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Jon Soltz

Jon Soltz

Posted: June 29, 2009 09:54 AM

Has There Really Been a Policy Change in Iraq?


Tomorrow, under an agreement with the Iraqi government, American troops are slated to completely pull back from major cities. The Iraqi security forces don't seem ready for it. And, while it seems counter-intuitive, if they aren't getting their act together, we need to speed up our departure.

In his trip to Iraq in April, President Obama said, "It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They need to take responsibility for their country."

That much is true. What is also true is that it hasn't happened. What's true is that the Iraqis seem less interested in political progress that would lead to a relatively peaceful Iraq, and more interested in US Forces staying indefinitely to protect them from killing each other. Sure, Prime Minister Maliki says the right things about wanting the US out of Iraq, but that's purely political - he has to say those things so as not to look like a US puppet.

But, beneath the surface, there's been no political progress. There still is no oil sharing agreement, no resolution to the strife that has continued to affect Kirkuk, and no settlement among the many factions that will allow them to live side by side in peace.

And so, if the US pulls back, there's a powder keg ready to explode, with an ill-equipped Iraqi military left to try to hold things together. Frankly, the Iraqi military will never be well-trained enough to handle major explosions of violence, only minor disputes. Iraqis know this, which is why they'll continue to rely on us as a crutch as long as they can.

The problem with that is, if we have one foot in Iraq and one foot out, we are going to have a scenario when Americans think this was is over and one day they wake up to 8 or 9 dead troops in the streets of Iraq. Besides being a disaster in and of itself, it becomes a political problem for President Obama and Democrats, who own the situation now. To borrow a phrase from John McCain on Afghanistan, we'd merely be "muddling through" Iraq. That's not in US troops' interest, and certainly not in American interests.

We've already seen violence ramp up in Iraq, as surge troops have left and others pulled back. Just last week, over thirty people were killed in a series of attacks, on June 22, with at least two dozen more injured. It's exactly what I and others said it would be. We were the cork on the bottle, and for all the talk about the surge being a success, without political and diplomatic progress, it ultimately meant absolutely nothing.

I was on Hardball in July of last year about it, and said the surge was a failure in that sense, and guest-host Mike Barnicle was nearly apoplectic about it.

BARNICLE: Did I hear you correctly that you said you didn't think the surge was a success?


SOLTZ: It's not a success. I mean, we've not seen political reconciliation in Iraq. We are about to have a complete stir-up in Kirkuk. We have a situation in Afghanistan where it's totally, you know, less secure now than it was before.

The purpose of the surge is to make America safer. And I don't think anybody believes that. And I think that Senator McCain is, you know, off base like George Bush. And that Senator Obama is specifically right to continue to talk about strategy and diplomacy and defeating al Qaeda worldwide than get stuck talking about, you know, a tank platoon or an infantry platoon in the streets of Baghdad.

Now we see that, indeed, the surge meant nothing without political progress.

The question is, where do we go from here? President Obama has got to get tough with the Iraqis and make good on what he said during the campaign. I'm not privy to all the negotiations with Iraq, or any attempts to bring sides together. What I do know, however, is that there haven't been any results, either because President Obama hasn't tried hard enough, or because his efforts have failed.

Whatever the case, the President absolutely has to resist any temptation to buy more time for political progress by keeping troops there to continue to coddle Iraq. All it will mean is more violence that has American troops in the cross-hairs. The President must tell the Iraqis that, if anything, we're going to speed up our timeline to leave Iraq if they continue to stall political progress - that their internal political problems aren't worth American blood.

Like any political leaders, those in Iraq don't want to lose power, which they most certainly would if the nation falls apart into a loose patchwork of clans and fiefdoms. So, in the end, only the realization that their nation is about to fall apart and they won't have Americans around to keep it together, will be the kick in the pants Iraqi political leaders need to settle their major differences.

It's time for President Obama to recognize that, and get tough. If the Iraqis aren't committed to dealing with their internal problems then we should expedite our withdrawal. American troops should never be more committed to the peace and security of a foreign country more than those who live there.

Crossposted at VetVoice.com

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