Coping With Loss: Restoring America’s Credibility

As far as must reads go, this piece in the Washington Post by Steve Simon and Ray Takeyh is definitely near the top.

The premise is simple, whatever it is we’re doing in Iraq is not working, it most likely won’t, and despite administration and GOP mouthpieces to the contrary, staying in long enough to “win the war” will not be in the United States’ best interests.

Even further, it makes an excellent case for the idea that pulling out and doing so properly will in fact bolster global confidence in the US as well as make us better in the long run.

At the heart of this argument is the very simple idea that every second we spend in Iraq in the current capacity does us harm. Not only are troops dying or accruing severe injury, but we are stretching ourselves thin militarily, compromising our ability to project force throughout the world, which has been a key aspect of our foreign policy for decades. Also, there is the reality that politically, our continued presence is eroding our credibility among the muslim world as many will see us as being on the wrong side, and taking a step back to look at the situation with a wider frame, we are increasingly being seen as ineffectual.

At the same time, Simon and Takeyh point out the flaw in the supposed reduction of US credibility should we declare a loss and pull out:

The downsides to defeat, then, are either manageable or unavoidable. And leaving Iraq could offer some silver linings, too. After years of turmoil, an orderly, methodical drawdown of U.S. forces, coupled with efforts to reassure U.S. allies and demonstrate American influence elsewhere in the region, could begin to restore America’s global reputation.

It’s possible but unlikely that U.S. withdrawal would embolden some strategic adversary such as China to confront the United States years from now. But rivals are far more likely to act according to the raw-power conditions that prevail at the moment of confrontation than according to the ghosts of setbacks past.

In essence, it is possible to lose with grace and come out better than you were. There are, after all, numerous immediate benefits we can reap from a phased draw down; a reestablished military strength that is projectable, the removal of a huge burden on the federal budget, the redeployment of the National Guard to their homestates for vital emergency response, as well as the political ramifications that go along with not being involved with a war that is not just highly unpopular here at home, but around the globe.

There is a way to fall not from grace, which is essentially what we are doing now, but to fall with grace. A phased withdrawl may spark Iraqi lawmakers to give up the “winner take all” politics that is stalling progress in the nation. Plus, as the article suggests, by taking a strong diplomatic stance with Iran, and by rolling up our sleeves and redoubling our diplomatic efforts in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, we can assert that we are still effective in the region.

At stake here, contrary to many of the war’s supporters belief, is not a threat to the United States’ national security. As pointed out in the WaPo piece:

As for al-Qaeda: True, its Iraqi branch has established a stronghold in Anbar province, and trained fighters from Iraq are, predictably, returning to their home countries, hardened by combat and looking for blood. But thus far, the chief jihadist threat to the West continues to emanate from Pakistan, not Iraq. The proportion of foreign fighters in the insurgents’ ranks is smaller than ever — perhaps 10 percent of the total number of Sunni combatants. Moreover, al-Qaeda’s Iraqi forces are already under pressure, not just from the United States but also from other Sunni leaders jealously guarding their own turf. And beyond all that, it’s simply too late to stop jihadist blowback from Iraq, which will persist regardless of whether U.S. forces remain.

But instead, American credibility. If we were to employ risk management thought processes, we would essentially be pitting the threat of further terrorist attacks (small, but inevitable) against loss of world wide faith in America (large, and growing by our continued presence in Iraq).

A well managed pull out, or loss if you must, could result in:

-Strengthening our military.

-Increase US political capital around the world.

-Restore our ability to realistically project military power in places where we need to.

-Increase our ability to diplomatically affect situations in the Middle East.

-Increase our ability to develop meaningful multinational coalitions in the future.

-Increase federal revenue that could be used at home, and in foreign aid which, if doled out properly, could stabilize various regions and make them less likely for war.

And so on and so forth.

The one thing that this article fails to do, and this is something I haven’t touched on in at least a year or more, is it does not address the Head of State issue.

This is a concept that I’ve not written about for a very long time, but is important nonetheless. Often times the head of state is the country. In fact, when you look at all the jobs the president has, Head of State is essentially his face being plastered on our little stretch of the globe. When he speaks, it is America speaking.

It is for this reason that America, Bush, and Disastor in Iraq are somewhat synonymous throughout the rest of the world. Whatever actions we take now for the better will not and can not take full effect with Bush as our head of state because his name is inextricably tied to our efforts in Iraq, and all the baggage that entails.

However, with a new Head of State that does extract us from Iraq and makes meaningful moves to restore the US’s place among the world, the overall effect would be, “Hey World. We’re REALLY sorry about the last seven or so years. We had this other guy at the wheel, and we tried really hard to get him away, but the damage is done. I’m in charge now, though, so I’m going to go and clean his mess for him.”

So, yes, graceful failure in Iraq can be a very good thing for the United States, but essentially the only way to make the transition complete is to transition out the name and face that will forever be associated with the true failures that came from our occupation of Iraq.

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