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Declare victory and pull out

Nicholas Fickling
Vail CO, Colorado

The fourth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished,” which was May 1, makes one think of the surge and where it is leading. Colin Powell’s eight questions (to be answered affirmatively before engaging in any military action) is a useful framework:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?

The dangers of an unstable Middle East, an inability to control the world’s oil, reduced U.S. prestige in appearing to lose, the threat to Israel, lowered morale at home, al-Qaida encouraged, Iran dominating the Gulf region. All are important, but are they “vital” security interests best managed by military control in Iraq? Do we need to own oil fields to ensure supply, or will free markets suffice?

Will staying in Iraq further or reduce U.S. global influence, suppress the upwelling of U.S. hatred or provide a rallying call to millions of Muslims who see themselves as “have-nots,” and Israelis and Americans as greedy “haves?” Is Israeli security worth it and is it helped or hindered by our continued presence? All are vital to someone. I only know that maintaining high force levels in Iraq limits U.S. ability to act. With our forces tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, rogue nations might be less worried about the consequences of their actions.

2. Do we have a clear, attainable objective?

Saddam is gone, there were no WMDs, and an Iraqi constitution was put in place following democratic elections. What is left to do? Ah yes, the rule of law has almost completely broken down, with rival militia gangs fighting a civil war with our forces in the middle. “Winning is essential” is a great slogan, whatever the definition of winning has been morphed into this week, but “if you are in a hole then stop digging” seems appropriate, too. With no clear measurable objective in place it should be a no-brainier to just pick one that has already been met, declare victory and start pulling out.

3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?

The cost in U.S. and Iraqi lives, the cost to U.S. prestige in the world, the cost in terms of U.S. ability to deter other bad guys, the wearing down of the U.S. military, the U.S. service personnel damaged physically and mentally by the effects of war, the effect on their families, the demoralizing of a nation and the drain on the U.S. economy.

Looking to the future, the U.S. inability to deter rogue nations is extremely concerning. Teddy Roosevelt said “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Maybe he should have added: “start shouting and use your big stick indiscriminately and much of the advantage of having it in the first place is gone.” The U.S. military should be the ultimate weapon of foreign policy, and not one of the first, or its value as a deterrent is diminished.

4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?

The Baker-Hamilton report recommended opening talks with states bordering Iraq because they too must want regional stability and, while clearly part of the problem, must eventually be part of the solution.

5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?

A clean exit strategy is unlikely no matter what happens with the surge. Some in Iraq will always want the U.S. to stay, and not for security reasons. In Bosnia I reported on the local economy: an unemployment rate over 70 percent, with NATO forces and various non-governmental organizations providing most of the jobs, either directly or indirectly. The greatest entrepreneurial success story was the brothel established, rather ironically using European Union grants, by a consortium of Serb and Muslim bad guys who just months before were ethnically cleansing each other. The baddies did not want peace because then NATO forces, and cash, would leave. In Iraq, the coalition forces bring in money and help the baddies attract funds from Muslim and Arab sympathizers worldwide. With coalition forces there as “occupiers” terrorist fundraising will always be easy.

6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?

Iraq is complex. Iran has far greater influence there than was ever the case before the U.S.-led invasion. That influence is likely to persist whether the surge succeeds or Iraq splits into three separate entities (Shiite, Sunni and Kurd) under a federal umbrella. Half the oil will be in the hands of Shiites with Iranian influence, and the rest in the hands of the Kurds. Sunnis will get nothing but sand and handouts. Turkey, Syria and Iran will not relish having a rich Kurdish state on their borders, able to stir up long oppressed Kurdish minorities; chaos, with a continuing coalition force presence, is far preferable. The Kurdish genii is out of the bottle and eventually the region must either accept the Kurdish situation peacefully (unlikely) or enter a period of intense civil war. Either way the presence of U.S. troops is not desirable unless under the umbrella of a formal U.N. peacekeeping mission.

7. Is the action supported by the American people?

Polls say “no.”

8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

The rest of the world is largely against U.S. policy in Iraq. History has shown us that an insurgency with neighboring sympathetic regimes is hard to control, and impossible when the insurgents are actively assisted.

Generally speaking, civil wars need to run their course with bloodshed and ethnic cleansing until all parties have lost so much that fighting becomes the problem and not the solution.

The military is the ultimate weapon of foreign policy and yet, ironically, is not the most powerful in our arsenal. The Mullahs in Iran would probably acknowledge that they are more scared of Hollywood, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart than they are of even the toughest Marine or the smartest bomb. They would add that, if they can get the U.S. to appear to be un-democratic with only tacit acknowledgement of international treaties, with a broken U.S. electoral system, with corrupt politicians, with U.S. forces committing atrocities and with a president seemingly ignoring the wishes of his people, then they can easily thwart the inconvenience of democracy.

Declaring victory, pulling the troops out, and sending in Mickey Mouse might not be a bad idea.

Nicholas Fickling of Eagle-Vail can be reached at fickling@vail.net.


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