In Iraq, major missions accomplished, secondary mission not accomplishable

George Will concludes his case for leaving Iraq earlier than the end of 2011 exit date this way:

Many scholars believe. . .that nations which suffer civil wars as large as Iraq’s was between 2004 and 2006 have “a terrifyingly high rate of recidivism.” Two more years of U.S. military presence cannot control whether that is in Iraq’s future. Some people believe the war in Iraq was not only “won” but vindicated by the success of the 2007 U.S. troop surge. Yet as Iraqi violence is resurgent, the logic of triumphalism leads here:
If, in spite of contrary evidence, the U.S. surge permanently dampened sectarian violence, all U.S. forces can come home sooner than the end of 2011. If, however, the surge did not so succeed, U.S. forces must come home sooner.

Will misses the central reason why the 2007 surge was a triumph: it helped produce the crushing defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq. In fact, the goal of dampening sectarian violence was subservient to the imperative of defeating al Qaeda. The Bush administration concluded that if Sunnis were being butchered by their countrymen in Baghdad, for example, there was little chance of them siding with the U.S. and Iraqi forces against al Qaeda in Anbar province.
But this fact probably strengthens, rather than undercuts, Will’s central point. Now that dampening sectarian violence in Iraq is no longer strongly linked with fighting the enemy, it must stand on its own as an American objective. As such, it remains a worthy goal, but hardly an imperative.
In any event, as Will notes, it’s not clear how much the U.S. military can do in furtherance of this goal while we are in wind-down mode.


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