No More Gazas
Robert Dujarric and Andy Zelleke challenge Senator John McCain in the Christian Science Monitor. They ask three important questions that everyone in the United States ought to have answered before casting a vote in the November election.
Senator McCain has yet to give the American people clear answers to three fundamental questions: What, exactly, are the political objectives of keeping large numbers of American soldiers in Iraq for years to come? What plausible outcome would benefit the United States enough to justify the wrenching costs of achieving those objectives? And what, concretely, is the strategy for getting there?
I am not affiliated with the McCain campaign in any way and cannot be considered one of its spokesmen. These are important questions, however, and Senator McCain shouldn’t be the only one with some answers.
First let’s get something out of the way. Not every war is fought for the purpose of achieving something good or creating something new that has never existed–an Arab democracy in Iraq, for example. Wars are also fought to maintain a status quo and to prevent a bad outcome.
Dujarric and Zelleke are understandably skeptical about the emergence of a democratic Iraq friendly to the United States in light of Hamas’s victory in the last elections in the West Bank and Gaza. But let’s set aside the fact that Iraq isn’t Gaza. Let’s also assume, for the sake of argument, that Iraq will never be a light unto the nations or a shining city on a hill in the Middle East. Even if Iraq never becomes a model democratic state in the Arab world–which would benefit Americans and Arabs alike–far worse outcomes are possible than a limited victory, a stalemate, or even several more years of relative dysfunction and chaos. The worst case scenario would be, as Dujarric and Zelleke imply, the transformation of Iraq into a California-sized oil-rich Gaza.
The quickest and most reliable way to get from here to there would be for the United States military to step out of the way now and let the most ruthless factions violently take over the country without interference. Iraqis are most unlikely to vote themselves into a Gaza scenario. The insurgent groups, remember, are those that lost the elections and can only acquire power through force. Even if an unambiguous victory is impossible in the short or medium term for the United States and the elected government of Iraq, a victory of any kind for Al Qaeda in Iraq or Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militia is likewise impossible while American forces remain on the ground and in the way.
To answer the first question, then, America’s primary political objective must be the prevention of a coup d’etat by Iranian proxy militias and Al Qaeda’s terrorist army. What plausible outcome would justify future costs? Any outcome other than that one. The Gaza scenario is the worst case scenario because it all but guarantees another war will be fought in Iraq by American soldiers. What’s the strategy for preventing that outcome? The current one.
The new counterinsurgency strategy implemented by General David Petraeus is the only one that has ever worked in that country. It doesn’t need to be fixed, and it shouldn’t be modified. Levels of violence are at their lowest in years. Fallujah, Ramadi, Baqubah, and most parts in Baghdad were pacified last year. Much of Basra, Sadr City, and Mosul were pacified this year. Considerable political progress has been made toward reconciliation between the Sunni and Shia communities, in large part because both built trust with the other by turning against their own extremists.
The war in Iraq is beginning to look less like a war and more like a rough-around-the-edges peacekeeping mission. Prematurely removing peacekeepers from the fragile and still-volatile country would, in all likelihood, reignite the war that is finally winding down. If Iraq still looked like a quagmire, as it did two years ago, a tactical retreat might be the right call. Retreating now, though, would be gratuitous. Every military and political gain made since the surge was implemented last year would be undone. And for what?
What was once Iraq’s best-case scenario may no longer be possible. I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. The worst-case scenario, though, is all but impossible while American soldiers remain in Iraq–which is reason enough by itself for American soldiers to remain in Iraq.