Jed Babbin looks at the alternatives on the table for changing course in Iraq — partition, strongman, and withdrawal — and correctly finds them wanting. Babbin thinks the answer lies in forcing regime change in Iran and Syria. But that, I’m afraid, is not in the cards.
What should we do? First, if the situation in Anbar province is truly deteriorating due to the re-deployment of troops to Baghdad, we should immediately send more troops there to clean the situation up. Preventing the establishment of a terrorist stronghold in Iraq is, in my view, the most compelling reason for not withdrawing from the country, and we should act accordingly.
As for Baghdad, we need candidly to assess whether we can substantially reduce the violence, and at what cost. This is a sprawling metropolitan area of at least 5 million people. Thus, it may not be possible, at an acceptable cost, for the U.S. military to police it effectively over the long-term. If we come to believe that this is the case, we should turn primary responsibility over to the Iraqis (while continuing to train them) even with the knowledge that may not be up to the task.
Preventing bloodshed in Baghdad remains a worthy objective, and I think we have a moral obligation, within reason, to try to accomplish it, as we have. However, I don’t believe that U.S. security interests are substantially threatened by Sunni-Shia strife in Baghdad or by the outcome of that strife, absent the establishment of an al-Qaeda type terrorist enclave. Again, we should act accordingly.
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