A Balanced Plan on Iraq

Article excerpt


An important article - perhaps the most significant of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, years - is forthcoming in the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs, the rightfully esteemed publication of the Council on Foreign Relations. Titled Building on Progress in Iraq, the article represents the research, thought and recommendations of three certified students of the contentious, challenging conflict in Mesopotamia.

It is not my habit to review or comment on the work of others, but the soon-to-be-published 6,600-word work of Stephen Biddle, a senior CFR fellow, with Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who hold similar positions at the Brookings Institution, deserves careful consideration plus profound praise from those genuinely concerned about the War on Terrorism and the situation in Iraq.

This is not a study based on armchair profundities, or opinions gathered after one or two days in Baghdad: The writers have spent considerable time over the last five years in Iraq - importantly including during May-June of this year - and have gained valuable insights as well as solid reputations for balanced analysis.

Fundamental to their study, the authors clearly note the importance of looking ahead to what is best for Iraq and the United States, whether the reader was for or against the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Equally important, their analysis recognizes the current situation in Iraq for what it is. Noting frequently that the nation's status is fragile and subject to reversal, they state, A series of positive developments in the past year-and-a-half offers hope that the desire of so many Americans to bring the troops home can be fulfilled without leaving Iraq in chaos.

Although decidedly not hawks, they flatly counter received liberal wisdom for immediate troop withdrawal: starting in 2010, if current trends continue, the United States may be able to start cutting back its troop presence substantially, possibly even halving the total U.S. commitment by sometime in 2011.

Here is a sample of how Messrs. Biddle, O'Hanlon and Pollack see things on the ground:

Any further troop drawdowns, now that the"surge" is over, should be modest until after Iraq gets through two big rounds of elections - in late 2008 at the provincial level and in late 2009 at the national level - which have the potential either to reinforce important gains or to reopen old wounds. ... Starting in 2010, if

current trends continue, the United States may be able to start cutting back its troop presence substantially, possibly even halving the total US. commitment by sometime in 2011, without running excessive risks with the stability of Iraq and the wider Persian Gulf region.

"Overall violence is down at least 80 percent since the surge began, and ethno-sectarian violence - the kind that seemed to be sucking Iraq into all-out civil war in 2006 - is down by over 90 percent.

"The three main culprits in the ethno-sectarian violence of 2006 [Sunnis, Shi'ites and al Qaeda in Iraq] have stood down and agreed to cease-fires or been crippled by military defeat.

"The ISF [Iraqi security forces] have grown much more capable than they were in 2006. There are now some 559,000 security personnel, with about 230,000 in the Iraqi army alone, and those ranks are growing by at least 100,000 new soldiers and police a year. Some 55 percent of the units rank in the top two tiers of readiness, according to U.S. assessment methods. ...

"As recently as the fall of 2006, the national police force was a disaster; a commission led by retired Marine Gen James Jones went so far as to recommend its dissolution. …