Fred Kagan, the most influential and best-informed military analyst in Washington, has another must-read report on why it is so important for the U.S. to remain militarily engaged in Iraq beyond the end of this year.
The Iraqi Security Forces will not be able to defend Iraq’s sovereignty, maintain its independence from Iran, or ensure Iraq’s internal stability without American assistance, including some ground forces in Iraq, for a number of years. The absence of a US strategic partnership with and military presence in Iraq will weaken the Iraqi military and could lead to the breakdown of internal security and political gains, which in turn could cause renewed communal conflict and the reemergence of militant Islamist groups. Iran’s use of proxy military groups poses the most immediate and serious threat to Iraqi security. Combined with Iran’s conventional, particularly missile, threat, the current military balance pitting Iraq by itself against Iran gives Tehran military dominance at every level of escalation.
Luckily, momentum seems to be building to keep U.S. forces in Iraq past 2011. As the New York Times notes, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has said
he would meet with Iraqi leaders to discuss whether American forces should remain beyond the end of the year. If a majority of Iraqi lawmakers and political leaders support the idea, Maliki said, he would be open to asking some American forces to stay. And he told Sadr’s supporters that they would have to accept the majority’s decision.
That’s a heartening change from the lack of interest Maliki has shown in the past in extending the U.S. troop presence. It should induce a modest degree of optimism that a breakthrough might be imminent, at least on the Iraqi side, although one should never count on Iraqi politicos to get anything done too expeditiously. They have a habit of waiting until the 11th hour—and beyond.
If the Iraqis do request a U.S. troop extension, the only remaining question will be whether President Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to pull out of Iraq, will seize the opportunity. My bet is he will, because U.S. troops will not remain in a combat presence. He can still argue that he has presided over the end of the war—but that some troops have to remain behind to prevent another war from breaking out.