- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

It has been repeated so often and by so many influential writers and leaders that it’s now accepted as an article of faith without question or examination: We can’t conduct a quick withdrawal from Iraq because it would “hand an unearned victory to the insurgents,” lead to civil war and cause us to face terrorists in America instead of the Middle East. As a result, even those who favor withdrawal grudgingly accept this idea almost as much as those who oppose it. But what if the underlying premise was wrong?

What if the very thing we have feared would lead to failure in Iraq and Afghanistan would instead lead to the success we have all so desperately sought and worked so hard to attain?

The July 28 Time magazine cover story, “Afghanistan: The Right War. Why the West is failing there, and what to do about it,” posits that our continued presence in Afghanistan now nearing its seventh anniversary feeds the insurgency. Author Rory Stewart writes: “A troop increase is likely to inflame Afghan nationalism because Afghans are more anti-foreign than we acknowledge and the support for our presence in the insurgency areas is declining. The Taliban, which was a largely discredited and backward movement, gains support by portraying itself as fighting for Islam and Afghanistan against a foreign military occupation.”

In the Spring 2008 edition of World Policy Journal, Jonathan Steele, in the article “A War Fated to Fail: America’s False Template in Iraq,” wrote that it is the military occupation in Iraq that fuels the insurgent fires. “The occupation’s first two years were decisive in setting the agenda and sealing Iraq’s fate,” he wrote. “Had the Americans followed their easy military victory over Saddam with an announcement of plans to withdraw completely within a year or less, they could have left Iraq without shedding much of their own or Iraqi blood. The chaos, the crime, the terrorism, the sectarian violence, and the slide towards civil war all flowed from the disastrous U.S. decision to control Iraq’s government and keep an open-ended presence in Iraq.” Whether or not Mr. Steele was right about events in 2003 is a matter of conjecture. But combined with the success won by the U.S. military over the past 18 months, the circumstances on the ground now give credibility to Mr. Steele’s theory and crucially an opportunity to apply it.

This past Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was quoted in the German magazine Der Spiegel saying that U.S. military forces could leave Iraq “as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned. So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn’t the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias.”

No one is suggesting that the United States abandon Iraq or Afghanistan. But there is compelling evidence to suggest that perhaps the application of American military force is not the best instrument of American power to use at this point. Consideration should be given to executing a redeployment of the bulk of American combat forces concurrent with a considerable increase in the deployment of American diplomatic and economic might.

There is much room for increased economic investment, educational development, judicial reform and assistance in the establishment of an effective bureaucracy to help Iraq’s government administer its affairs. At the same time, we could continue the training and mentoring of the Iraqi armed forces and extend our assistance in logistics and intelligence support for some mutually agreeable number of years. But by removing one of the most acute sources of insurgent agitation the presence of foreign military forces the citizens of Iraq may feel empowered to do more for themselves.

Imbued with a sense of liberty gained after the defeat of the tyrannical Saddam regime and the freedom given them by our military redeployment, a successful, functioning and stable Iraq may well be achieved more quickly if we redeploy our forces than by our continued military presence. No nation wants the extended presence of foreign troops on its soil, no matter how altruistic and honorable their intentions. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine how we define a successful completion of our mission in Iraq. We may discover that we can now bring our service members home with the honor they have earned, leaving behind a stable and self-sufficient Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors.

That would be a success in anyone’s definition.

Army Maj. Daniel L. Davis is a cavalry officer who fought in Desert Storm and served in Afghanistan.

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