A New Way Ahead In Iraq


This is the second in a two-part series of articles on Iraq and where we go from here.  

General Soleimani is dead, the Iraqi Parliament has called for the United States to leave Iraq, and the Iranians are vowing to strike back in retaliation for the killing of the Quds Force commander.  In the first article in this series, we reviewed how we got here.  Now let’s try to chart a course forward, hopefully one which is more rational and well considered than we have followed since the spring of 2003.

First, we must understand that pulling out of Iraq, washing our hands of the Middle East or in any other fashion retreating behind the oceans and hunkering down inside Fortress America is not an option.  The idea of walling ourselves off from the rest of the world was already outmoded in 1939 when the Germans swept into Poland.  It is fantasy now.

This does not mean that we are condemned to continue to pursue the policies that brought us here.  To the contrary, if we are going to remain in Iraq and continue to be involved strategically in the Middle East it is absolutely imperative that we learn from our mistakes and that we do not repeat them.  What we do in Iraq from this point forward must represent a fundamental sea change.  For the sake of convenience, I will organize the way ahead around five principles.

1) We are in Iraq for the long haul.

Forget one year or eighteen month timetables on deployments or commitments.  The fate of Iraq is of fundamental importance to us.  We cannot abandon it to implode or disintegrate or to devolve into an Iranian client state without destabilizing the entire region.  We still have troops in Germany seventy-five years after the end of World War II. We have troops in Korea almost seventy years after the cessation of hostilities there.  There is no strategic or financial or logistical reason why we cannot maintain a significant military, diplomatic and intelligence presence in Iraq indefinitely.

2) The enemy in Iraq is Iran.

There will be other problems that arise from time to time that will need dealt with.  A resurgence of ISIS at some point is almost guaranteed.  This does not change the fact that the number one threat to the stability of Iraq and its evolution into a viable nation state is Tehran.  Everything we do in Iraq must be driven by this principle.

3) Iran must be confronted.

Barack Obama, probably the worst foreign policy president since Jimmy Carter, chose to ignore Iranian activity on the ground inside Iraq.  Our policy must be the exact opposite of that.  This means that every single element of American power, economic, military, diplomatic must be brought to bear.  Much of this “war for Iraq” will be fought in the shadows and will involve covert action and agents of influence.  It is time for the men and women at CIA to earn their keep and tear out by the roots the clandestine networks Iran has built all over Iraq.

4) We must have allies.

This struggle for Iraq is part and parcel of the broader strategic confrontation with Iran.  Winning means rebuilding our Iranian containment policy and involving the Sunni Arab states of the region in the fight.  This is not an American fight.  This is a fight by the United States and its allies to stop Iran’s drive for regional hegemony and to roll back the tide of militant Shia expansionism.

5) The fight in Iraq cannot be won in isolation.

Beating Iran in Iraq is part of the broader struggle, and we win or lose in there based on how that broader struggle goes.  We have now reconstituted sanctions and are literally squeezing the life out of the mad theocracy in Tehran.  We need to maintain that pressure and look for every opportunity to intensify it.  We also need to continue to stoke the fires of dissent inside Iran.

We will not topple the regime in Tehran.  That is the job of the Iranian people, and only they will decide when and how that happens.  We can, however, make sure that the Iranian people know the truth of what is happening around the world and that they understand that our fight is not with them but with the thugs and charlatans holding them hostage.

The popular press continues to present our choices in Iraq as binary.  We can cut and run, or we can continue to do what we have done since 2003 and pay the price.  There is no inherent logic in that analysis.  President Trump, in killing Soleimani, has demonstrated in the most dramatic fashion imaginable that we are free to rewrite the rules of the game and to chart a new course whenever we so choose.  It is time to apply that same logic to our overall approach in country.  It is time for a new way ahead in Iraq.

This is the second in a two-part series of articles on Iraq and where we go from here.