Thursday, November 30, 2006

The New Mission in Iraq

Reports indicate that the Iraq Study Group will recommend a troop pullback but no timetable. Without any specifics at this point, the recommendation seems cautious yet pragmatic. The time for grand ambitions has passed. We’ve entered a whole new mission in Iraq.

Our goal can no longer be turning Iraq into a stable, fully functioning democracy. Like so many bold ideas, that one was engaging on paper but impossible in reality. We’ve failed the original mission and now we need a new objective.

Yes, we deposed Saddam and ended the threat he posed to regional stability. We neutralized Iraq’s ability to make or even pursue weapons of mass destruction (even though the lack of stockpiles delegitimized one of the main reasons to invade). We even helped establish an elected government. We’ve had grand successes. But, ultimately, we’ve failed. Iraq is not a model of democracy that will inspire the entire Mid-East. In fact, the nation is as much a threat to regional stability now as it was before we went in.

But our failures are no longer important except as learning experiences. What is important is how we handle the future. We need a new mission—one focused on minimizing the greatest threats posed by the new Iraq. We must:

• Keep the conflicts in Iraq from spreading into a wider regional conflict
• Keep portions of Iraq from becoming terrorist havens
• Stop radical Islamists from seizing power out of chaos as they did in Afghanistan and are doing in Somalia

I personally believe we also have a moral responsibility to minimize the bloodshed of Iraqis as much as possible. We also have a responsibility to do everything we can to keep the country from once again falling under the thrall of tyranny. But I understand that we may be past such moral considerations. This may be a time for cold, amoral commitment to our interests and our interests only.

How do we achieve our new mission? I don’t know. I’m open to redeploying most of our troops to safer areas where they can make strategic strikes as necessary. I’m also open to concentrating all our forces on Baghdad in the belief that if we pacify the capital the rest of the nation will follow. I’m open to any ideas based on achievable objectives and honest assessments of what is and isn’t possible.

But I’m no longer open to the idea that we can create a robust democracy in Iraq. If it was ever possible, we missed the opportunity. Our nation's will is long gone and Iraq’s internal rifts are too large for us to think a democracy is possible in anything but the distant future. I deeply wish this was not so. But reality is reality.

So, enter the realists and their Iraq Study Group recommendations. Let’s see if they can lay out the new mission. This isn’t about giving up. Nor is it about saving face. It’s about addressing the new problems with new objectives.

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