We’ve already identified four substantive shortcomings with the Center for a New American Security’s ‘conditional engagement’ strategy for Iraq. Conditional engagement fails to define conditions for its own success, misreads internal Iraqi politics, fails to explain how its means would achieve its vague ends, and offers little more than a ‘checked box’ on regional diplomacy. Moreover, conditional engagement presents itself as the ‘alternative’ to the Bush-McCain Iraq strategy, when in reality it has much in common with that strategy.
CNAS attempts to present its paper as a ‘moderate’ strategy, conveniently situated between the clearly unsustainable conservative policy and supposedly ‘irresponsible’ plans for a clear redeployment. The phrase ‘sustainable stability,’ an apparent substitute for laying out a concrete end-state for a conditional engagement strategy, appears no fewer than seventeen times in the paper.
But the bulk of the effort to convince readers that conditional engagement is the only responsible way forward in Iraq rests largely on the shoulders of straw men. It pigeonholes competing Iraq strategies into an overly simple conceptual framework – namely whether or not ‘engagement’ or ‘disengagement’ is ‘conditional’ or ‘unconditional.’ This move allows the report to split hairs between the Bush-McCain strategy and its own, while ignoring a fundamental strategic choice in Iraq: whether or not U.S. troops should ultimately leave Iraq in a specific time horizon, as an increasing number of Iraqi leaders — and a substantial majority of Iraqis themselves — would like. Read more