Making a Big Mistake Even Worse

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET
  • Jane Harman President & CEO, Wilson Center; Former U.S. Congresswoman

A surge in troops may have been a great idea three and a half years ago but it makes no sense now. There is no way to achieve success in Iraq using military force. If, and it's a big if, stability can be achieved in Iraq, it will only be accomplished by getting buy-in of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds and making certain that the government is strong enough to act. Neither of these conditions exists now.

We've attempted surges in Iraq four times in the last two years. None of them worked. The President is now arguing that troops will not only "clear" an area of insurgents but will "hold" it. It's a new mantra - "clear, hold and build" - but it's old military doctrine that has been discussed for a long time.

At this point, this is the President's war. Clearly, most Members of Congress - and I believe most Americans - are skeptical of his proposal. I know that from talking to House colleagues on both sides of the aisle; from the comments of a cross-section of GOP Senators like John Warner, Chuck Hagel, Sam Brownback and Gordon Smith; and from talking with my constituents. I told President Bush that this was my view when I met with him on Tuesday.

We need to start redeploying our troops out of Iraq now, something I've been saying for over six months. Last summer was the last chance for the military mission to succeed. It didn't. So I am supporting H. Res. 41, introduced by my Massachusetts colleague Marty Meehan, expressing disapproval of the President's policy. And I am reviewing proposals to limit or end funding for additional military personnel in Iraq.

We should still make political and diplomatic efforts to help the Iraqi government survive. It's a democratically elected government. There are 25 million people there, many of whom have been savaged by their countrymen or are innocent civilian casualties. Iraq is also a staging ground for al Qaeda, which is training foreign fighters as well as Sunni insurgents. That was not true before we went in but it is now.

We have a moral obligation to make Iraq a safer place - we created a failed state when we removed Saddam - but we will not achieve that by the use of our military. In fact, I believe that by continuing to occupy Iraq (and that's the perception even though it has a democratically elected government) we make it harder for Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country, and for the forces of transparency and moderation to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

My understanding is that some 100,000 Iraqis are being displaced each month. They are moving either out of the country or to other locations in Iraq. What is happening on the ground is ethnic separation. Three years ago, Les Gelb, past President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a well-regarded foreign policy expert, suggested semi-autonomous regions - a concept also promoted by Senator Biden and others. The formation of three separate regions inside the country is increasingly the ground truth. If the reality on the ground is supported, it could simplify the security situation.

Regionalism can't be a top down strategy. If anyone has that in mind, forget it. But if it is a bottom up strategy, if it is the reality the Iraqis are coming to, then Iraq will begin to resemble the Balkans. After brutal ethnic cleansing following the death of Tito, Yugoslavia separated. People now think of the Balkans as a reasonable success story or at least not a failure.

There are no good options left in Iraq. Forming semi-autonomous regions may turn out to be the "least bad" option.