The Bottom Line
Published 12:54 pm Monday, August 4, 2008
Conference offers eye-opening view of Iraq
By Tray Smith
Improvements to the security situation in Iraq, which have supposedly been achieved by the increased number of American troops stationed there, have not been realized by the Iraqi children, who still spend multiple hours each day navigating around frequently alternating road closings so that they can arrive at school safely. Their plight is one of the many unrecognized casualties of this war, which has cost the once industrialized country great social, economic and human sacrifice.
Iraq today is in irrefutably worse shape than it was when Saddam Hussein was in power and providing his citizens with the electricity and clean water they currently lack. Our military invasion has resulted in the destruction of much of the country’s livelihood and left a long road back to modernization. As we continue our war against terrorism, these outcomes offer useful insights for military planners and civilian leaders preparing for future military operations. They also highlight important considerations for voters deciding who will be our next commander-in-chief.
Until recently, Republicans have argued the history of our occupation in Iraq is irrelevant to our current strategy. Democrats have claimed the opposite, insisting judgment and foresight are critical to being an effective commander and chief. Currently, those positions are being reversed. Republicans who were supportive of the “surge” strategy that has been implemented over the past 16 months credit themselves for having the judgment necessary to turn a quagmire into victory. Democrats respond that planning for an end to the occupation of Iraq is more important than claiming responsibility for the strategy that made that end possible. Both sides are correct.
However, the issue puts Republicans in a weak position. While it is true that many GOP politicians, including Presidential nominee John McCain, advocated the surge in troops that has improved security in Iraq, it is also true security would have never deteriorated to the point it did had we not overthrown Iraq’s government and incompetently managed the subsequent occupation of that country. Asking Americans to vote for the Republicans because their policies have improved the situation in Iraq is like asking parents to reward children for cleaning up their messes rather than punish them for creating a mess in the first place.
That said, punishing children for mess making does not do much good if the mess remains in place. Rather than punishing the Republicans, voters should be concerned with helping them resolve our national crisis, while learning from the history of the conflict in Iraq. Both the history and the future of our occupation are relevant considerations for the next commander-in-chief.
The most important military lesson from the history of the Iraq war will be drawn by reevaluating the management of our invasion and the doctrine of preemptive war that ignited it. The most important foreign policy lesson will be drawn from questioning whether or not the benefits of eliminating Saddam Hussein’s government outweigh the cost of instability in post-invasion Iraq.
In light of our failure to discover any meaningful relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, the inexistence of any significant weapons of mass destruction program and the enormous amount of international political capital, American blood and government revenue we have squandered; the answer to that question is an obvious “no.” We have wrecked a country without good reason and taken upon ourselves the task of governing an entire nation oblivious to our values and way of life. Far from courageously fighting an enemy in Iraq, our troops are being asked to stand in the middle of a war torn country and act as the state, responding to emergencies and arresting people who misbehave. Those muddy tasks are foreign to a service trained and prepared to fight and win wars and we have no business assigning such meddlesome duties on our brave servicemen. In the future, we should only execute operations as tremendously complex as our intervention in Iraq in the face of imminent danger or as a reaction to foreign aggression.
Furthermore, we should execute such operations far more competently than we have executed the invasion of Iraq. From the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom in May 2003 to June 2004, authority over the entire Iraqi government was entrusted to American bureaucrats who tried to force western systems of government and education on a country that was much more concerned with getting water and electricity. We disbanded Saddam’s entire government, leaving no one to carry out basic tasks and we created an opportunity for insurgents, tribal leaders and terrorist to create mayhem without the threat of retribution from Iraqi police and military forces (we eliminated both.) In light of these circumstances, it is not surprising to hear Iraqis say, “to hell with democracy,” which is and has been our only real goal in that country. Having leaders who provide for the public’s need is much more important than having leaders who are elected.
In my discussions with Iraqi citizens, I frequently asked who arrested the bad guys and received my answer in the form of blank stares and nodding heads. While each Iraqi has a different perspective on the security situation, which varies from area to area, the general confusion that comes from not having a functional domestic government is universally evident.
The absence of a functional state is what prevents the United States from withdrawing all of its forces from Iraq. Without American troops reinforcing their efforts, the fledgling Iraqi Security forces that have only just begun to operate effectively will be overtaken by criminals and insurgents. More importantly, if we leave before Iraq’s various sects unite to create a unified national identity, Iran will replace us as Iraq’s occupier with the support of the Iraqi Shia community. Such an outcome would again place Iraq on the verge of civil war and eliminate the progress we have made over the past year.
Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki made headlines recently by saying Barack Obama’s timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops by 2010 sounds about right. But Maliki is no friend of the United States. He is closely tied to the Shiite community he represents and he is not adverse to the Iranian influence that will flow into Iraq as U.S. forces leave. That influence will only further exaggerate the sectarian tensions that have just been squelched. Maliki has also frequently over estimated the capabilities of his forces in the past. He is currently trying to prevent the construction of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq as part of an effort to undercut U.S. influence in the region and Obama has supported him naively in that effort.
Yes, we have exhausted all of our options in Iraq and have no choice but to remain extended there until Iraq’s government morphs itself into a strong, central state. However, punishing that country with a long, disastrous occupation only to allow ourselves to be followed by another foreign occupier would be unfair to the Iraqis and our men and women who have made great sacrifice in this war. Fortunately, we will be able to continue reducing the number of forces we have serving and dying in Iraq as we make progress toward our goal of a self-sustaining Iraqi government. The Iraqi people are depending on such an outcome.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@ hotmail.com.