Two interesting perspectives on Iraq in Foreign Affairs one in which Colin Kahl outlines a strategy of “conditional engagement” in Iraq and one in which William Odom makes the case for a speedier withdrawal. I’ve grown sympathetic to what Kahl is trying to get at here as the post-“Awakening” reduction in violence has proven more durable than I would have thought. But one shortcoming of Kahl’s article is that it doesn’t grapple with Odom’s point that “The key to thinking clearly about it is to give regional stability higher priority than some fantasy victory in Iraq.”
Odom then goes on to argue that “The first step toward restoring that stability is the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.” That may be right or it may be wrong, but either way any strategy that would have us “conditionally” engaged in iraq needs to take a broader, more regional view of the conditions we’re talking about. The next administration desperately needs to undertake a “diplomatic surge” in the region, and Barack Obama seems inclined to do so. But one can’t really know in advance what the outcome of efforts at a diplomatic breakthrough with Syria and/or Iran would be. We can say that one of the primary goals of our engagement with both regional players and Iraqi politicians should be to lead to a U.S. departure (rather than the Bush/McCain goal of an indefinite presence) but the schedule needs to be actually negotiated with Iraqis and others.