created doubts about U.S. staying power,” says the council’s report. Such doubts should be laid to rest.

Indeed. The substance of the June 30 turnover is still unclear to me. Certainly, there’s no way Iraq will be ready to govern itself in a democratic fashion by that point. They’ll have a nominally sovereign government on that date, though, if all goes according to plan. The extent of U.S. supervision behind the scenes is what I still haven’t been able to ascertain.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. carsick says:

    Thinking aloud here…
    If Iraqi’s number one priority is for American assistance with security then how will we be able to help if we’re “out of town”?
    If the fire department is in the next town over you’ve got a good chance of having your house burn down.
    Plus, even though an urban base of operations is a target, a highly travelled path from base to town presents a better target for the gorilla tactics we’ve seen so far in Iraq – ie small groups using small explosives, either triggered or booby-trapped, on roads targetting vehicles.

    Are we setting ourselves up for even more resentment from the Iraqi’s?