Finishing the Job

por Frederick W. Kagan, 16 de febrero de 2006

(Published in American Enterprise Institute,  Bitterlemons-international   February 2, 2006)

America has an obligation to remain in Iraq until it has helped establish a peaceful, stable democracy there. The rest of the civilized world, especially the Muslim world, has a vital interest in supporting this endeavor. The wise consideration of the US military presence in Iraq can only take place on the basis of these two facts. Such a consideration reveals the extreme dangers that will result from a premature withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and from the establishment of any artificial time-line for such a withdrawal.
The debate over the American presence in Iraq has been clouded for too long by the debate over President Geroge W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in the first place. Resentment of that decision has too easily flowed into resentment of the continued US presence and therefore into unreflective demands for an immediate US withdrawal. This phenomenon has taken place within the US and around the world.
But evaluating the decision to invade Iraq cannot inform the discussion about when to leave. The nascent Iraqi democracy is under severe attack from internal and external forces. Its own troops are not yet ready to assume responsibility for defending it, and will not be ready to do so for some time. Were America to withdraw its forces prematurely, there is a great danger that the Iraqi government would succumb to these attacks in one of several ways.
By far the most likely manner of collapse would be a civil war among Iraq's major ethnic and sectarian groups: Sunni Arab against Shi'ite Arab in the first instance, possibly expanding into a struggle that involves the Kurds as well. This is a scenario that no Muslim could wish for, still less any non-Muslim. Civil war among Arabs is an intolerable prospect--as is civil war within any people. The possibility that Iraq's neighbors might involve themselves in such a struggle is even more intolerable, raising as it does the specter of an intra-Arab or even Arab-Turkish-Persian conflict on a much larger scale. Rather than demanding an action that would make such strife more likely, the Muslim world should unite in demanding that the US remain as long as necessary in order to prevent it.
The non-Muslim world has at least as great an interest in preventing such a disaster. Apart from the humanitarian consideration that such a conflict must be defused rather than courted, the collapse of Iraq's infant government would almost certainly create the sort of chaos in which al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations thrive. America drove the radical Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan to deny al-Qaeda the resources of that impoverished and war-wracked land. It would be the height of folly to allow al-Qaeda to trade a poverty-stricken desolate base for one that floats on one of the world's largest seas of oil. It is in the interest of no one outside of al-Qaeda and its allies for such a thing to happen.
A more reasonable argument for the immediate or rapid withdrawal of US forces from Iraq is that those forces are themselves the problem. The proud Iraqi people, it is said, naturally resent the presence of foreign troops on their soil. If only those troops were removed, so this logic goes, the violence would subside and Iraq would be at peace. Alas, it is not so.
It is not merely that there is no proof to support this assertion; there is actually clear proof to the contrary. Iraq has been most peaceful when there were more American troops in the country rather than fewer, as during the election cycles. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has openly declared his intention of starting a sectarian war between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs in order to 'awaken' the Sunnis. His stated method to accomplish this goal has been to attack Shi'ite Arabs in Iraq indiscriminately. He and his supporters have done so on many occasions, targeting Shi'ite Arab leaders and common people with car bombs, suicide bombs and other attacks. Moreover, it is clear that such tactics are not confined to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni Arab rejectionists have attacked Sunni Arabs who participate in the political process. Radical Shi'ite Arab organizations and individuals have retaliated with attacks against Sunni Arabs in Iraq.
There is absolutely no reason to imagine that this violence would cease when the Americans leave. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that a premature withdrawal would increase the scope and scale of these sectarian attacks, the prevention of which has been a significant objective of the US presence all along.
There are other reasons for a speedy American withdrawal, having to do with pressures on the American military and the possibility of waning domestic support for this conflict. We must all hope that these pressures abate or are contained. American forces should withdraw from Iraq only when they have accomplished their goal: the establishment of a peaceful, stable, and democratic Iraqi state. No one who wishes well to the Iraqi people, the Arab and Muslim communities, and the peoples of the Middle East in general should wish for any other outcome.

Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar at AEI.