A Strategic Reset

With more than 3,500 U.S. troops and 40,000 Iraqis killed in the war, it is time for the United States to hit "CTRL-ALT-DELETE."

For the past four years, President Bush’s Iraq strategy has been characterized by his determination to ignore the realities on the ground. In 2006, he ignored the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and diplomatic engagement with Iraq’s neighbors. More recently, he vetoed Congress’s war funding bill that called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He also ignored the advice of his military commanders and the majority of the American public — who disapprove of his handling of the war — and put more U.S. troops in the middle of Iraq’s sectarian warfare. Additionally, Bush’s 2003 prediction that a “free Iraq” will “lead other nations to choose freedom” has turned out to be tragically myopic. With more than 3,500 U.S. troops and 40,000 Iraqis killed in the war, it is time for the United States to hit “CTRL-ALT-DELETE.” Today, the Center for American Progress is releasing a new “Strategic Reset” plan that extracts U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2008 and looks “beyond the deteriorating situation in Iraq in order to counter the threat from global terrorist groups and ensure stability in the entire Middle East and Gulf region.”

  • The time has come for the U.S. to stop arming and training the Iraqi Security Forces. Much of the focus of Bush’s Iraq strategy has been pushing Iraq’s “national unity” government to succeed by training national security forces and meeting political benchmarks. But as Center for American Progress Senior Fellows Lawrence J. Korb and Brian Katulis note in “Strategic Reset,” “Iraq’s so-called ‘national unity’ government is neither unified nor an effective government. … Iraq’s national unity government currently lacks a unified leadership that works for the common good of the whole country.” The Iraqi government has failed to meet all of the political benchmarks that were supposed to have been achieved by March. Acknowledging the fragmentation of Iraq means immediately phasing out the training and arming of Iraq’s security forces, which have been riddled with factionalism and absenteeism. Violence in Iraq also grows as the number of Iraqi forces grows, since what the United States is basically doing by continuing to train Iraqi troops is “arming up different sides in multiple civil wars” and providing “billions of dollars of U.S. military assistance” to Iran, whose allies have infiltrated the security forces.
  • The administration should begin a phased redployment of troops out of Iraq. Bush’s full escalation will result in approximately 170,000 troops in Iraq, which is the highest level since the initial invasion. Fifty-nine percent of the American public wants to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq, as do 71 percent of the Iraqi public. Strategic Reset calls for redeployment to begin by the summer of 2007 at the latest. “U.S. troop levels in Iraq could decline to about 70,000 by January 2008, with a full redeployment completed by September 2008.” Marine units and Army Special Forces remaining in Iraq until fall 2008 would focus on counter-terrorism, rather than training Iraqi security forces. Bush’s current “no end in sight” strategy “fosters a culture of dependency among Iraqis by propping up certain members of Iraq’s national government without fundamentally changing Iraq’s political dynamics,” at the expense of our overstretched military
  • The drawdown of troops in Iraq must be accompanied by a diplomatic surge with our global allies to end the conflict. Strategic Reset urges the Bush administration to build on this progress and participate in regional conferences and engage in bilaterial discussions with Iran, ensuring that “the costs of intervening to exploit Iraq’s internal divisions are much higher than the benefits gained from working collectively to contain, manage, and utimately resolve Iraq’s internal conflicts.” This targeted regional diplomacy would also encourage countries to work with the United States to dismantle global terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda. A December World Public Opinion poll found that 75 percent of Americans — including 72 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats — support direct engagement with Iran and Syria. As Katulis and Korb note, when historians “look back on the period 2001 to 2007, they will see seven years of increased instability and strife in the Middle East, a downward spiral preceeded by seven years of relative hope and progress in the late 1990s.” Currently, the Palestinian terrorities are in a “turbulent divide,” as Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip and President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah political party, has “dissolved the 3-month-old unity government.” The Arab-Israeli conflict is critical to ensuring regional security, and “governments and their people in the Middle East view the United States more positively when it is working to address tensions between Israel and its neighbors.” “Strategic Reset” calls on Bush to apoint a special Middle East envoy who would have the support of two senior ambassadors devoted to resolving Middle East conflicts. Not only does the United States need to negotiate with Iran and Syria to solve these issues, but it must also “remove any roadblocks it may have inappropriately placed in Israeli exploration of Syrian intentions.”

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