In What After Iraq, I devote a chapter to Iraqification as the likely outcome of the Iraq War. The essence of the argument is that the outcome will resemble the process of Vietnamization (from which, obviously, the term is drawn). As it evolved, the policy of Vietnamization involved turning the war gradually over to the South Vietnamese with the “reasonable chance” they would be able to maintain their independence after the transfer of responsibility from American to South Vietnamese forces was completed.
There were really three dynamics to Vietnamization that have been transplanted to Iraq:
1, A recduction in acceptable outcomes from the American vantage point. In Vietnam, that meant backing down from a guarantee of Soth Vietnamese independence to the “reasonable chance” of that outcome.
2. The training and preparation of South Vietnamese forces to be robust enough to withstand a North Vietnamese onslaught.
3. The creation of conditions in surrounding countries to maximize the likelihood of South Vietnamese survival (notably sealing off Cambodia and Laos as infiltration routes).
Obviously, all this did not work out as planned in Vietnam, but it is clearly the basis of U.S. efforts in Iraq. The United States has backed away from the absolute goal of Iraqi democracy to the more measured standard of a stable government survival in which a democratic outcome is possible. The Iraqi armed forces have been recruited and trained, although that process is ongoing. Some efforts have been undertaken to neutralize influence from Syria and Iran, although those could hardly be called glowing successes (but then, neither were Cambodia and Laos successes).
Something like Iraqification is, after all, the only possible outcome. The United States will leave, and it requires some semblance of success behind it as it lowers the flag and departs. Although what will happen after we leave is still debatable, it is at least arguable that the situation will be stable. Sounds like Vietnamization to me!
The major forces seem to be aligning behind this outcome. Obama and McCain are, as argued in previous posts, “schlepping” their way toward the goal of full or large-scale withdrawal by 2010, and the al-Maliki government has embraced that outcome as well. Will it come as any surprise if the SOFA that is negotiated after January 2009 does not move in this direction as well?
Does the movement toward Iraqification favor one side or the other in the November election? No one, of course, uses the term, even if both have embraced its dynamics. Getting the U.S. out of Iraq certainly favors the Obama position, but McCain’s support for the surge will be trumpeted as having moved the situation to the point that Iraqification can be implemented. Sounds like a wash, although both candidates will doubtless take credit. If there is an advantage, it will be the direction the reasidual debate about Iraq will go. If it goes toward “how we won the war,” it will redound to McCain’s advantage (proof he knows how to “win wars”–despite never having won one); if it goes back to what we were doing there in the first place, the advantage goes to Obama.
In the end, Iraqification helps out everyone, by putting Iraq behind us. Then, the question will be how we treat Iraq once we’re gone. We forgot (arguably abandoned) Vietnam as fast as we could, and hardly noted it when the “reasonable chance” of success failed. Will we do the same things if events work out poorly after we leave Iraq?