Iraq -- Washington's
Domestic Political Booby Trap

Terrell E. Arnold

This week, maybe next, the US Congress will wrestle once again with how to get America out of its self-initiated war in Iraq. Both houses already have passed an Iraq War funding bill that would require withdrawal of US combat forces by next year. However, the Democrats who crafted this bill do not have enough votes to make it presidential veto-proof. Both the bill and its probable future are tragic examples of America's political mismanagement and self-indulgent leadership.
This war has now gone on longer than World War II. And that is an incredible statement, since the opposing army collapsed in only a few days. The people the neo-cons promised would greet our forces with flowers now have insurgent fighters who number at least two thirds of our forces on the ground and whose goal is to convince us to leave as soon as possible.
The perverse logic of this situation is that without exaggerating we could have declared victory at the end of the first couple of weeks and brought at least the bulk of our combat forces home. Bush made the announcement with great flourish, but then he failed to get the point: If we have won, let's quit while we are ahead.
Instead Bush defined the conflict into a quagmire by rebranding the invasion of Iraq as "the central battle in the War on Terrorism." The Iraqis had never threatened us, but our forces were going to kill "terrorists" in Iraq to keep them from coming to America to kill us. That was either an ignorant or a deliberate falsehood, because virtually all of the world's terrorists are in 75 or 80 other countries, not in Iraq, and few of them are an actual threat to the United States.
Meanwhile, any US national security rationale the Bush administration asserted for the invasion of Iraq has simply evaporated. The majority of Iraqis, say various polls, want the Americans and the remains of the Coalition to leave. The US ends up with forces in Iraq who have two inappropriate missions: (a) separate the factions and damp down the violence among contending Iraqi insurgencies, and (b) defend themselves against Iraqi dissidents who have every right to fight back against American occupation of their country.
Those two missions promise two very contradictory futures. Mission A, keeping the factions from killing each other, puts our troops in harm's way by positioning our forces as a third party to an internal Iraqi quarrel. Our forces cannot win this one, because the Iraqis, however they may approach it, must find their own answers to centuries-old disputes. Mission B, defending themselves against Iraqi dissidents, puts our forces in a position where the only potential gain is to defend themselves against people who are going to fight back against their invaders until they die, or our forces leave.
In US security terms, the military operation in Iraq is now totally sterile. Keeping our forces there to pursue either of those missions is a misuse of American military power and, more important, an abuse of our military forces. Because neither party in Washington is looking squarely at this problem, they have turned the stationing of American troops in Iraq into a Washington political booby trap.
Nobody in Washington has found a good national security reason why we should keep troops in Iraq except to achieve something that could be called a victory. Neither wants to bring them home without declaring some "mission accomplished." Both sides of the aisle are trying to define that in domestic political terms. Since the war is not winnable, each party is trying to make itself immune to the main domestic political consequence of failing to win it: probable loss of the 2008 presidential election.
Keeping our forces in Iraq to serve partisan domestic political ambitions is simply inexcusable. With modern field communications, even though our forces can see as well as any of us that domestic politics has them staked out on a growing number of Iraqi insurgent anthills, they will work loyally and hard to do what the President tells them to do. But both the President and the Congress should wake up to the futility of the present situation, engage the UN in providing a peacekeeping mission, and bring our forces home. That will give them the support they most desperately need at this time.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at <>



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