The United States have two main strategies with which to accomplish its most crucial objectives in Iraq. The creation of a professional and effective Iraqi security force goes without saying. This is needed so that we can leave Iraq in the hands of Iraqis. But establishing stability and security in Iraq, which is The United States’ primary objective, can be accomplished through one of two strategies, as mentioned before: one is for the Armed Services of The United States to establish security and stability, mainly by exterminating terrorist networks and militias, and the other is to train and equip Iraqi security forces to do it (and then maintain security and stability thereafter) themselves. The Administration chose the latter strategy, which is best strategy and the only one that will serve our interests in the long run.
It would not have been (and even now, it would not be) difficult for the Armed Forces of The United States to establish stability and security in Iraq. They certainly have the capability and technology to do so. This would, of course, involve a lot of force-driven and force-supported strategies and efforts and plans, wherewith to eliminate those forces that prevent the establishment of stability and security or that threaten or may threaten the same when established. This would involve the elimination of all such forces that refuse to surrender. Key among these will be “security militias” of the Sunnis and the Shiites: these militias were established by Sunnis and by Shiites to protect one’s people from the attacks of hostile forces. But they also engage in sectarian attacks, with Sunni militias slaughtering Shiites and Shiite militias slaughtering Sunnis. These militias secure their hold on their people through the use of force, using bloody methods to enforce stability and social norms. They not only serve as the police but also as executioners. Through their zones of control and influence, they establish areas where the government and its agents have little to no control or influence, essentially placing themselves outside the state if not in de facto autonomous regions. Such a state of affairs is quite detrimental for the state as a whole and especially for overall security and stability: whenever these militias exist, sectarian stride is sure to plague the state, and although this strife is the fault of militias on both sides, such strife also serve to make the militias more relevant and needed for its people. It is a circle of violence; indeed, it is a spiral of violence.
But these militias will not surrender. They will not lay down their arms. Any agreement with them would be temporary until the next sectarian attack, whereupon the militias will rearm and return in triumph and self-justification. As the Armed Services are seen as occupying forces, no popular entity would coöperate with them in order to foster peace, stability, and security. Are the Armed Services ready to kill so many people throughout Iraq? Are they willing to engage in such a violent and sweeping campaign? If it has to be done, it will be done — I have no doubt about this — but it seems to me that going across Iraq to exterminate these militias and terrorist networks is something that would take considerable will to accomplish, which we might not be able to muster.
Supposing that the Armed Services were able and willing to exterminate the militias and terrorist networks, the stable and secure Iraq would have to be handed to iraq’s security forces. But if the Armed Services established Iraq’s stability and security, Iraq’s own security forces would have little if any experience dealing with hostile elements. At the very least, they would be unable to deal with them independently, what with lack of experience and all. And so whenever a situation arises that necessitates such action or engagement with hostile forces, the Iraqi security forces will call on the Armed Services to help them out. Or to deal with it all together. And if we were not to be present in Iraq then, we would have to return or witness Iraq sliding unto chaos. Again. And this cycle will continue again. And again. And again. After all, why should Iraqi security forces endanger their lives when the Americans are willing to preserve their hard work? How could we expect the Iraqis to take their security and stability in their own hands if they never had the experience and cannot obtain it?
Trust me: if it comes to choosing to do the job themselves or handing it off to the Americans, they will always choose to hand it over to the Americans. And we will always comply because we cannot afford to let Iraq slip into chaos.
Now, the solution would be to train the Iraqi security forces. And this goes back to the original dilemma, because we can train them as stability and security are being established or thereafter as threats thereto are engaged.
If we train them — and we would have to train them because no one else will — after we establish stability and security, we will not only have to bear the very heavy casualties we would experience as we engage with hostile forces but also we would have to bear the casualties we would suffer as we fight alongside the Iraqis as we train them. And why, for that matter, should only we suffer casualties as stability and security are being established while the only Iraqis suffering would be the hostile forces and collateral damage? Should not Iraqi forces have a hand in establishing their own security and stability?
Now is the time to say: “Then, we should train them as we help them establish security and stability!”
This is precisely what we have been doing!
There is no doubt that if we save Iraq and hand it to the Iraqis, they will expect us to save Iraq whenever it needs saving. In this way, we will never leave Iraq and Iraq will never leave us.
The Armed Forces are doing their best to train Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi security forces are doing their best to be trained and to take a more active role in their duties and campaigns. But it is a difficult job, and is difficult for both sides.
And undermining the Armed Services’ efforts by undermining the war does not help one bit.
This strategy and its challenges are best demonstrated by an even or campaign that took place a few years ago: the strike against Fallujah. Iraqi security forces, trained and equipped, were sent in to eliminate Sunni militias and terrorists. They failed horribly, and the Armed Services had to save them and put down the militias and terrorists. Iraqis and Americans sustained many casualties, as did the hostile forces obviously. But it was inevitable. We could not have cleansed Fallujah but we could depend on Iraqi forces either. Fortunately, the Iraqi security forces are much better, but a lot still needs to be done.
Our military goals upon going into Iraq were two-fold: overthrow Saddam Hussein and his regime, and train the new Iraqi security forces. The first mission was accomplished remarkably fast. The second is still ongoing. (Not that we were not prepared: we were warned constantly that it will take time and effort. It seems many have selective memory or selective hearing.) We did not go in to single-handedly save Iraq or pacify its violent elements. We are not there to take advantage of Iraq economically. We are there now to see to it that Iraqis and take their matters into their own hands.
Until the Iraqi security forces are trained sufficiently enough that they can operate independently, we cannot leave. And as no one has a magic ball that can tell us when the Iraqi security forces will be sufficiently trained and equipped, it is really impossible to establish a timetable for withdrawal, phased or otherwise. The realities on the ground will dictate what we can do and when, and oftentimes the realities on the ground do not correspond with what we would like to be.
I want our men and women back from Iraq and from Afghanistan. But I realize that the realities on the ground trump all of our hopes and desires. A strong nation will hope in the future while dealing with reality today. Indeed, the strongest nation will deal with realities today to accomplish the dreams and hopes for tomorrow.
In summary: stay the course for therein lies our victory. Anything else will be utter failure.