Welcome to WhatAfterIraq.com
You are viewing the first installment of this new blog. The purpose is to introduce the site and to suggest what it will contain that may be of interest to those reading my book What After Iraq? and to the more general reader, including the readers or users of my other current books—Cases in International Relations and National Security for a New Era.
The most basic purpose of this site is to augment What After Iraq? As that book was moving toward publication, it was absolutely clear to me that regardless of when I “let go” of the manuscript for publication (which happened on February 6, 2008) events would overcome the text, especially in this election year when the Iraq War will be the single defining foreign policy issue, and, depending on how the economy is doing later in the year, the single most important overall issue in the election. One major purpose of What After Iraq? is to provide the reader with a guide to the war and progress toward ending it as a way better to inform the reader about that war and the positions candidates take on it. Thus, a major thrust of future columns will be illuminating positions the candidates stake out for themselves on the war. Events since February 6 have already served to justify this concern and provide a clear example of why this blog may be helpful in framing an understanding of Iraq.
On February 12, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that there will likely be a “pause” in reducing troop levels at about 130,000 (the number in country in Iraq before the surge) as the surge troops are rotated out. The net effect, as Senator Obama regularly points out, will be to leave troops levels where they were over a year ago, hardly a reduction at all. The reason for the “pause” in the “surge reduction” is to be sure that the situation in Iraq does not deteriorate because troops are removed too rapidly, thereby allowing a new increase in insurgent activity.
This announcement sets off at least two warning bells. The first is an indirect admission the surge is not working. As the text points out, one of the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam (based on a compassion with Gelb and Betts, Vietnam: The System Worked) is that as long as the Americans are in place, progress appears to occur (at least some reduction in violence occurs), but once they are not progress, the situation reverts. That happened in Vietnam (an independent South Vietnam existed as long as the United States stayed, but evaporated as soon as the U.S. left). The pause seems to suggest that the administration implicitly admits the same dynamic in Iraq. What does that say about staying in Iraq for a prolonged period? The second effect is political in the presidential campaign. As future columns will explore, the positions of the two parties were in fact narrowing in terms of withdrawal, although they remained apart. Keeping 130,000 in Iraq through the election reestablishes a clear line in the sand between the two. Supporting the pause means supporting the war, and Senator McCain has little choice but to embrace the pause. Obama/Clinton, on the other hand, will almost certainly oppose it. How many Americans—130,000 or less—should remain in Iraq the rest of this year will go a long way toward defining the Iraq issue.
This example is offered essentially as a “teaser” of things to come in this space. As the masthead suggests, I will be talking about Iraq and related security issues as time goes by. I hope what I have to say will be provocative and informative, and that you’ll join me in a dialogue. The train has now left the station.