By Kira Zalan |
Jackson Diehl wrote in January 2007 what I consider the best column ever published on the invasion of Iraq. Expressing frustration at the Bush administration’s repeated promises that the country would be stabilized in six to 12 months, Diehl asked why Iraq should operate on Washington’s timetable. “One day, on its own time, Iraq will reach equilibrium,” Diehl predicted, adding that the United States should want to be present at that point to help shape the deal that emerged, and should reconfigure its mission to adapt to the clock that was running in Iraq. It is a lesson that the United States has still not absorbed.
Knowing that Americans would expect Iraq to become a success within a few years—and that this most likely would not happen—was one reason why I was not in favor of the 2003 invasion. But invade we did, and the question at hand now is whether US forces staying longer than eight years would have made a difference in how stable, peaceful, and democratic Iraq ultimately will be.
While I admit to experiencing a sense of relief at seeing US troops leave Iraq before Christmas 2011, there is a nagging fear inside my head that we should have stayed a bit longer, albeit in much smaller numbers and in a training and advisory capacity. The Obama administration went through the motions of reaching an agreement with the Iraqi government to extend the U.S. presence into 2012, but without much energy or conviction. Leaving the initiative to reach such an agreement up to a government as beset by troubles as that of Nouri al-Maliki was like leaving the initiative to get a driver’s license up to your ADHD-diagnosed 16 year old—you can sit back, do little, and pretty much be assured that it won’t come about but that you won’t have to bear the blame.
The brief but horrific sectarian bloodletting that followed the U.S. withdrawal in December has already created doubts as to whether the United States was wise to have devoted so little effort to a longer drawdown of forces. It served President Obama’s electoral agenda to have all US forces out before the campaign began and, after all, if you believe that we never should have invaded, shouldn’t you believe that the sooner we leave, the better? I hope for the sake of Iraqis—and of the vulnerable American diplomats and other civilians who remain--that this turns out to be true. But I am beset by doubts.
About Michele Dunne Director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
Daniel J. Gallington Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute