America Must Finish With Its Iraq Delusions

Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

It is ironic that, in their USA Today article entitled “How to Finish in Iraq,” authors Ann Gildroy and Michael O’Hanlon never actually tell us how to finish in Iraq.

The first and perhaps most glaring error in the op-ed is the authors’ assertion of equivalence between support for the Iraq invasion and support for the surge, when in fact the latter was simply an effort to ameliorate some of the worst consequences of the former -– making up for past mistakes and lost time.

The authors write:

War critics often claim that despite other progress, Sunni-Shiite reconciliation is unworkable, underscoring the failure of U.S. strategy. The actual situation is much more complicated and more promising, if also still fraught with danger.

This misses an important point. It’s not that reconciliation among Iraqis is unworkable, period.

Rather, it is unworkable so long as the US maintains a military presence that prevents competing Iraqi factions from testing the limits of their power and work out power-sharing deals on their own terms — as we argued in our September report, Iraq’s Political Transition After the Surge.

If we took Gildroy and O’Hanlon’s advice, the US would remain stuck in a balancing role in some of Iraq’s internal conflicts (I say some because conventional analysis on Iraq tends to overstate the impact of US troops — we are not meaningfully present in many parts of the country like Diyala or most of the key southern provinces).

So the authors really never tell us “how to finish,” they simply tell us how to continue what we have been doing for years now — treading water and deluding ourselves that a continued over-investment of national security resources is necessary to keep America safe and give Iraqis a chance to determine their own futures. The exact opposite is the case.

The real question is when our country will decide to let go of these delusions.