To win the peace, we must enforce it

A key moment in making it “respectable” to believe that the Iraq surge might well succeed came in July 2007 when liberal analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack returned from a visit and wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about the progress they had witnessed there. O’Hanlon and Pollack, along with Stephen Biddle, have now returend from another visit to Iraq. In this New York Times op-ed, they argue that John McCain is right, and Barack Obama wrong, about the wisdom of a total withdrawal of combat troops by 2010.

The three believe that the progress in Iraq is sustainable, but probably only with a substantial American combat presence. That’s because the current stability is founded on a series of cease-fires and similar agreements that are backed up by our combat presence. Iraqi forces have proven themselves reasonably capable in the field, but do not yet have the status of an honest broker of the peace. Nor, if the going gets tough enough, are they fully effective without United States air support, combat advisers, and help with logistics and intelligence.

O’Hanlon, Pollack, and Biddle are confident that the need for U.S. forces will diminish over time. But not at a rate that would make it sensible to complete the withdrawal of combat troops in 2010. To the extent that Prime Minister Maliki has suggested otherwise, the three believe he is probably just “position[ing] himself as the symbol of Iraqi sovereignty” in the hope of contending with Moktada al-Sadr.

Based on the experience in Anbar province as well in the Balkans, the three think it may well be possible to reduce our military presence by one half over the next two or three years, with continued substantial reductions thereafter. But, they insist, to assume that our withdrawal can proceed much faster than that without undermining the chances for long-term stability “requires a degree of optimism that could well end up making ‘Mission Accomplished’ look as premature today as it was in 2003.”

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