Iraq: There is a Third Way

Muqtedar Khan

Posted Oct 3, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Iraq: There is a Third Way

Muqtedar Khan

Iraq is a man made disaster. According to the UN, 6000 Iraqi civilians were killed in July and August of 2006. In September so far over 66 American soldiers have been killed. In 2006 nearly 20,000 Iraqi civilians and security forces have perished. The status quo in Iraq is unacceptable; Iraq is slowly and steadily becoming a horrendous humanitarian tragedy.

In addition to the loss of human life in Iraq, a leaked National Intelligence Estimate prepared in April 2006 by 16 American intelligence agencies asserts that US invasion of Iraq has become the single most important reason for the growth and expansion of Al Qaeda and Jihadism worldwide, increasing terror and making the world less secure.

Amidst mounting criticism of his Iraq policy, President Bush denies that his adventure in Iraq is a failure. He claims that we are winning in Iraq and also warns that unless we stay the course we will lose the war on terror. Iraq in his opinion is the key to winning the war on terror.

But the American people are foxed no more. They are beginning to come out of the spin zone.

The unending and unrelenting stream of bad news from Iraq is finally sapping the American will to fight a war of choice. The recent victory of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman in the Senate primaries in Connecticut has served as a signal that public opinion in America has changed with regards to Iraq and the coming elections in November may very well become a referendum on whether America should ‘stay the course’ in Iraq . 

Recent polls by NY Times, CBS and CNN indicate that nearly two-thirds of Americans [62%] believe that things were going badly in Iraq . Now, 51% believe that there is no relationship between Iraq and the war on terror. This is a significant shift since June 2006 when only 41% believed that Iraq had no connection with the war on terror. Nearly 82% Americans indicate that Iraq will play a very important role in their voting decision in November and 59% of those polled oppose US war in Iraq .

There are now two reasons why there will be increased public opposition to continued U.S. presence in Iraq . The first reason is the specter of American failure to achieve its goals in Iraq ; a world without terrorism and a Middle East without dictatorship. There is a limit to how long Americans can continue to support failure and watch thousands die on a daily basis. The second reason is the growing realization that there was no linkage between the war in Iraq and the war on terror. While Americans do want to win the war on terror - there is no other option on that score; they may not wish to continue to lose in a war, which was optional to begin with.

So far there are two plans for Iraq on the table: the President’s plan to stay the course, and the demand by some Democrats such as Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, to schedule an early withdrawal. In my opinion neither plan truly safeguard’s America ‘s security interests.

While invading Iraq was wrong on many levels, withdrawing from Iraq will not solve the problem; on the contrary it will only only compound the dilemma. A precipitous American departure will lead to a full-blown civil war with more bloodshed in Iraq , which will destabilize the Middle East and undermine oil supplies. It will also embolden the radical forces in the region, who will interpret U.S. retreat as a U.S. defeat. It will inspire them to do more and will attract more recruits, garner more support and perhaps launch more ambitious projects in the region and elsewhere.

In the long run a failed state in Iraq may very well enable the emergence of territorial pockets under radical control that could become bases for Al Qaeda and its mimics that could threaten U.S. interests across the region and also subvert European security more aggressively. These groups also bring death, destruction, and destabilization to Muslim societies wherever they operate from. Clearly it is in nobody’s interests to see radicalism thrive in the Muslim World.

The US cannot stay the failed course in Iraq , it’s a travesty, and it cannot withdraw immediately. Both will lead to catastrophe, only on a different time table. We desperately need a third way.

The key problem in Iraq is really the inability of the U.S. to put more boots on the ground to patrol every street and every nook and corner in Baghdad. Security in Baghdad is the first step to peace and stability in Iraq. Also the visibility of U.S. occupation incites more anger and violence and also to some extent justifies the insurgency. The U.S. can perhaps diffuse problem by Muslimizing the occupation of Iraq, by demanding key Arab and Muslim allies to provide the necessary additional troops.

This year alone we will be paying Egypt $1.8 Billion in military and economic aid, Jordan $468 million in economic and security aid, Pakistan $370 million in military assistance, Indonesia $75 million in military and economic aid. Why can’t these countries provide 50,000 troops collectively to patrol Baghdad and save Muslim lives? How can the Muslim World simply stand by and watch a Muslim nation implode without stepping forward to help?

Perhaps U.S. bravado and ascendant unilateralism has kept them away until now. But everyone can now see how desperate things are. The U.S. desperately needs help and its Muslim friends must be made to come forward.  It is time for the U.S. to call in some favors; a quick workshop in humility for the White House staff may help kick start the process.

The failure of the Bush administration to acknowledge that it has committed gross errors in its vision as well as in its strategy and execution of the Iraq invasion, is forcing the American public to choose between a losing strategy and defeat. It is time for the President to be more honest, to acknowledge his mistakes and seek fresh ideas to resolve the crisis.

Muqtedar Khan is assistant Professor at the University of Delaware. He is also a Nonresident Fellow with the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution.