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Next steps in Iraq
October, 2005, after reading Zbigniew Brzezinski: A sorry foreign policy own goal, I wrote a few paragraphs into a Washington Post discussion group:
For the US in Iraq, press coverage often contrasts "staying the course" with "cut and run" as though there were no other alternatives. Iraqis say they want to stay today, but even the most pro-US Iraqi says they want a commitment for the US to leave -- just not to leave precipitously. The real question is how we proceed, and how we wind down our involvement, balancing the costs with the obvious downsides.
How? The elements of a path are evident in the writings of people like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Wes Clark, among others. Start by redefining our Iraq goals to something achievable in the short term -- not a friendly location for US bases with a fully functioning democracy, but a country ruled by its own people in a decent and stable way, with a political process that may evolve to meet democratic norms, in peace with its neighbors. We can't get an Iraq with full democracy, domestic peace, a strong central government, and support for Israel in the next 5 years, and we can't afford to stay there for over 5 years, so we have to get realistic.
We also need to engage the neigboring countries (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria and Iran) in an ongoing diplomatic process that builds (1) creates mutually beneficial security arrangements on the borders and (2) regional trade and development. There will be interest groups in these countries that will seek instability in Iraq, and we need to support their other interest groups that prefer stability.
And, we need to create guidelines and/or a tentative timetable for withdrawal. Our military needs clear direction that we're leaving, without permanent bases. Our political establishment has to have consensus expectations that are realistic; to stay at current levels in Iraq indefinitely will require a draft, and the American people won't support it. To avoid a political crisis and an eventual cut-and-run, we need a rational plan. Finally, most importantly, the Iraqis need to hear both that we have no designs for permanent presence, and that one way or another they must learn to handle their own security, soon.
[Update: John Kerry released a speech he'll give tonight with the same points.]