O’Hanlon’s ‘Strategic Patience’ = Strategic Disaster

Our guest blogger is Peter Juul, a national security consultant at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

For the last five-plus years, America’s foreign policy and national security strategy have been subordinated to a fixation on the tactical problems in Iraq. Pressing strategic problems – the unfinished war in Afghanistan, North Korea’s nuclear program, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and others – have been given inadequate resources, inadequate attention, or both. The U.S. Army is suffering unprecedented strain on its personnel and equipment.

Despite these grave and growing strategic problems, war supporters continue to advocate a tactical argument for an open-ended military commitment to Iraq under the misleading label of “strategic patience.”

In fact, there is nothing strategically wise about maintaining an indefinite military presence in Iraq in the hopes that Iraq’s major political problems will somehow magically be solved. As has been seen in Basra, Iraqis remain all too willing to settle their internal political disputes through violence. Rather, maintaining “strategic patience” in Iraq will lead to a strategic blunder of great proportions.

Continuing to keep 140,000 American has a number of detrimental strategic effects:

— Afghanistan continues to be under-resourced. As Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has noted, “having forces in Iraq don’t – at the level they are at – don’t allow us to fill the need we have in Afghanistan.”

— Iran’s regional position continues to be enhanced. Contrary to the administration’s description, Iran’s best ally in Iraq isn’t Muqtada al-Sadr’s fickle militia, it’s the American-supported Iraqi government – a government dominated by parties with extensive links to Tehran.

— American military readiness continues to erode. Outgoing Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “…our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. If unaddressed, this lack of balance poses a significant risk to the all-volunteer force and degrades the Army’s ability to make a timely response to other contingencies.”

Al Qaeda continues to derive propaganda benefits from a continued American military presence in Iraq, while continuing to operate largely unmolested in its safe-haven on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

America needs to rectify these existing strategic problems, not exacerbate them through “strategic patience.” What the United States needs is not more of the same in Iraq, but rather a strategic reset of its policy to set its strategic priorities straight.