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The beginning of the end

Fri, Apr 18th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

The news from our leaders regarding the war in Iraq continues in the same old vein: just hang in there, it will all turn out OK. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, during their appearances before Congressional committees this past week, essentially said we need more time: time for the situation to become more stable, time to firm up the Iraqi government. And as before, President Bush said he would accept their recommendations.

Why would we expect anything else from the General or the Ambassador? Soldiers are trained to get the job done. They are dedicated to the mission to which they are assigned. They are duty bound not to question (at least in public) the directives of the Commander-in-Chief. One does not become a 4-star General by going outside the rules. In addition, one does not become a 4-star General without knowing how to play the game of politics between civilian commanders and military leaders.

Let's be very clear. In no way am I denigrating the General, his troops, or their dedication to their assignment. I believe the General when he says things may not be as we had hoped, but with more time we may see more fragile but potentially reversible progress.

The same can be said for Ambassador Crocker. He is the official civilian representative of the Executive Branch to the government of Iraq. As I see it, his main job is to assist the Iraqis in bringing order to their country via the political process. Like the General, his task is not an easy one. It was telling, however, when asked to define victory in Iraq neither the General nor the Ambassador answered the question with any specificity. That's probably because we ourselves have not defined or agreed upon the definition of victory in Iraq. There is little doubt that Iraq is now in the midst of a civil war. A civil war can be thought of as a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country fighting for control of the political center. That different sects of the same religion are fighting each other and themselves adds a somewhat different slant to the conflict. But, none the less, a civil war it is.

Many have called for an immediate withdrawal of our forces. Others want a more orderly withdrawal, although "orderly" is not defined. I assume they mean leaving without the appearance of retreat. Odd how we no longer hear the term "cut and run". Maybe it's because the great majority of Americans want our presence in Iraq to end. Withdrawing 140,000 plus troops is not an easy task. Anyone with any knowledge of logistics can tell you that in the best of circumstances it will take months and months and enormous amounts of money to get it done.

We are told over and over that if we leave now, Iraq and the region will fall into chaos and turmoil. I suppose that's in contrast to what's going on now. We are told that if we leave too soon the influence of Iran over Iraq will increase. But, what are the real consequences of a US military withdrawal? I am not sure that anyone truly knows. Will we be in more jeopardy from terrorists? Will we loose access to oil? Will Iran become a nuclear power and threaten us and our regional allies? Will we loose face and be seen as weak?

There is little doubt that we must remain vigilant regarding the plans and actions of terrorist organizations and groups. We must guard against attacks on our country. We just must.

But, does that mean keeping a large military force in harm's way in Iraq? I am not sure. I also doubt that oil producing countries will cut off our access. Sure, they have held us hostage over oil since long before most of us can remember. But, the US is one of the largest oil using markets. If they don't sell us their oil they don't make any money. And as we have said before, it doesn't matter what we're talking about, we will ultimately be talking about money.

What if Iran's influence over Iraq increases? How will that negatively affect us? Our allies do not want Iran to be much stronger than it is now. With cooperative allied negotiations and sanctions, if necessary, we may be able to reach an accord that will be of mutual benefit to all sides.

My guess is that we will have some troops in Iraq for some period of time. Unless asked or forced to leave, we will obviously maintain an embassy there. But, must we keep troops there in large numbers? Do they have to be there to broker a solution to a civil war? I think not. We can no longer continue as is. We can no longer lose lives and dollars as we are now. We just cannot afford it.

It now seems that we must wait until after this fall's presidential election for a new Iraq strategy. We can only hope that it will bring the true beginning of the end of our Iraq involvement. If it doesn't we will have once again been lied to.

Alan Lipowitz lives in Peterson.

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