The Right to Fight

Ralph Peters asks, in his NY Post op-ed today, “What about our troops?”

The transfer of power may prove, God willing, to be good news for Iraq, but it’s already bad news for our troops and the War on Terror. To further their own political interests, Iraqi officials will demand a say in our military operations.

If their approach is practical and realistic, we can work together. But if every junior clerk in the Ministry of Graft has to sign off on our plans to apprehend terrorists and battle insurgents, we should begin withdrawing our forces as soon as we can get the first transport aircraft into Baghdad International.

Iraq matters. But if it doesn’t matter sufficiently to Iraq’s own leaders for them to support our struggle against the forces wrecking the country’s future, we shouldn’t waste the life of another soldier.

A rational degree of freedom of action should be the quid pro quo for our continued presence — and further funding. There’s a grave danger that Iraq’s non-elected leaders will attempt to turn our forces into their palace guard as demagogues jockey for advantage at the expense of the masses.

We cannot afford to remain in the desert twiddling our thumbs while the ranks of terror swell. If we can’t fight, we should leave.

Well, sure. My understanding is that this is indeed the arrangement we’ve made. Certainly, the interim government desperately needs the backing of American troops to stave off the insurgency.

US forces have, at least since World War Two, always been under operational US command. On occasion, we’ve been under the nominal control of a foreign power for political reasons. The most obvious case being the 1991 Gulf War when a Saudi general was in “command” but Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf was calling the shots. In the coming months, our forces will “answer” to the Iraqi authorities and, presumably, actually consult with them and take their concerns seriously before launching operations. On the other hand, I can guarantee you that they won’t be asking for permission from anyone to defend themselves.

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.