In addition to failing define the conditions when U.S. troops would leave Iraq and misreading Iraqi views and calculations, the CNAS “conditional engagement” report on Iraq has a major gaping hole at the center of its argument:
3. Conditional engagement doesn’t describe how it would be implemented to achieve its stated ends, however vague those ends are.
As we previously noted, the report argues that continued U.S. military engagement in Iraq is a tempting enough carrot to get Iraqi leaders to resolve their political differences in order to keep it. But as we’ve also seen, many Iraqi political leaders don’t see it the same way, and even those who are more sympathetic to continued U.S. military assistance have to promise an end to the American military presence at some point.
Moreover, there is an illogic at the center of the conditional engagement argument — it implies that bad things might happen if U.S troops leave (genocide, terrorist safe havens, and regional war), so we should stay. But if Iraq’s leaders don’t move forward on accommodation, then we should leave anyways, despite those risks to U.S. national security. The report tries to have it both ways — it tries to say that U.S. troops cannot leave Iraq because of the risks of genocide, regional war, and terrorist safe havens, but if Iraqis don’t pass some laws, then maybe we should leave after all.
Conditional engagement is, in effect, a one-shot strategy dependent upon the Iraqi government not calling our bluff. Either we actually do disengage in the face of non-cooperation from the Iraqi government and lose, in the strategy’s own terms, any ability to affect the situation in Iraq, or we eventually reach the “boy-who-cried-wolf” threshold where our threats to leave are not taken credibly. It is not a strategy that can survive the multiple iterations necessary to resolve most or all of Iraq’s internal conflicts. Read more