The coming year in Iraq

Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack:

The Iraq war isn’t over. And while President Obama’s apparent decision to withdraw the bulk of American troops by August 2010 is not necessarily a mistake, it cannot be carried out rigidly. If all continues to go well, it should be eminently feasible; if not,the administration will have to show the strategic wisdom to slow down as needed to deal with problems.

Having just returned from a trip to the country arranged by the top American commander there, Gen. Ray Odierno, we agree that Iraq continues to make tremendous strides, thanks to American assistance and, increasingly, the efforts of Iraqi politicians and security forces. But both those ready to dust off the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner and declare victory and those who continue to see Iraq as an inherent disaster that must simply be abandoned have to realize that continued American involvement will be crucial for several more years.

Young democracies are fragile entities. Political scientists generally agree that achieving a peaceful and credible second round of elections is critical in putting a new democracy on a path toward stability, because such elections test whether the country can accomplish a nonviolent transfer of power.

Iraq is holding its second round of real elections this year. It just concluded extremely successful provincial votes, and national parliamentary elections are to follow. Iraq’s calendar this year is also jam-packed with other important political events. If the United States can help the Iraqis secure even modestly positive outcomes for these events, we will have gone a long way toward realizing our goals of sustainable stability in Iraq and bringing most of our troops home next year.

Iraq is no longer convulsed by the chaos, sectarianism and terrorism that were driving it into all-out civil war in 2006. To be sure, friction remains, most notably in the ethnically diverse city of Mosul in the north, where coalition forces have only recently been reinforced to the point where they can conduct the kind of counterinsurgency campaign that secured the rest of the country. Unfortunately, they are racing against the clock to do so, since the recently signed security agreement between Baghdad and Washington requires American combat forces to leave Iraq’s cities by June 30.

But the main challenge now is that some key political players, strengthened by Iraq’s enormous recent progress, are less interested in moving their country forward than in using every tool at their disposal to put themselves in advantageous positions after the American withdrawal. Worse still, some — perhaps many — are doing so by exploiting the immaturity of the political process and the ambiguities in Iraq’s constitution.


There is more.

I get the impression that having been wrong about the surge in Iraq, Obama is still indifferent to the success of Iraq as a country. In fact he is almost reckless in his desire to retreat from our victory there. His speech today did not even acknowledge that victory much less President Bush's part in achieving it. I think he really wanted to lose, but he wanted the lost to be last year and not after he took office.

The Democrats were disastrously wrong about Iraq as was the NY Times Editorial Board. Expecting them to be honest about that is probably too much at this point, but it is unfortunate that they did not have to pay a political price for being so wrong for so long.


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