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Iraq offers many paths but no assurances

In Washington today everyone has a position on Iraq and no one has a solution. It has been a good while since the United States has been involved in a situation with so many facets and no clear path toward a successful conclusion.
I opposed the war and wrote a column stating my position before battle began. That does not signify now, as the past cannot be undone. As an American I want my country’s foreign policy and military undertakings to succeed whether I support them beforehand or not.
When President Bush used authority from Congress to attack Iraq, he committed not just the military or just the Republican Party but every single American. There is only one president at a time, and whether you like it or not, he speaks for all of us in matters like Iraq.
The price of failure ‘ a long term civil war that destabilizes the region, or perhaps a government strongly influenced by Islamic terrorists ‘ will be high. We can bear them if forced to, but they will be heavy and they will make the world a more dangerous place.
So how do we succeed?
To begin with, I am not even sure we can agree on what constitutes success. If you are seeking a functioning liberal democracy that’s allied to the United States, forget it. It’s not in the cards. How about a federated state (power sharing) with ties to Iran but generally neutral? Would you accept a quick civil war between Shias and Sunnis ended by negotiation and a crack down on foreign fighters? There are plenty of other scenarios. Pick one.
If the definition of success is clouded, the road we choose to get there is even more obscured. Some say we should increase our troop strength and mount more offensives to crush the insurgents. Then there is the call for more and better Iraqi units to bear the brunt of the attacks. Perhaps we should withdraw U.S. forces to a few secure locations and use them in a combat role only if the situation is critical. There is the option of a staged withdrawal over a period of time. Finally, there are calls to get out of Iraq in 60 days.
A case can be made both for and against each of these ideas.
It may be we are the glue that holds the country together as nation building progresses. Conversely, it may be we draw so much anger from the average Iraqi that things would get better if we just got out of there.
There are a number of other problems including the cost of the war and how it’s affecting our economy and our ability to respond to events like Hurricane Katrina. What is the war doing to our military apart from the death and injury to individual soldiers?
Are we wearing down the Army and Marines to the point where it will be years before we can redeploy them in a combat situation? On the other hand, have we created a battle-hardened military force who will feel we have lost faith in them if we pull out just as the pain and sacrifice are beginning to pay off? Have we deployed and redeployed national guard and reserve troops to the point where we can no longer count on them to be there? Ten or 15 years down the road, will we have to reinstate the draft in order to get sufficient forces to back up our professional military in combat?
How has the American image overseas fared? Are we seen as a clumsy giant making a bad situation worse or are we perceived as a nation that can be counted on to do what’s necessary no matter how difficult?
History will render judgment on these questions, but the problem is we must act now to secure the future. I have my own ideas ‘ lower our profile and announce a timetable in January to withdraw a significant portion of our forces over the next year. At the same time leave a goodly number of troops there in a combat role for at least another two years. The trouble is that while I can argue my position, there is no certainty it is a good one.
Anyone from the president on down who says they are sure of the outcome of any U.S. policy in Iraq is not telling us the truth. They may think they know but in fact they cannot. There are simply too many variables.
We have gotten ourselves in a very big mess. In the end we will take a path with little assurance as to outcome. I hope we succeed, but we must become flexible, negotiate, take half a loaf. There is even a possibility we will have to steel ourselves to failure.
It is conceivable the only thing we salvage is a deeper understanding of the difficulty of preemptive war and the complexity of military intervention in the internal political struggles of another nation.
The only superpower in the world is in the middle of a minefield. The question of how we got there is significant. The question of how we get out is vital.