How to See This Mission Accomplished


For the fifth anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of the end of “major combat operations” in Iraq, the Op-Ed page asked nine experts on military affairs to identify a significant challenge facing the American and Iraqi leadership today and to propose one specific step to help overcome that challenge.

1.- Right the Wrong

By Nathaniel Fick, a Marine infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

With eight months left in office, President Bush has the power to shape his successor’s inheritance in Iraq. And the over-arching imperative right now, as articulated by Gen. David Petraeus and others, is to build on the reduction in violence that the surge has achieved by encouraging political reconciliation among the various factions in Iraq.

A major step toward this goal would be the formal integration of members of the Sunni Sons of Iraq movement into the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces. Many of these informal militiamen, who deserve much of the credit for improved security in Anbar Province and elsewhere, served in the Iraqi Army, which the United States foolishly disbanded in 2003. In a land with few second chances, we have a rare opportunity to right that wrong.

The benefits of this integration could be substantial: giving another large group of Iraqis a vested interest in stability over instability, challenging the perception of Shiite dominance in the Iraqi government and thereby providing encouragement for Iraq’s Sunni neighbors to shoulder their share of the burden in the region.

To prove that the Bush administration — and the United States in general — isn’t coasting to the exit, negotiations with Iraq over our eventual withdrawal should be conditional on this integration of forces.

2.- Make an Orderly Exit

By Anthony H. Cordesman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If the United States is to succeed in Iraq, if the Bush administration is to manage a credible transition to the next president and if there is to be any hope of a bipartisan approach to the war there, we need a clear plan to move forward. Good plans cannot guarantee the future, but they can provide good options.

Over the next few years, the United States should seek to decrease its forces from the 15 combat brigades planned for July to no more than five, and reduce their role to a largely advisory one. This would largely eliminate the heavy loss in lives and reduce the cost of the war from $12 billion a month during the peak of the surge in 2007 to about $12 billion a year.

We should also phase out most aid to Iraq by the middle of the next presidency. The United States has already disbursed most of the $20.9 billion it has appropriated for the Iraqi Reconstruction and Relief Fund. And the State Department’s request for economic and security aid has dropped from $2.1 billion in 2007 to $960 million this year and $397 million for 2009. The United States should also give Iraq the military equipment that is already there and too expensive to bring back.

During this process, the United States needs to encourage the various Iraqi factions to reach a political compromise and follow through on its schedule to hold fair and meaningful elections. Specifically, Iraq should stick to its goal of having local and provincial elections in October and national ones in late 2009.

Well-timed troop withdrawals and a reduction in war costs, along with credible Iraqi elections, would move the United States down a path that most Americans and Congress would support — one the next president would have a reason to take.

3.- Don’t Drain Iraq’s Cash

By Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The way forward in Iraq must proceed from the recognition that the surge, of which I was an early proponent, has stabilized central Iraq, reduced violence overall and provided space for the Iraqi government to undertake important reconciliation efforts.

Continuing along this path to success requires maintaining our counterinsurgency strategy and committing to see Iraq through its democratic transformation, with parliamentary elections scheduled for late 2009.

There is one obstacle to success, however, that we must avoid. Having failed to legislate retreat, some members of Congress are exploiting Americans’ economic anxieties and insisting that the Iraqi government help defray our costs in fighting our common enemies.

Yes, the war in Iraq is expensive (though hardly the hyperbolic $3 trillion some have suggested), and the desire to reduce that expense is reasonable. Iraq has a lot of money from oil, and we should do what we can to help and encourage the Iraqis to spend their money on rebuilding their country whenever possible.

But a dangerous note has crept into the discussion, a tinge of imperialism, in fact. The argument that Iraq should use its oil revenues to pay the United States sounds like the ultimate proof that we invaded Iraq for mercenary reasons.

If it insists that Iraq underwrite American military forces, Congress would do catastrophic damage to our image in the world, particularly the Muslim world. America does not go to war for profit — ever. We should not make it appear as if we do.

4.- Neighbors at the Table

By Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army general who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004.

The Army has given President Bush an opportunity to salvage something from the Iraq situation. I regret that he continues to fail his troops, plodding ahead on a failed strategy. He has not brought to bear the great economic and diplomatic power of our nation.

The State Department’s civilian provincial reconstruction teams were supposed to deliver medical, educational, agricultural, engineering and military skills to the Iraqis. But they have been underfinanced and undermanned; people involved will tell you that the State Department and the administration failed to appropriately support them. The teams are an economy-of-force effort, and yet we did let them deliver America’s economic power.

So, what to do on the diplomatic front?

First, the administration should ask the former United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Gen. Wesley Clark to do for Iraq what they did for Bosnia. They wouldn’t have to negotiate in Dayton, Ohio, this time — perhaps Amman, Jordan, would do. (Disclosure: I have endorsed Hillary Clinton and advised her campaign.)

This would mean seriously engaging the interested parties in the region — Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. The United States would play the intermediary role; Baghdad must always be a robust participant in regional talks and share in leadership.

The most straightforward place to start would be northern Iraq, bringing to the table Iran, Syria, Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. It is madness that the United States allowed the Kurdish terrorists from Turkey to get so out of hand that our allies in Ankara felt compelled to send troops into Iraq.

The United States has the power — economically, diplomatically and militarily — to drive regional negotiations. We have, unfortunately, not demonstrated the intellectual subtlety to do this. I hope the next president will be more willing and able.

5.- Baghdad Must Pay Its Way

By Paul Bremer III, a former presidential envoy to Iraq.

The success of the coalition’s counterinsurgency strategy has opened new, and under-reported, opportunities for Iraq’s economy. Per capita income is more than four times 2003 levels. Inflation is coming down. Polls show that Iraqi businessmen are overwhelmingly optimistic about the country’s future and new enterprises are being opened every day. With oil production running at prewar levels, it is time for America to insist that Iraq make fuller use of its oil revenues for equipping and training its security forces and for economic reconstruction.

Iraq’s government revenues this year may exceed $60 billion (roughly three times the revenues in the year after liberation). Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, successive Iraqi governments have had a poor record of putting this growing income to good use.

Under the Baathists’ centralized system, more than 90 percent of state revenues were dispensed directly by the president’s office. So Iraqi ministries, especially the Ministry of Finance, developed little capacity to distribute state revenues. In 2006, the central government spent only 24 percent of funds budgeted for capital expenditures. This figure improved to 63 percent last year, but the central government nonetheless left unspent billions of dollars which should have gone for security and reconstruction.

Americans have given enormous amounts of blood and treasure helping get democratic Iraq on its feet. Now with major uncertainty in our economy, Americans can rightly ask if it isn’t time for the Iraqis to cover much more of the costs for training their security forces and for reconstruction projects.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s successful operations against Shiite militias in southern Iraq and Baghdad have encouraged the Kurds and Sunnis to agree on the elements of laws on oil industry development and revenue sharing. So the Maliki government should have the latitude and authority to quickly use Iraq’s oil revenues for urgent projects all over the country, including training Iraq’s own security forces. This would relieve the American taxpayer’s economic burden and show Iraqis that a federal political structure can serve all the people.

6.- Know Thy Friends

By Danielle Pletka, the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Since the return of Gen. David Petraeus to Iraq, much has gone right. American troops have wrought wonders fighting alongside former adversaries in Anbar Province and Baghdad. Our trust, however, can go too far.

A more jaundiced eye would go a long way in ensuring American security and Iraq’s long-term stability. General Petraeus has complimented our new friends among former Sunni rejectionists, a group known as the Sons of Iraq or the Awakening, saying they “have come to accept, we believe, that they are not going to run Iraq again.” Likewise, other American military leaders are increasingly optimistic that Fadhila, a Shiite party that dominates the provincial council in Basra, may have turned against its sponsor Iran and decided its future lies in supporting American goals.

No doubt both Al Qaeda and Iran overplayed their hands and alienated Iraqis. At the same time, the surge convinced both Sunni and Shiite rejectionists that United States forces would remain the strongest in Iraq for the time being. American leaders need to recognize, however, that power calculations, not principle, have driven these conversions.

No, we should not shun friends where we find them, even fair-weather friends. Nor is it right, as some Democrats have suggested, that our Iraqi allies are merely mercenaries. But Americans must understand that we will need to maintain an imposing presence in Iraq for a long time to come, ensuring that all sides have enough of a stake in the new order so that violence loses its appeal.

7.- Time to Cut the Cord

By Richard Perle, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The most important thing we can do to help the Iraqis and ourselves is to recognize — and reverse — the seminal mistake that followed the quick destruction of Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime: the foolish (however well-meaning) and arrogant belief that we know better than the Iraqis how to rebuild their devastated society.

Some of our technical assistance has certainly been useful, but for five years, we have been telling the Iraqis how to construct a political and legal system, how to elect their leaders, who should occupy which cabinet posts, who should be their prime minister, how to develop and allocate their resources, how to organize and regulate their economy. We have been telling Iraqi Shiites how they should deal with Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis, how an independent Iraq should relate to the Arab world, how Iraqis should reconcile sectarian differences, when to negotiate, when to fight and how to measure progress.

Stop! Iraqis know far better than we what makes sense for them. When administration officials and members of Congress, with their diplomatic, intelligence and political advisers — whose knowledge of Iraq is often recent, shallow and wrong — hector and lecture the Iraqis who are struggling to find a way forward, I wonder whether we have learned anything from our past mistakes.

8.- Remember the Refugees

By Anne-Marie Slaughter, the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.

Recommendations for how to ensure the best outcome in Iraq are politically easy — and thus plentiful. Our moral responsibility as a nation, however, requires that we prepare for the worst even as we work and hope for the best.

What we want is a peaceful political settlement among the Iraqis that will provide a stable government as we withdraw. What we may well get is local or even regional violence as part of a power struggle that will determine on what terms that settlement is reached. The possibilities include sectarian massacres, feuding warlords and attempted secession by Iraqi provinces.

Staring these prospects in the face is not pessimistic; it is prudent. And those of us who did not oppose the war have an extra obligation to be as sober as we can in our assessment of the probabilities.

We must begin by taking care of those Iraqis who have risked their lives for the vision of a new country that we promised them. We should drastically increase the immigration quotas for Iraqi translators and others who want to come to the United States, complete with continuing resettlement assistance once they arrive. We should work with the “coalition of the willing” and with countries in the region to do likewise.

We must plan to create safe corridors for the refugees fleeing Baghdad and other areas, and we must talk to all countries in the region, including Iran and Syria, about temporary resettlement plans for these refugees.

As Gen. David Petraeus reminds us, we are trying to buy time for a political settlement. In the end, that is up to the Iraqi leaders. We cannot save them from themselves. But we can do everything we can to help the millions of Iraqis who are likely to be trying to get out of the way.

9.- Can the South Stand Strong?

By Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of research at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution.

The surge and the new American counterinsurgency strategy have improved the situation remarkably in the northern half of Iraq. This progress could serve as the eventual basis for sustainable stability across Iraq. However, as countless people — starting with Gen. David Petraeus, the top United States commander in Iraq — have rightly noted, that progress is fragile.

While the five additional “surge” brigades sent last year were not as important as the changes in strategy and tactics, they were not irrelevant either. By July, American forces in Iraq will be reduced to their pre-surge levels, and will have to demonstrate that they can consolidate these gains with 25 percent fewer forces. Given the slow but fairly steady improvement in Iraqi capacities, this is a reasonable risk.

The problem lies in southern Iraq, as the recent violence amply illustrated.

Thanks to the coalition’s inability to provide security there, southern Iraq has been the battleground of various Shiite militias for years. However, the withdrawal of the last British forces from Basra and the political changes wrought by the surge in Baghdad and its outlying areas (which threaten some of Iraq’s most important Shiite militias) have intensified their competition.

There is a real danger that the deteriorating situation in the south will begin to undermine the progress in Baghdad and the north if left unchecked. It is just not clear that the north can continue to be stabilized if the south collapses.

Nor is there reason to be confident that the Iraqis can do the job on their own, as American commanders seem to hope. Growing numbers of Iraqi units have demonstrated the ability to hold areas in the north cleared by mixed American-Iraqi formations. However, as their performance in the south last month revealed, few Iraqi troops seem ready to clear areas on their own.

So the biggest hurdle that the Bush administration must clear in Iraq in its last eight months in office is to simultaneously reduce American forces by one-quarter, preserve the gains in the northern half, and scrape together enough resources to keep the southern half from heading south.