Iraq

Wesley Clark’s advice

Former General Wesley Clark still believes the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. But unlike other opponents of the war, he recognizes the dangers of pulling out now or setting a date certain for withdrawal, and he offers some ideas on how to “create a stable, democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq — a strategy the administration has failed to develop and articulate.”

Some of his advice makes a lot of sense:

On the political side, the timeline for the agreements on the Constitution is less important than the substance of the document. It is up to American leadership to help engineer, implement and sustain a compromise that will avoid the “red lines” of the respective factions and leave in place a state that both we and Iraq’s neighbors can support. So no Kurdish vote on independence, a restricted role for Islam and limited autonomy in the south. And no private militias.

Easier said than done, of course, but shouldn’t a constitution that all but the extremists can live with be a higher priority than timeliness?

In addition, the United States needs a legal mandate from the government to provide additional civil assistance and advice, along with additional U.S. civilian personnel, to help strengthen the institutions of government. Key ministries must be reinforced, provincial governments made functional, a system of justice established (and its personnel trained) and the rule of law promoted at the local level. There will be a continuing need for assistance in institutional development, leadership training and international monitoring for years to come, and all of this must be made palatable to Iraqis concerned with their nation’s sovereignty. Monies promised for reconstruction simply must be committed and projects moved forward, especially in those areas along the border and where the insurgency has the greatest potential.

Again, the dangerous situation on the ground in Iraq– especially for foreigners– makes this a difficult task, but it strikes me as outrageous that most of the money that the administration pledged for reconstruction is still unspent while so many basic needs are unmet and so many Iraqis are unemployed and frustrated.

On the military side, the vast effort underway to train an army must be matched by efforts to train police and local justices. Canada, France and Germany should be engaged to assist. Neighboring states should also provide observers and technical assistance. In military terms, striking at insurgents and terrorists is necessary but insufficient. Military and security operations must return primarily to the tried-and-true methods of counterinsurgency: winning the hearts and minds of the populace through civic action, small-scale economic development and positive daily interactions. Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters. A better effort must be made to control jihadist infiltration into the country by a combination of outposts, patrols and reaction forces reinforced by high technology. Over time U.S. forces should be pulled back into reserve roles and phased out.

That makes sense; and I’ll assume that as commander of NATO forces during operations in the former Yugoslavia, he has some idea what he’s talking about. The need for more Arabic-speaking Americans in Iraq strikes me as especially urgent. Instead the military– in a classic instance of self-defeat– is actually discharging Arabic and Farsi translators for being homosexuals.

I’m more skeptical of this proposal:

Adding a diplomatic track to the strategy is a must. The United States should form a standing conference of Iraq’s neighbors, complete with committees dealing with all the regional economic and political issues, including trade, travel, cross-border infrastructure projects and, of course, cutting off the infiltration of jihadists. The United States should tone down its raw rhetoric and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region. In addition, a public U.S. declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq would be a helpful step in engaging both regional and Iraqi support as we implement our plans.

I agree about forswearing permanent bases in Iraq, but I’m not so sure what kind of cooperation the US can expect from such neighbors as Iran and Syria, which clearly wish us nothing but humiliation and failure in Iraq.

Unfortunately Clark’s opposition to the war probably rules out the possibility that any of his advice will be taken seriously by an administration which seems to value loyalty above competence.

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