Before It’s Too Late in Iraq

Here’s the real “steady leadership” you promised, Mr. President

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By Gen. (ret.) Wesley ClarkWashington Post
Unabridged Version
August 26, 2005

In the old, familiar fashion, mounting US casualties in Iraq have mobilized increasing public doubts about the war. Now, more than half the American people believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

They’re right. But it would also be a mistake now to pull out, start pulling out, or set a date to pull out. Instead we need a strategy to create a stable democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq – a strategy the Administration has failed to develop and articulate.

From the outset of the American post-invasion efforts, we needed a three-pronged strategy – diplomatic, political, and military. Iraq sits geographically on the fault-line between Shia and Sunni Islam – and for the mission to succeed we will have to be the catalyst for regional cooperation. Iraq cannot be “isolated from its neighbors and tensions in the region. We needed to engage Iraq’s neighbors to insure that a stable, democratizing Iraq was not a threat to them, to isolate Iraq from outside supplies, leadership, and manpower, and to gain from them resources and support to alleviate the burdens on the US.

Unfortunately, the Administration didn’t see the need for a diplomatic track. Its scattershot diplomacy in the region – threatening some of Iraq’s neighbors with a variety of economic and diplomatic measures and allusions to further military action, expounding aims in the region that sound grandiose, and to many of those who live there, naïve and even somewhat imperialistic, failing to reinforce the US efforts with more culturally and linguistically capable regional allies, and turning away other assistance which might have made US leadership less obtrusive – have been ill-advised and counterproductive. The diplomatic failure magnified the difficulties facing the political and military elements of US strategy by contributing to the increasing infiltration of jihadists, the surprisingly resilient support of the insurgency, and the underlying political difficulties of bringing together representative Iraqi elements

On the political track, aiming for a legitimate, democratic Iraqi government was essential, but the US was far too slow in mobilizing Iraqi political action. A wasted first year encouraged a rise in sectarian militias and the emergence of strong fractionating forces. And even within the last year, as John Negroponte moved to Washington, months went by without an American Ambassador in Iraq. Today, political development among the Iraqis is hampered not only by the lack of security but also by American efforts to promote the establishment of a democracy without adequate development of the underlying social and cultural prerequisites, such as security and an infrastructure program that can reliably deliver gas, electricity and jobs.

Meanwhile, on the military track, security on the ground is poor, not only in terms of suicide bombing but more importantly, in terms of protection of life and property for ordinary Iraqis. The US armed forces still haven’t received the resources, restructuring and guidance adequate for the magnitude of the task. Why, in June, 2005, over two year into the mission of training Iraqi forces, was the President announcing such “new steps” as partnering with Iraqi units, establishing “transition teams” to work with Iraqi units, or training Iraqi Ministries to conduct anti-terrorist operations? There’s nothing new about any of this – just standard nation-building doctrine which we used in Vietnam. Where are the thousands of trained linguists that we need? Where are the flexible, well-resourced, military-led infrastructure development programs to win “hearts and minds?” Where are the smart operations and adequate numbers of forces – US, coalition, or Iraqi –to strengthen control over the borders?

With each passing month other intervening factors compound the difficulties and probably reduce the chances for the mission in Iraq to succeed. The election of an Iranian hardliner makes dialogue with Iran more difficult. Ineffective dealings with Syria probably reduces Assad’s leverage in controlling jihadist infiltration into Iraq. Fractionating forces within Iraq have grown stronger, and Iraq’s economic infrastructure more fragile. Iraqi patience is wearing thin amidst the continuing violence and hardship in Baghdad. And the apparently growing flow of jihadists in and out of Iraq not only testifies to an increasingly sophisticated insurgency but also a new source of training journeymen to fight against us in the global war on terror. So urgent modification of the strategy is required, before it is too late to do anything other than withdraw..

Adding a diplomatic track to the strategy is a must. The US should form a standing conference of Iraq’s neighbors, complete with committees dealing with all the regional economic and political issues, including trade, travel, cross-border infrastructure projects, and, of course, cutting off the infiltration of jihadists. Iraq’s neighbors should be asked to assist. This will also provide a better opportunity for meaningful back-door discussions of Iran’s nuclear program, Syria’s interests in Lebanon, and Turkish interaction with the Kurds in Iraq. The US should tone down its raw rhetoric for US-style democracy as an answer to all problems and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region. A public US declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq would also be helpful in engaging both regional and Iraqi support at this point.

On the political side, the timeline for the agreements on the Constitution are less important than the substance. It is up to American leadership to help engineer a compromise that will avoid the “red lines” of the respective factions and leave in place a state that both we and the neighbors can support. So, no Kurdish vote on independence; a restricted role for Islam, and limited autonomy in the south. And no private militias.

In addition, the US needs a legal mandate from the government to provide additional civil assistance and advice – along with additional US civilian personnel aimed at strengthening the institutions of government. Three month in-country tours should be replaced by a minimum two year stay for civilian advisors and technical experts. Key ministries must be reinforced, provincial governments made functional, a system of justice trained and established, and the rule of law promoted at the local levels. With the majority of Iraqis having known no other leader than Saddam Hussein, there will be a continuing need for assistance in institutional development, leadership training, and international monitoring for years to come, and all of this must be made palatable to Iraqi sovereignty. Hand-in-glove are the requirements for infrastructure repair, job creation, and economic development without which no government will be safe from an insurgent force.

Monies promised for reconstruction simply must be committed and projects moved forward, especially in those areas along the border and where the insurgency has the greatest potential..

On the military side, the vast effort underway to train an Army must be matched by efforts to train police and local justices. Countries as far away as Canada, France and Germany should be engaged to assist. Gulf states should also provide observers and technical assistance. In military terms, striking at insurgents is necessary but insufficient – instead, military and security operations must return primarily to the tried and true methods of counterinsurgency – winning the hearts and minds of the populace through civic action, small scale economic development, and positive daily interactions. Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters. A more successful effort must be made to control jihadist infiltration into the country by a combination of outposts, patrols, and reaction forces reinforced by high technology means. Over time, American forces should be pulled back into reserve roles and

phased out. The growing chorus of voices demanding a pull-out should seriously alarm the Bush Administration. For President Bush and his team are repeating the failure of Vietnam – failing to craft a realistic and effective policy, and in its place, simply demanding that the American people show resolve. Resolve alone isn’t enough to mend a flawed approach. If the Administration won’t adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that the Administration bring our troops home.

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