I had an interesting conversation with an old friend today. In the course of this discussion a recurring theme came up. “The ‘war’ in Iraq is not going well?” I have read, heard and seen this a lot. I have to wonder, how do we know? How should it be going? What is it that should be happening and is not? What does a war that is going well look like?
I have already stated that I do not agree with or support the reasons the Bush administration offered in going to war with Iraq. While I suspect that Saddam Hussein had at the very least the ability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction even the existence of those weapons was not adequate justification for going to war. Saddam Hussein may have had nuclear weapons at some point but that too was not sufficient reason for going to war with Iraq. Having said that, the invasion of Iraq and the displacement of Saddam Hussein was 10 years late in coming and grossly overdue in my opinion. The United States could have gone about it better but it was a job that needed to be done. Kenneth Pollack’s book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq offers the best explanation of why. Everyone may not agree with the argument but Mr. Pollack offers the best presentation of that argument.
The war with Iraq is actually over. Saddam Hussein and his government have been toppled. That government is who the United States and her allies were at war with. US forces currently in Iraq are providing security in the instability that always follows the collapse of a government. One might say that we are at war with the insurgents but that is not the same as being at war with Iraq. And, in truth, we are an ally in Iraq’s effort to subdue the insurgents but I suppose that might be semantics. Taken to the other extreme Coalition forces do constitute an occupation force. For a time we had in place an occupational government. Given that an interim government has been established in voted into power by the Iraqi people, it is probably no longer accurate to call the Coalition Forces an occupying force. Especially given that the presence of the Coalition Forces has been requested by the Iraqi government.
Saddam Hussein has been removed from power and a democratic government is being constructed. It will not be a perfect government. In fact it is unreasonable to expect that it will be anything close to perfect. What we must see put in place in Iraq is basic infrastructure by which to build a good or even a great government. The governments of Japan and Germany are not the governments that the allied occupational forces put into place at the end of World War II. However, the Japanese government of today has been built on the infrastructure that was put in place by the American occupation. It is highly unlikely that we will install the right leaders in Iraq’s new government. It is even likely that the leaders will be friends of the United States. Such is the nature of the beast. It should not be that way but it is. Far more important is putting into place a survivable structure of government that will empower the Iraqi people to take ownership and control of their leadership and their government. If we are successful in building a strong and viable infrastructure for a representative form of government in Iraq where the Iraqi people have the power by which to control runs the government of their country, they will then sort out whatever is wrong with the internal workings of that government.
Pursuant to this, security must be provided so that the Iraqi government can develop without undue influence from terrorism or other use of violence. And this part is, indeed, a sticky wicket. The Iraqi government has requested that Coalition Forces remain in Iraq for the time being to provide security. Presumably, at some point the Iraqis will be able to assume responsibility for their own security. When Iraq is capable of handling its own security, both internally and externally, it will be time for Coalition Forces to leave. There will likely be a drawing down of force strength between now and then. To pull out before Iraq is capable of securing its own borders would be irresponsible. To attempt to fix a timetable to the withdrawal of troops would be foolhardy. There is an exit strategy in place. That strategy does not have a fixed timetable. It is impossible to know how quickly or slowly the building and solidifying of the Iraqi government will go. It would thus be unrealistic to set any kind of timetable for the withdrawal of US or Coalition military forces. As the Iraqis are able to take over more of their own security, Coalition forces will be released from their obligation in Iraq. And that is an exit strategy.