Is there hope with the War in Iraq?

Published 4:08 am Monday, June 25, 2007

By By Tray Smith
While the immigration debate and the Presidential candidates have shifted the national focus to domestic policies lately, Iraq is still the central public policy question of our time. And after changing missions, strategies and rhetoric on the Iraqi issue several times, it now appears the Bush administration has chosen the Korean model as the way forward in Iraq. Finally, it appears they have gotten the Iraq issue right.
Our current nation-building exercise in Iraq, which has left our troops patrolling a civil war zone, is a fools errand. We have no definition of success short of the President's description of a secure and stable Iraq, which is obviously beyond our power to achieve. Hopefully realizing that, the administration has recently began comparing Iraq to Korea. While that does not indicate an imminent reduction of forces, it does begin setting the stage for a drawdown after the success of the "surge" is reviewed in September.
In Korea, of course, hostilities ended over 50 years ago, yet there is still a large contingency of American forces on the ground. Those troops are enforcing a buffer zone between North and South Korea and serve as a deterrent to North Korean aggression. Such a policy is applicable in Iraq for three reasons.
First, although there is a large American presence in Korea, it is only about one-fifth of the size of our presence in Iraq. If we were to limit our involvement in Iraq to that extent, then we would undoubtedly cease our ongoing policing exercises. That would mean requiring the Iraqis to step up and take more control of their own country
Second, it is unreasonable to expect that we will be able to withdraw our troops immediately, with no regard to the repercussions that would have on Iraq, the Middle East and our own security. Following the Korean model allows us to remain in Iraq, albeit with a small force, for a long period of time. That also gives us an important strategic foothold in the Middle East, which is desperately needed if we are going to continue to contribute to the spread of democracy in that region.
Third, a drastic reduction in troop levels before the end of the year makes maintaining a smaller deployment in Iraq over a longer period of time more politically feasible and less of a strain on our military. It also seriously helps the Republican contenders for the 2008 Presidential election, most of whom would be more devoted to filling our commitment there than their Democratic opponents.
It is no longer a question of winning or losing the war. We went to Iraq with the mission of removing Saddam Hussein from power and instituting a democratic government, and we succeeded in that endeavor. Unfortunately, this past fall, the President altered our mission and made imposing order in a foreign country the primary responsibility of U.S. troops, several of whom have lost their lives in the effort.
Fortunately, now there is an opportunity for change. That means shifting our primary interest in Iraq so that they may focus on our long-term strategic needs, supporting the Iraqi government in assuming only the duties that it absolutely cannot do for itself, and containing the violence in that region. This will require seriously scaling back the number of soldiers we have on the front lines while also remaining very engaged in the region politically and economically.
We should have never engaged nation building in Iraq. We cannot successfully occupy foreign countries so radically different than our own. We can, however, support their governments, which is what the Korean model has allowed us to do in South Korea. Although our efforts in Iraq have been a chronicle of mismanagement, flawed policies and incompetence, no war is perfect, and the administration has consistently adapted its strategy. Hopefully, the administration is now preparing to adapt its strategy one last time, and finally get the war in Iraq right. In doing that, the President will free up the political and military resources we need to counter the threats posed by an increasing combative Russia, a threatening Iran and communist China. I hope my confidence in the President to embrace reality is not just a sweet dream, because our soldiers and our country deserve more than the status quo.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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