January 24, 2007
Bush's proposal to send more U.S. troops to Iraq a deadly mistake, experts say
By Lisa Trei
Calling the Bush administration's course in Iraq "one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in American history," Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, warned that the president's proposed "surge option" of sending in 21,000 more U.S. troops is doomed to fail and could drive the widening insurgency into an all-out civil war, fomenting regional instability and creating a base for al-Qaida to launch attacks on the West.
"It is clear we have to find a way out of Iraq," Diamond said during the Jan. 22 panel discussion organized by the Center for International Security and Cooperation at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. "Bush's escalation is not sustainable for very much longer. But it is clear to experts in the region, including those who opposed invading Iraq in the first place, that any exit strategy must find a way to minimize the risk of an even worse disaster."
Diamond, a former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, was joined on the panel by William Perry, a former secretary of defense in the Clinton administration and a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that in December released a report recommending U.S. troop withdrawal and Mideast diplomacy to stem Iraq's rapidly deteriorating situation. Political science Professor James Fearon, a civil war expert who has presented congressional testimony on Iraq, also participated in the noontime discussion, which attracted a standing-room-only crowd in Bechtel Conference Center in Encina Hall.
"I believe the president's diplomatic strategy is too timid, and his military strategy is too little, too late, to effect the lasting and profound changes needed," said Perry, a professor of management science and engineering. "His strategy is not likely to succeed because it is tactical, not strategic, and because it does not entail real conditionality for the Iraqi government. It will only deepen the divide in our country."
An estimated 25,000 U.S. military personnel have been killed, maimed or wounded since the invasion in 2003, Perry said. More than 30,000 Iraqis have been killed during the past year from the escalating sectarian violence sweeping the country, he added. About 10 percent of the country's 25 million people have become internal refugees or have fled to neighboring countries, which in turn is creating an expanding humanitarian crisis, Diamond said.
The Bush administration's failure to condition U.S. support on the Iraqi government's ability to take effective steps to stabilize its country and bring about national reconciliation, "as well as other American mistakes, are all too painfully reminiscent of Vietnam," Diamond said.
Diamond, the author of Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq, also expressed his frustration with the administration's refusal to listen to experts who opposed the U.S. invasion. "Their accounts would have shown the folly of this war and would have spared us the staggering losses we have already suffered," he said.
Diamond recommended that Congress use the 1973 War Powers Act to prevent Bush from potentially widening the war to neighboring Iran. In the spring of 1970, he said, President Nixon expanded the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia. The act, he said, can be used to prevent Bush from launching a military invasion of Iran without prior congressional approval. "It should be made clear that, if he does so, as I think he is preparing to do, that this would be an impeachable offense," Diamond said.
Fearon criticized Bush's plans to send additional U.S. military personnel to Iraq, where, he said, "a pretty significant, large civil war" between Shia and Sunni Arabs is under way. Even if an increase in combat troops in Baghdad succeeds in lowering the rate of killing there, historical experience suggests that U.S. troops could be "stuck in Iraq for decades" keeping sectarian factional struggles at bay while fending off jihadists and nationalist attacks.
The Bush administration's commitment to siding with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amounts to supporting the Shiites, Fearon said, "a position I think is morally dubious and not in the interest of the U.S. or long-term peace and stability." Furthermore, a decisive military victory by a Shia-dominated government is probably not possible any time soon, given the favorable conditions for insurgency from the Sunni-dominated provinces, he added.
Fearon, the author of a forthcoming article in Foreign Affairs on Iraq, presented three possibilities for U.S. policy in the medium term: siding with either the Shias or the Sunnis or adopting some kind of balanced approach. The point of the third option "is to encourage the perception that no one group can win without sharing power and resources in some kind of negotiated settlement," he said. "This would give us more leverage in Iraq. The Bush administration's absolute commitment to the success of the al-Maliki government or its successor is one-sided and, essentially, allows al-Maliki and the coalition the ability to pursue or acquiesce in a dirty war against actual and imagined Sunni antagonists while publicly supporting national reconciliation."
Perry said the proposals of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) have a better chance of succeeding than Bush's plan because they recognize that the key actions needed to effect lasting results in Iraq must be taken by the Iraqi government and Iraqi army. "Most important, the recommendations of the ISG provide an opportunity for the nation to come together again," he said.
The most critical step the U.S. can take in Iraq now is to use its still considerable military, economic and diplomatic leverage to press for the achievement of political compromise and the assertion of military and political responsibility by the Iraqi state, Diamond said. "If these things don't happen, no amount of American force and finance can make up for the deficit, and we would be better off admitting it's hopeless and expediting our departure," he said.