Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union: A Return on Success in Iraq?

Jim Fine
Jim Fine, FCNL
Guest blogger

President Bush told the nation last night that U.S. strategy in Iraq is guided by the principle of "return on success." It sounds good. Everyone loves success and the president rightly acknowledged that a large majority in the country want U.S. troops to return home.

But the president didn’t tell the nation that far from planning to have U.S. troops return home, he is negotiating an agreement with the Iraqi government to have U.S. military forces remain in Iraq for years to come. Only hours before his state of the union message, the president declared in signing the 2008 military authorization bill that he would not be bound by the act’s prohibition on building permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, a provision that FCNL helped to initiate and ultimately led the lobbying to bring into law.

A ban on permanent bases in Iraq could, he said, prevent the president from exercising his constitutional authority as commander in chief. By the end of July the administration plans to have a strategic cooperation agreement with Iraq that will establish South Korea or Philippines-style U.S. bases in Iraq. He must not be expecting success.

Perhaps he is not expecting success because he is unwilling to acknowledge and pursue the elements of a strategy that have made for success and could make for more. General Petraeus has noted the importance of Syrian efforts to interdict the movement of foreign fighters into Iraq and of Iranian cooperation in curbing the flow of weapons and explosives from Iran. Petraeus has also acknowledged how important Moqtada al-Sadr’s ceasefire order to his Jaish al-Mahdi militia has been in reducing both U.S. and Iraqi casualties. The president mentioned none of these things—all first, tentative steps in the regional and inside-Iraq diplomacy that will be essential for real success in Iraq.

The president’s slogan should have been “return for success.” Success in Iraq requires convincing Iraqis and everyone in the region that the U.S. intends to withdraw all of its military forces from Iraq. The president should have announced that the U.S. seeks no permanent bases in Iraq, and will place a timetable for withdrawal on the table at negotiations with Iraqi groups and the neighboring states.

Diplomacy is largely responsible for the limited and fragile success achieved in Iraq to date. Real and lasting success requires much more of the same diplomatic outreach to Iraq’s warring factions and its neighbors in the region.

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