View Full Version : What are the US Strategic Goals in Iraq?

Rex Brynen
09-14-2007, 01:58 AM
One of the questions that Ambassador Crocker mentioned in his opening statement during his testimony to the Senate was the declared intention of Iran to fill any vacuum provided by the U.S. - but how much of a vacuum could they actually fill?

I don't want to overstate this, but in some ways I don't think the danger is of Iran extending influence in areas where the Iraqi central government has no writ--it is (in part) the opposite: Iranian influence is becoming strongest in those areas supposedly most under the control of the central government (or, more accurately, its primary Shi'ite parties). The south is a case in point. This is very different from the danger of Sunni jihadists (whether AQI or others) flourishing in the "wild west" (at least, prior to the "Anbar Awakening") of a weak Iraq, or the general problem of insurgent sanctuaries in failed states.

As a side note (arising from Rob's original posting on ungoverned spaces, in another thread (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=3905)) I sometimes think we draw a slightly erroneous lesson from Afghanistan: AQ flourished there not during the period of most intense state failure (the civil war), but rather when the Taliban had reasserted control over most of central and southern Afghanistan, really did have governmental power in these areas--and as a matter of deliberate policy provided shelter for its AQ allies.

All of which--coupled with President Bush's speech tonight--raises a question that I've been grappling with these last few days: What are US strategic priorities in Iraq? How might they be ranked-ordered, particularly if only some can be achieved? To some extent, much of the recent discission of COGs and other COIN issues on SWJ is entirely contingent on this question.

I'll throw a few of the obvious ones out:

Preventing Iraq from becoming a sanctuary for AQI or other Sunni jihadist groups that would threaten the US or its allies.

Preventing Iran from extending its political influence in Iraq.

Creating a "free" Iraq. This figured much in the President's speech, and its easy in 2007 (when the "Forward Strategy of Freedom" seems largely defunct) to dismiss it as rhetoric. However, I don't think it is in the President's mind, and I do think there is a degree of normative obligation.

Creating a stable Iraq. Not necessarily the same as #3, of course.

Maintaining a long-term US military presence for power-project or other similar broader strategic reasons.

Not being seen to lose, so as not to erode US deterrent capabilities and political credibility, and so as not to encourage current or future challengers.

Some of these go together. Others don't: the current tactical alliances with Sunni tribes and others, for example, could potentially push Iraqi Shi'ite leaders closer to Iran. A "free" Iraq might be less stable than an authoritarian one, and might be less able to prevent the emergence of jihadist groups. Attaining #5 might appear to help #2, but also guarantees the Iranians redouble their efforts to offset the US position. #6 is probably quite important, but may be hard to design a COIN strategy around.

To return to your original point, how would the US choose between the prospects of a failed Iraq state, or a "less failed" Iraq under greater Iranian influence?

I would be interested in how others perceive "what the war is for..."

09-14-2007, 10:40 AM
This is what I operated off of. I will until it's presented differently.

As per National Strategy for Victory in Iraq published November 2005 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/iraq_strategy_nov2005.html). This has not changed.

Victory in Iraq is Defined in Stages
• Short term, Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.
• Medium term, Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security, with a fully constitutional government in place, and on its way to achieving its economic potential.
• Longer term, Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism.

Rob Thornton
09-14-2007, 11:01 AM
You can link to the Text of the President's speech (http://www.charleston.net/news/2007/sep/13/full_text_president_bushs_speech/). Speeches (along with press conferences, etc) are often a source for updated policy guidance until strategies and documents can be updated to reflect evolving goals. Below is a part of the speech I lifted - it does not contain all the objectives - but does lay out the big ones, the rationale & the audience. I thought it a good speech.

Note - I did edit out a paragraph for continuity's sake - and indicated where within the body. Best, Rob

The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States. A free Iraq will deny al-Qaida a safe haven. A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran. A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region. A free Iraq will set an example for people across the Middle East. A free Iraq will be our partner in the fight against terror and that will make us safer here at home.

(ed - I removed this paragraph to keep continuity in policy goals)

If we were to be driven out of Iraq, extremists of all strains would be emboldened. Al-Qaida could gain new recruits and new sanctuaries. Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply. Iraq could face a humanitarian nightmare. Democracy movements would be violently reversed. We would leave our children to face a far more dangerous world. And as we saw on September the 11th, 2001, those dangers can reach our cities and kill our people.

Whatever political party you belong to, whatever your position on Iraq, we should be able to agree that America has a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East. We should be able to agree that we must defeat al-Qaida, counter Iran, help the Afghan government, work for peace in the Holy Land, and strengthen our military so we can prevail in the struggle against terrorists and extremists.

So tonight I want to speak to members of the United States Congress: Let us come together on a policy of strength in the Middle East. I thank you for providing crucial funds and resources for our military. And I ask you to join me in supporting the recommendations General Petraeus has made and the troop levels he has asked for.

To the Iraqi people: You have voted for freedom, and now you are liberating your country from terrorists and death squads. You must demand that your leaders make the tough choices needed to achieve reconciliation. As you do, have confidence that America does not abandon our friends, and we will not abandon you.

To Iraq"s neighbors who seek peace: The violent extremists who target Iraq are also targeting you. The best way to secure your interests and protect your own people is to stand with the people of Iraq. That means using your economic and diplomatic leverage to strengthen the government in Baghdad. And it means the efforts by Iran and Syria to undermine that government must end.

To the international community: The success of a free Iraq matters to every civilized nation. We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy. We encourage all nations to help, by implementing the international compact to revitalize Iraq"s economy, by participating in the neighbors conferences to boost cooperation and overcome differences in the region, and by supporting the new and expanded mission of the United Nations in Iraq.

Rex Brynen
09-14-2007, 11:59 AM
I think both the National Strategy, and the President's speech, rather starkly highlight precisely the sort of issue that I'm trying to point to: they lump potentially contradictory policy goals together, sometimes even into the same sentence.

For example, far from a
A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran.. Really? I think an argument can be made that a "free" Iraq will likely prove a fairly close Iranian ally. If so, which is more important?

09-14-2007, 12:08 PM
"Free" does not necessarily mean "democratic". Recall Cold War rhetoric. A review of Bush Administration rhetoric lately will find many uses of the term "moderate" --- in the end I believe the U.S. will settle for a "moderate" Iraqi government.

Rank amateur
09-14-2007, 12:19 PM
The New York Times has the same question. (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/14/washington/14assess.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=todayspaper&adxnnlx=1189771884-01+k5WVPO8OdUbARoj6Bqg)

Mr. Bush’s speech was the culmination of a monthlong, highly orchestrated game plan to change the political debate in Washington and the country. But in the end, the speech once again raised the question of what America’s mission in Iraq really is — and how long it will last.

It also exemplified the balancing act likely to consume the last 16 months of Mr. Bush’s presidency, as he tries to hold together wavering members of his party with promises of drawdowns as soon as conditions allow while still talking about a role in Iraq and the region modeled on America’s five-decades-long presence on the Korean Peninsula.

Many times in recent months, he has told visitors to the White House that he needs to get to the Korea model — a politically sustainable American deployment to keep the lid on the Middle East.

That, of course, is a goal very different from the “victory” Mr. Bush was touting less than two years ago. But as strategies have come and gone, Mr. Bush’s language has changed. From a promise four years ago that “we’ll stand down as they stand up” — only to discover that the Iraqi forces were not ready to stand up — Mr. Bush has pledged to use political progress to bring about security, then to use security of the population to bring about political compromise.

This is the first I've heard of the "Korean model." I believe it is a change from 2005.

09-14-2007, 12:43 PM
The Korea analogy (http://www.armytimes.com/news/2007/05/military_odierno_070531w/)was floated awhile back by the administration. I have no idea if the long-range goal is to maintain an American force in Iraq for 50 years, but it did create a small flurry of denials.

If progress is made, U.S. troops, even at a reduced level, could be in Iraq for many years to come. White House spokesman Tony Snow said Wednesday that President Bush believes U.S. troops will have to remain in Iraq long after a major combat role is finished. He mentioned the “Korean model,” referring to U.S. troops’ decades-old presence in South Korea following the Korean War.

Odierno said that while that decision is a matter for the two governments to decide, “I think it’s a great idea. I think it’d be very helpful to have a force here for a period of time to continue to help the Iraqis train, and continue to build their capabilities. ... If they want us to continue to stay here and fight al-Qaida for a period of time, we certainly will do that and develop our force accordingly.”

Ken White
09-14-2007, 01:35 PM
the year for moderate stability and the beginning of a drawdown -- based on the fact that it would take five years to stand up the Iraqi Army and Police. I'm still okay with that even though we lost a year and a half in dithering early on due to lack of prewar training on occupation and counterinsurgency efforts (and flawed Intel). That dithering may delay it until '09, may not.

I've also said it would take 15 years (2018) to get the rule of law and general tranquility across Iraq and 30 years (2033) before it would be a fully functioning nation in accordance with world (not western) norms.

My bet is we'll be there the whole time...

09-14-2007, 04:07 PM
To paraphrase
multiple authors

Iraq, Afganistan, and other failed state/ Civil conflicts are usually generational in duration 15-25 yr before the world opinion/press bequeaths stability status.

The real question is will passive low cost involvement achieve a similar result to intensive high cost active involvement?

Likely the intensive high cost active approach induces more change/growth in a shorter time frame on the U.S. side of the equation than the alternative would.

Ken White
09-14-2007, 04:50 PM
a tempo and an attitude there that will adapt to perceived need. They would like us to be elsewhere but realize they cannot force the issue though some will try; those few will also wait patiently for us to stumble. Those folks are nothing if not pragmatic. I think the intensive high cost will still be the case in 08-09 but will then sluff to low cost over the next six or eight years. :cool:

The costs will become bearable even in our low budget future as Germany, Japan and Korea see fewer troops and Guam and SWA go into sustainment mode.

The big plus in this is that on the strips outside the gates of installations, the German Restaurants that gave way to Viet Namese and Thai Restaurants and then to Korean and Okinawan Restaurants will now have Middle Eastern Restaurants... :D

09-14-2007, 05:45 PM
Question for all. Since the Korean Model was brought up is this a hint that partition of some sort will be tried?

Ken White
09-14-2007, 07:03 PM
ME. Who knows. No partition would be better but don't think it'll be our call if it occurs -- and IMO, it should not be. We'll just have to deal with it. :cool:

Rex Brynen
09-14-2007, 08:15 PM
Question for all. Since the Korean Model was brought up is this a hint that partition of some sort will be tried?

I think the Korea references are only meant to suggest a smaller but still significant, long term US military presence in Iraq for a range of deterrent, training, force projection, and general cooperation reasons.

However, given the vast difference in public attitudes in Iraq and Korea, I think its rather unlikely. Indeed, I think it does significant damage from an IO point of view, since it can be used by both Sunni insurgents and JAM to mobilize anti-US support.

On partition, I think its fair to say that a degree of so-called "soft" partition due to "sectarian unmixing" (a truly dreadful set of terms for sectarian murders, forced displacement, and death squads) has been viewed as tragic but almost unavoidable by much of the analytical community for some time now. The most that the US can do being to reduce the severity, violence, and local and regional repercussions of this. In some ways this has been the biggest accomplishment of the surge: to slow and reduce the level of brutality of sectarian violence in Baghdad, even if it hasn't been stopped.

From a US security interest, soft partition has short- and medium-term advantages (it reduces friction points), and potential long-term liabilities ("Shiastan" moving closer to Iran, and Kurdistan feeling less constrained by Iraqi national politics and more prone to miscalculations vis-a-vis its neighbours, especially Turkey). Of course, one can hope to assuage this with some overall federal framework (which the regional autonomy provisions of the Iraqi constitution facilitate), and one might even hope that decentralization fosters peace. However, as both US and Canadian history readily attest (not to mention, say Nigeria or Sudan), working out the balance of powers and borders can be a very tricky, and sometimes bloody, process.

Interestingly, this is one of the biggest differences between Sadr and SIIC--the latter favour decentralization and a Shi'ite dominated regional government, while Sadr has opposed it. In this, Sadr is far closer to Sunni politicians (and Sunni insurgents like the 1920 Revolution Brigades), who have opposed federalism because of 1) a lack of oil wealth in Sunni areas, and/or 2) a complete inability to come to terms with the fact that the Shi'ites are 60% of the population, and will dominate national institutions for the foreseeable future.

09-14-2007, 11:17 PM
Found this article by SWC's own John T. Fishel Called "Strategic Vision and Insurgency" Link is listed below.


Rex thanks for the analysis;)

Rank amateur
09-15-2007, 05:07 PM
This Washington Post article suggests that our new strategy is to support the Sunnis in the civil war (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/14/AR2007091402051.html?nav=rss_opinions/outlook?nav=slate)

Military forces are engaged -- America's openly, Iran's clandestinely -- in a battle for influence over the shattered remnants of the Iraqi state. Indeed, now that the United States has co-opted Iraq's Sunnis, the new American priority is to prevent Iranian hegemony over Iraqi Shiites. U.S. officials say they have tried to reassure Iraqis that they won't fight a proxy war against Tehran on Iraqi territory. But that's precisely what has been happening in recent months.

Rob Thornton
09-16-2007, 01:14 AM
Hey Rex,

I think both the National Strategy, and the President's speech, rather starkly highlight precisely the sort of issue that I'm trying to point to: they lump potentially contradictory policy goals together, sometimes even into the same sentence.

For example, far from a
A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran.
. Really? I think an argument can be made that a "free" Iraq will likely prove a fairly close Iranian ally. If so, which is more important?

I think your point about considering what can happen - freedom, where there was none can lead to its own kind of instability - its going to be a hard, long process and there is no guarantee of success.

The hard question is - is it worth it? I think it is.

I don't think the President meant an Iraq that goes its own way and heads off to vote in someone we can't live with when he said " a free Iraq". I think he meant a long term partner - on a number of levels diplomatic, economic and security. I also don't think he meant a "junior partner" relationship - we will have differences. However, we also have allot in common in terms of goals - similar fears and interests, and perhaps even sharing honor. The world has been changing for sometime and we are just now starting to shape our thoughts and policy on how best to secure our interests in it - I don't think we'll fully come to grips with it for some time to come yet.

At any rate - I think your point about the destabilizing effects of freedom, or that we have to be darn careful in assuming that people when given the opportunity to pick their own leaders will pick the ones that reflect our interests are well advised - mirror imaging cultures can lead to some bad decisions - there has to be more to it then wishful thinking.

BTW - an excellent thread and one that highlights the question we should always ask before investing military forces or scarce resources - although sometimes - we might be served well to do it anyway - but we should always ask

Best Regards, Rob