Permissible Arms

Leaving, and left behind.

Posted in iraq by Karaka on 31 August 2009

The NY Times today has an article touching on Iraqi citizenry and dependency on American presence:

Under the new Status of Forces Agreement between the countries, not only did American troops leave all population centers after June 30, but they’ve also agreed not to get involved, in or out of the cities, unless invited to do so by the Iraqis. And the Iraqi inclination has been not to invite them, partly out of pride, partly out of concern for the political blowback from their own public when they do ask for help.

This was brought into sharp relief by the two ministry truck bombings on Aug. 19, which succeeded because fortifications had been prematurely removed from in front of those ministries. “It was Iraqi aspirations exceeding their ability to secure their country on their own,” says John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an author of influential works on counterinsurgency. “The Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces are improving steadily but they’re not yet able to handle these threats responsibly,” Mr. Nagl says.

He argues that the Iraqi and American militaries need to set up standing pre-arrangements by which the United States can intervene in an emergency on the ground; such arrangements are entirely possible under the terms of the forces agreement, even if they may cause political difficulties, especially in an election year.

I have really mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq, and I don’t know that I can articulate them without coming across as hopelessly single-minded. I wholeheartedly believe that the United States should never have invaded Iraq. I believed that in 2003 and I believe it in 2009. Aside from the fear campaign that gave the Bush administration the political capital to push for the incursion, the proposal for invading was fallacious and imprudent.

That being said, I find it difficult to reconcile the situation on the ground, as Norland reports, as others have, with the general American public desire to get troops the hell out of there. Sure, we’ve established something, the beginnings of a native security force in Iraq that could be self-sustaining given more time, more resources. But are they now? With thousands killed and enemies routed, are Iraqi forces capable of defending themselves against not only internal enemies, but clear international threats? From the same article:

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the American military’s training command, says that was inevitable in the rush to build large army and police ground forces to counter the insurgency.

General Helmick says he is unconcerned about the lack of an international defensive capability. “What do they need to defend themselves against?”

I suppose that’s the question. What is there to defend against? Aside from internal strife?

I’m left unsettled, I think, by the notion that there is a mess US forces will leave behind as they leave, a mess with a thin veil of success over it. Do we, as an American force that furthered the destablization of an already unstable country, have an obligation to secure that country’s safety? The safety of its people? The clear successful training of native security forces, and the resources those forces need to accomplish their own security?

Can we really walk away and call it done?

I’m not sure.

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