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August 8, 2007
New Report Calls for Long Term Commitment in Iraq
As a counterpoint to the recent New York Times Op-Ed by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack that showed the way to "sustainable stability" in Iraq as a means to achieve victory, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has issued his own report from the trip calling for a long term commitment in Iraq:
These are unpleasant realities for a nation that prefers all of its solutions to be simple and short. The reality is, however, that even if the US does withdraw from Iraq, it cannot disengage from it. The US will have to be deeply involved in trying to influence events in Iraq indefinitely into the future, regardless of whether it does so from the inside or the outside. It will face major risks and military problems regardless of the approach it takes, and it will face continuing strategic, political, and moral challenges.Cordesman's conclusions were more pessimistic that O'Hanlon and Pollacks about the current situation on the ground in Iraq and the prospects for victory.
It is important to note in this regard that while Americans are still concerned with findingways to define “victory” in Iraq, virtually the entire world already perceives the US as having decisively lost. Every international opinion poll that measures international popular reactions to the US performance in the war – Oxford Analytica, Pew, ABC/BBC/ARD/USA Today, Gallup, etc. – sees the US as responsible for a war it cannot justify and which has caused immense Iraqi suffering. And Cordesman shows why the Democratic plan to leave Iraq is both impossible and dangerous:
Virtually every internal poll of Iraqi opinion with any credibility -- Oxford Analytica, ABC/BBC/ARD/USA Today, ORB, etc. – has produced similar results. The US probably cannot entirely reverse these attitudes in Iraq, the region, allied states, and increasingly in America. It may well, however, be able to greatly ameliorate them over time. It seems likely that the US will ultimately be judged far more by how it leaves Iraq, and what it leaves behind, than how it entered Iraq. The global political image of the US – and its ability to use both “hard” and “soft” power in other areas in the future, depends on what the US does now even more than on what it has done in the past.
The US has some 160,000 military personnel in Iraq and a matching or greater number of civilians and contractors. It has between 140,000 and 200,000 metric tons of valuable equipment and supplies, and some 15,000-20,000 military vehicles and major weapons. It is dispersed in many of Iraqi’s cities and now in many forward operating bases. Cordesman's thorough report spells out what our interests are in Iraq and the Middle East while advocating "strategic patience" to give both the surge time to work and the Iraqi government time to enact reforms.
This does not mean that the US cannot leave quickly. It can rush out quickly by destroying or abandoning much of its supplies and equipment, and simply removing its personnel and contractors (and some unknown amount of Iraqis who bet their lives and families on a continued US effort). The more equipment and facilities (and Iraqis) it destroys or abandons, the quicker it can move. Under these conditions, the US could rush out in as little as a few weeks and no more than a few months.
A secure withdrawal that removed all US stocks and equipment and phased out US bases, however, would take some 9-12 months or longer [estimates of this vary but if it was 10,000 military plus 10,000 civilians and all equipment each month in Kuwait, that would likely take 16 months minimum; 2 years is what many military experts think would be a rapid, but deliberate pace].
This is an important study by one of our most insightful analysts. A summary of the report can be found here.