It's been a long time coming but the solid Republican wall on Iraq has finally crumbled. After four and a half years of a disastrously bungled occupation of Iraq, the elder statesmen of the Republican Party are finally standing up and explaining to George Bush the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves.
A pillar of the foreign policy establishment and 30-year veteran of the Senate, Republican Senator from Indiana Richard Lugar (pictured at left) just dropped a bomb on the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Below are excerpts from his speech today on the Senate floor (emphasis mine). I encourage you to follow the link above and read the whole thing (fair warning, it's very long). Rarely have we heard such a frank and sensible assessment of the situation in Iraq from a Republican.
In my judgment, our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond. Our continuing absorption with military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world. The prospects that the current "surge" strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate. And the strident, polarized nature of that debate increases the risk that our involvement in Iraq will end in a poorly planned withdrawal that undercuts our vital interests in the Middle East. Unless we recalibrate our strategy in Iraq to fit our domestic political conditions and the broader needs of U.S. national security, we risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world.
...seizing these opportunities will require the President to downsize the U.S. military's role in Iraq and place much more emphasis on diplomatic and economic options. It will also require members of Congress to be receptive to overtures by the President to construct a new policy outside the binary choice of surge versus withdrawal.
In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.
But three factors - the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process -- are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame.
First, it is very doubtful that the leaders of Iraqi factions are capable of implementing a political settlement in the short run. I see no convincing evidence that Iraqis will make the compromises necessary to solidify a functioning government and society, even if we reduce violence to a point that allows for some political and economic normalcy.
In recent months, we have seen votes in the Iraqi parliament calling for a withdrawal of American forces and condemning security walls in Baghdad that were a reasonable response to neighborhood violence. The Iraqi parliament struggles even to achieve a quorum, because many prominent leaders decline to attend. We have seen overt feuds between members of the Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Maliki and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who did not speak to each other for the entire month of April. The Shia-led government is going out of its way to bottle up money budgeted for Sunni provinces. Without strident intervention by our embassy, food rations are not being delivered to Sunni towns. Iraqi leaders have resisted de-Baathification reform, the conclusion of an oil law, and effective measures to prevent oil smuggling and other corrupt practices.
We have the worst of both worlds in Iraq - factional leaders who don't believe in our pluralist vision for their country and smaller sub-factions who are pursuing violence on their own regardless of any accommodations by more moderate fellow sectarians. As David Brooks recently observed in the New York Times, the fragmentation in Iraq has become so prevalent that Iraq may not even be able to carry out a traditional civil war among cohesive factions.
American strategy must adjust to the reality that sectarian factionalism will not abate anytime soon and probably cannot be controlled from the top.
The second factor working against our ability to engineer a stable government in Iraq is the fatigue of our military. The window during which we can continue to employ American troops in Iraqi neighborhoods without damaging our military strength or our ability to respond to other national security priorities is closing. Some observers may argue that we cannot put a price on securing Iraq and that our military readiness is not threatened. But this is a naive assessment of our national security resources.
Filling expanding ranks will be increasingly difficult given trends in attitudes toward military service. This has been measured by the Joint Advertising Market Research and Studies Program, which produced a "Propensity Update" last September after extensive research. The study found that only 1 in 10 youths has a propensity to serve - the lowest percentage in the history of such surveys. 61 percent of youth respondents report that they will "definitely not serve." This represents a 7 percent increase in less than a year. These numbers are directly attributable to policies in Iraq. When combined with the Army's estimate that only 3 of 10 youths today meet basic physical, behavioral, and academic requirements for military service, the consequences of continuing to stretch the military are dire.
The third factor inhibiting our ability to establish a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq is the timetable imposed by our own domestic political process. The President and some of his advisors may be tempted to pursue the surge strategy to the end of his administration, but such a course contains extreme risks for U.S. national security. It would require the President to fight a political rear-guard holding action for more than a year and a half against Congressional attempts to limit, modify, or end military operations in Iraq. The resulting contentiousness would make cooperation on national security issues nearly impossible. It would greatly increase the chances for a poorly planned withdrawal from Iraq or possibly the broader Middle East region that could damage U.S. interests for decades.
The President and his team must come to grips with the shortened political timeline in this country for military operations in Iraq. Some will argue that political timelines should always be subordinated to military necessity, but that is unrealistic in a democracy. Many political observers contend that voter dissatisfaction in 2006 with Administration policies in Iraq was the major factor in producing new Democratic Party majorities in both Houses of Congress. Domestic politics routinely intrude on diplomatic and military decisions. The key is to manage these intrusions so that we avoid actions that are not in our national interest.
We do not know whether the next President will be a Democrat or a Republican. But it is certain that domestic pressure for withdrawal will continue to be intense. A course change should happen now, while there is still some possibility of constructing a sustainable bipartisan strategy in Iraq. If the President waits until the presidential election campaign is in full swing, the intensity of confrontation on Iraq is likely to limit U.S. options.
Although the Bush Administration has scaled back its definition of success in Iraq, we are continuing to pour our treasure and manpower into the narrow and uncertain pursuit of creating a stable, democratic, pluralist society in Iraq. This pursuit has been the focal point of the Bush Administration's Middle East policy. Unfortunately, this objective is not one on which our future in the region can rest, especially when far more important goals related to Middle East security are languishing. I am not suggesting that what happens in Iraq is not important, but the Bush Administration must avoid becoming so quixotic in its attempt to achieve its optimum forecasts for Iraq that it misses other opportunities to protect our vital interests in the Middle East.
In my judgment, the current surge strategy is not an effective means of protecting these interests. Its prospects for success are too dependent on the actions of others who do not share our agenda. It relies on military power to achieve goals that it cannot achieve. It distances allies that we will need for any regional diplomatic effort. Its failure, without a careful transition to a back-up policy would intensify our loss of credibility. It uses tremendous amounts of resources that cannot be employed in other ways to secure our objectives. And it lacks domestic support that is necessary to sustain a policy of this type.
Our security interests call for a downsizing and re-deployment of U.S. military forces to more sustainable positions in Iraq or the Middle East.
A re-deployment would allow us to continue training Iraqi troops and delivering economic assistance, but it would end the U.S. attempt to interpose ourselves between Iraqi sectarian factions.
In 2003, we witnessed the costs that came with insufficient planning for the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. It is absolutely essential that we not repeat the same mistake. The longer we delay the planning for a re-deployment, the less likely it is to be successful.
Our struggles in Iraq have placed U.S. foreign policy on a defensive footing and drawn resources from other national security endeavors, including Afghanistan. With few exceptions, our diplomatic initiatives are encumbered by negative global and regional attitudes toward our combat presence in Iraq.
In this era, the United States cannot afford to be on a defensive footing indefinitely. It is essential that as we attempt to re-position ourselves from our current military posture in Iraq, we launch a multi-faceted diplomatic offensive that pushes adversarial states and terrorist groups to adjust to us.
I could have written this speech myself. It's heartening to see some members of the Republican Party finally coming to their senses. In the coming days we will undoubtedly see the embittered right-wing calling Richard Lugar a traitorous turncoat and "Democrat". Hopefully, there will be enough Republicans in Congress will rise above these predictable attacks to join with the Democrats and construct an emerging consensus for a responsible and orderly redeployment of our military in Iraq.
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