Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top U.S. commander Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno both declared yesterday that they support the “Korea model” vision of maintaining U.S. forces in Iraq for decades.
Gates told reporters in Hawaii that he is thinking of “a mutual agreement” with Iraq in which “some force of Americans…is present for a protracted period of time, but in ways that are protective of the sovereignty of the host government.” Gates said such a long-term U.S. presence would assure allies in the Middle East that the United States will not withdraw from Iraq as it did from Vietnam, “lock, stock and barrel.”
Later, Odierno, who oversees daily military operations in Iraq, said that having “a South Korean-style force there for years to come” is a “great idea.” “I think it would be very helpful to have a force here for a period of time.” Watch it:
Modeling our Iraq strategy off the U.S. experience in Korea relies on a grossly inaccurate historical comparison, and runs directly opposite Americans’ view that the U.S. should disengage from Iraq. As Fred Kaplan writes today:
To sum up, we intervened in South Korea as a response to an invasion and as part of a broad strategy to contain Communist aggression. We intervened in Iraq as the instigator of an invasion and as part of a broad strategy to expand unilateral American power. We remained in South Korea to protect a solid (if, for many years, authoritarian) government from another border incursion. We are remaining in Iraq to bolster a flimsy government and stave off a violent social implosion.
In other words, in no meaningful way are these two wars, or these two countries, remotely similar. In no way does one experience, or set of lessons, shed light on the other. In Iraq, no border divides friend from foe; no clear concept defines who is friend and foe. To say that Iraq might follow “a Korean model”–if the word model means anything–is absurd.
In Newsweek, Jonathan Alter adds:
The only two reasons to station troops in the Middle East for half a century are protecting oil supplies (reflecting a pessimistic view of energy independence) outside the normal channels of trade and diplomacy, and projecting raw military power. These are the imperial aims of an empire. During the cold war, charges of U.S. imperialism in Korea and Vietnam were false. Those wars were about superpower struggles. This time, the “I word” is not a left-wing epithet but a straightforward description of policy aims–yet another difference from those two older wars in Asia.
Q: Do you agree that we will likely have a South Korean-style force there for years to come?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think that’s a strategic decision, and I think that’s between us and — the government of the United States and the government of Iraq. I think it’s a great idea. I think it would be very helpful to have a force here for a period of time to continue to help the Iraqis train and continue to build their capabilities, but that would be based on them asking us to stay.
If that occurs, we would definitely take a look at what we believe the size of the force would be and what they might ask us to do. If they want us to continue, stay here and fight al Qaeda for a period of time, we certainly will do that and develop our force accordingly. I think that would be nothing but helping the Iraqi security forces and the government, to continue to stabilize itself and continue to set itself up for success for years to come, if we were able to do that.