Aaron's Real Opinions:

The Solution for the War in Iraq
How Democrats and Republicans Can Work Together to End the War by Aaron Harber
April 8, 2008 - Print Article

Part 2: What we can do to end the War in Iraq.

Although some Americans want the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq immediately and others want us to stay until we can declare an absolute victory, neither vision makes sense. The following reasons explain the realities in Iraq and a course of action to successfully end the War.

EDUCATION. Americans need to become educated about Iraq and the Middle East so we can make informed and educated decisions. Iraq is a complex society with Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish constituencies in conflict with each other. The groups also experience significant internal conflicts as recent internecine Shia battles between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces demonstrated. If the Iraqi people want peace among or even within these factions, it will be up to them to forge that peace. And it is entirely possible major elements of the population do not want peace. We have to educate ourselves about Iraq - the cradle of civilization - so we, as a nation, can make better informed decisions about the best way to help. Today, most Americans know little about Iraq and would have trouble finding it on a map.

GOOD AND BAD. Our presence in Iraq is simultaneously helping and hurting. Our military forces are providing site-specific security and stability but our over all presence is contributing to nervousness and instability in Iraq and in other parts of the Middle East. While our long-term presence in Germany and South Korea may have made sense for those countries, the same conditions do not necessarily prevail in Iraq. The homogeneity of the populations in Germany and South Korea as well as the role the U.S. played in the respective wars for these two countries is in stark contrast to the situation in Iraq - a country in which we are seen as occupiers in a nation divided by multiple sects whose structure is tribal in nature.

COOPERATION. We have to come to the realization we cannot win the War by ourselves. The Iraqi people will be the ones who “win” the War as it now is an internal battle or civil war. They are the ones who can forge the only resolution of the War - a political solution. All we can do is help. And one of the best ways we can help probably is to leave as soon as possible. Currently, we are providing assistance to the Iraqi Government - which is controlled by one Shiite faction. Our presence is a disincentive for the current Iraqi Government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to compromise with the factions out of power. As the conflicts between al-Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shia factions recently demonstrated, by formally supporting the Iraqi Government, the U.S. Military is being forced to pick sides between rival political groups. If we announce our planned departure but offer a schedule which is reasonable, it will give faction in power the incentive to sincerely negotiate while simultaneously providing the Iraqi people with some security while those negotiations occur. One of the reasons the Surge failed politically was, although the U.S. Military did its job and provided a window of peacefulness during which serious negotiations could have resulted in the resolution of numerous issues, that resolution did not occur because the Maliki-led Government did not have sufficient incentives to compromise.

REALISTIC PLANNING. We need to announce our departure as one of our ultimate objectives. Given the paramount importance of this objective, an orderly withdrawal needs to be planned now because the logistical challenges of our withdrawal will be extraordinary. Contrary to the statements made by many opponents of the War, from the moment the decision is made to withdraw until the last troops leave is likely to be an 18- to 30-month process. Using a 24-month time-frame with a “soft schedule” component (i.e., we retain the flexibility to slow down the withdrawal based on security needs or even increase troop levels) probably makes the most sense because it would allow for an orderly withdrawal and the proper disposition of U.S. bases, supplies, machinery, and equipment.

CHANGING ROLES. The role of the U.S. Military should be shifted in short order exclusively to training some of the tasks it already has been doing successfully for years - i.e., training Iraqi troops, providing intelligence and strategic advice, assisting in other advisory roles, and helping to provide security for infrastructure projects. The U.S. Military also should consider a prominent role in border protection which, in turn, would justify the establishment of bases on Iraq’s perimeter - where the U.S. presence would barely be noticed by the Iraqi people.

REDUCING TERRORISM. Once we announce our plan to leave, it will reduce or even eliminate the incentive for terrorists groups and insurgents to target American soldiers. After all, they are targets because they are occupiers who the insurgents seek to run out of the country. If we announce our plans to leave, it will take the wind out of the sails of those who wish us death. They will lose whatever remaining support they have in the country because they will no longer be able to argue conflict is necessary to remove occupying foreign troops. Their entire raison d’être will vanish as they no longer have a political base founded on the emotional desire to rid a country of its occupiers. By continuing our current withdrawal process and announcing the continuation is based on a goal of complete withdrawal, we will immediately convince everyone we are on our way out. But, by having a soft schedule, we will retain the flexibility needed to address security issues and, if need be, even increase troop strength at times.

SOFT SCHEDULE. The reason a “soft schedule,” as described above, makes sense is that it (a) gives the U.S. Military the flexibility it needs to accomplish military objectives while (b) putting the United States on a course to reduce, if not end, its active military role in Iraq. A soft schedule also still (c) accomplishes the objective of reducing the interest in attacking American troops and civilians and (d) places extreme pressure on the Iraqi Government to resolve ethno-sectarian differences and bring into the government the various Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions in conflict with each other (and with sects within each group). A soft schedule accomplishes all of this.

MINIMAL PRESENCE. Whatever military presence we have in Iraq should be publicly minimized within the country. For example, the U.S. has a significant presence in Kuwait but it is almost unseen. Military bases are located away from Kuwaiti populations. When U.S. Military personnel go to Kuwaiti cities, they dress in civilian clothing. These practices, along with others, allow the U.S. to maintain strategic bases while not appearing to be a significant part of the country in which we are guests. This recognizes the sovereignty of other nations and also minimizes the risks to our troops. The same strategy should be deployed for the U.S. Military in Iraq.

FOREIGN PRESENCE. Iraq brings home the reality that we no longer can afford to support foreign bases at the level we did in the past. If a country or group of nations wants us to assist them, they should contribute a significant portion of our annual costs (e.g., 50% or more). This is a financial reality that applies to all of our foreign operations and needs to be part of a shift in cost-sharing no Administration or Congress has had the courage to implement despite the fact the falling dollar has meant many countries could do far more. When people and nations are asked to pay for something, their decision conveys the value they put on that assistance. Countries such as Germany, Japan, Korea, and even Iraq can afford to pay for a significant portion of the cost of our assistance. After all, we’re putting the lives of our troops on the line for them. The least they can do is help pay for the costs of our military support.

GETTING MILITARY HELP. We cannot rationally expect we will get significant help for general military operations from other countries. In fact, in 2003, the invading Coalition started with approximately 60,000 foreign troops teamed up with 250,000 U.S. troops. The totals now are 10,000 and 150,000 respectively. We have lost substantial support from other countries and have no reason to believe troops from other countries will be added at any time as part of the Multi-National Force – Iraq. If anything, the more reasonable expectation is the 10,000 figure will continue to decline. To avoid rejection and to demonstrate we understand how other nations perceive the situation today, we should not ask NATO or any nation for direct military help at this time. Over time, however, we should seek to replace the American presence with a truly multi-national force whose composition is only one-tenth American, at most. Hopefully, NATO will play a role but that is likely to be several years away.

GETTING NON-MILITARY HELP. We need to immediately seek help from other nations and major corporations not in the form of direct financial aid or military assistance but in the form of providing help with infrastructure projects. This needs to be in the form of a major Cabinet-level initiative. If we can get 1,200 major companies from around the world to average two $25 million projects each and can get 50 countries to contribute an average of ten $75 million projects apiece, that would total 1,500 projects worth almost $100 billion. If distributed over a five-year period, the investment of $20 billion a year would be very significant in a country with a population of only 26 million people (i.e., slightly more than the population of the State of Texas). While $25 billion a year might not seem to be much (especially given our own current rate of expenditures for our military operations in Iraq) it would have a tremendously positive impact. Additionally, the presence of so many nations and companies assisting the Iraqi people would not only have a incredible impact on the country’s infrastructure but would send such a positive message to the Iraqi people - telling them the entire world cares and is there to help.

ULTIMATE MILITARY AID. The reason to pursue an aggressive infrastructure initiative with other countries and multi-national companies is it not only will bring much-needed resources to Iraq but will give us the opportunity to ask each country to provide security for its own projects. Hence, although we likely would have no success getting other countries to join the Multi-National Force – Iraq at this time, many of them would be willing to provide troops for the protection of their own people working on projects in Iraq. In some cases, this may only be two or three dozen soldiers. In other cases, it could number in the hundreds or even be a few thousand. And because the military role of these troops would be purely defensive in nature, most countries would not have a problem with providing security forces. If this were done for 50 countries and the average force was just 400 troops, this would mean there would be an additional multi-national force of 20,000. This presence and participation could significantly add to the security of Iraq - all at no cost to Iraq or the U.S. Furthermore, it would help the U.S. reduce its own troop levels in Iraq.

SETTING AN EXAMPLE. The United States can set an immediate example for the rest of the world by making a long-term (e.g., at least 10 years) commitment to provide economic development support and aid to Iraq. The level of support should be substantial - probably on the order of $10 to $20 billion annually - especially given the condition of the country. That would mean a cumulative commitment of $100 to $200 billion. This would have a substantial and very positive impact on the country. It also would set a high standard which would serve to challenge other countries and organizations to participate in the reconstruction and rebuilding programs needed by Iraq. The Iraqi people’s view of Americans would be transformed from a primarily military role to a civilian, humanitarian role. And our commitment at this level would give us the leverage we need to convince hundreds of other countries and organizations to join the economic development effort in Iraq.

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By being honest with ourselves, by recognizing our mistakes and limitations, and by making the appropriate tradeoffs between the actions we want to take and the costs of those actions - in terms of both lives and dollars - we can formulate a policies which allow us to reasonably and successfully help Iraq.

The above-described plan is not a “Democratic Plan” or a “Republican Plan.” It is not a plan based on wishful thinking or what is politically expedient. It is a plan based on honestly answering the tough questions which need to be asked as Americans look at the costs of the War and the alternatives available to them and to the Iraqi people.

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