Brzezinski’s equivocation

The more sophisticated among those who want U.S. troops out of Iraq by this time next year have figured out that, in calling for the withdrawal, they must assure Americans that it will not produce a defeat. This means they must acknowledge that the current situation in Iraq is not dire, but rather has improved. At the same time, they must make sure to give the administration no credit for making progress.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser during the disastrous years of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, is the latest to walk this tightrope. His piece in today’s Washington Post makes clear that, for reasons he doesn’t quite explain, the overriding objective of our policy in Iraq must be to leave by the end of the year. But Brzezinski learned the hard way that Americans aren’t keen on national humiliation. Thus, he turns to the task of showing that a quick withdrawal won’t produce defeat.
By this, he means that the consequences he says the administration associates with defeat in Iraq — the region exploding, U.S. power discredited, and Iraq as a staging ground for terrorism against the U.S. — won’t occur. But why not? Here’s where Brzezinski paints a more hopeful picture of Iraq than the standard anti-Bush line adopts. He argues that the Shiites and the Kurds share a common interest in an independent Iraqi state. And he dismisses the standard argument of administration critics that, in our absence, Iraqi Shiites will become subservient to Iran.
All of this is true, but it does not mean we can withdraw from Iraq without losing credibility, encouraging our enemies in the region, and creating a potential terrorist staging ground. To prevent these consequences, there must be relative stability in the Sunni dominated part of Iraq.
On this vital point, Brzezinski equivocates. The best he can do is to assert that “some Sunnis” will buy into the new Iraqi political reality once the rallying cry of reistance to a foreign occupier disappears. He cannot say that enough Sunnis will do so to prevent those who don’t from dominating the Sunni triangle. He cannot say that, in our absence, the rallying cry of “defeat the Shiites before they dominate us” won’t be stronger than cry of “defeat the occupier” is today. He cannot say that there will be no civil war. He can provide no assurance that chunks of Iraq will not become terrorist strongholds.
Under these circumstances, a commitment to withdraw at the end of the year makes no sense. The proper course is to continue training Iraqi security forces to combat Sunni dead-enders and al Qaeda fighters. Doing so will maximize the likelihood that Sunnis willing to buy into the new Iraq (or who may become willing to do so as our force diminishes) will have the strength to make that preference stick. This is true even if, as Brzezinski asserts but doesn’t show, a “truly national army. . .is a delusion.” If it’s plausible to think, as Brezinski does, that the Sunnis might reach an accommodation, then it makes sense to focus on strengthening the forces that sustain such an accommodation. Our timetable for withdrawing should be based on the rate of our progress in achieving that purpose, not on arbitrary deadlines.

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