Friday, July 25, 2008

The Future of the U.S. Military Presence in Iraq

This morning I attended The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) panel concerning The Future of the U.S. Military Presence in Iraq. It featured Kimberly Kagan of The Institute for the Study of War, Colin Kahl of The Center for a New American Security, Charles Knight of The Project on Defense Alternatives at the Commonwealth Institute, and Rend al-Rahim of the USIP. The panel was moderated by Daniel Serwer, also of USIP. Also in attendance was Marc Lynch, better known as the author of Abu Aardvark. Lynch reports:

To very briefly summarize, Kimberly Kagan laid out the familiar argument for the surge's success and the great progress being made, with more nuance and caveats than in some of her op-eds (but still drawing this from Colin Kahl: "I guess I see the glass half-empty, and Kim sees the glass as... overflowing"). Charles Knight gave a highly cogent presentation of the Commonwealth Institute's "Quickly, Carefully, Generously" report, arguing passionately that there will be no real political reconciliation until American military forces leave. Colin Kahl presented the Center for a New American Security's "Shaping the Iraqi Inheritance" report calling for "conditional engagement", arguing for the need to move away from 'Iraq centrism' (strategic interests actually exist beyond Iraq's borders, if you can believe it) and 'Iraq maximalism' (holding our policies hostage to outcomes manifestly beyond our capabilities to produce). Finally, Rend al-Rahim laid out a devastating depiction of Iraq's current situation, and - perhaps surprisingly - offered a wholehearted endorsement of Kahl's description of Iraq and policy recommendations.

Charles Knight spoke about the impact of the refugee crisis in Iraq: "The price we and others are paying for these blunders is not measured in blood and treasure alone – although these costs are already terribly high." He pointed to the Task Force report, which addresses one example of the extraordinary costs of the war:

There are now millions of refugees and millions of internally displaced persons, totally nearly 15% of the Iraq population. The displacement of a proportional number of Americans would mean: 45 million forced from their homes, the equivalent of emptying out the population of America’s ten largest cities. This happened under the American watch in Iraq. It is an immense failure for an occupying power; one we still respond to in the most "care less" of ways.

I noted that only two of the four panelists, Colin Kahl and Rend al-Rahim, used the phrase "sustainable security" in regard to the future of Iraq. In all my shaky earnestness, I got up to the microphone and pointed out this fact, and then proceeded to ask the first question in Q&A session:

"My question pertains to the ongoing process of securing peace in Iraq. In the opinion of the panelists, how is the future of peace in Iraq effected by the ticking time-bomb of 4.7 million displaced Iraqis, and what are the potential future effects of this deepening crisis, such as the unmet needs of those with no access to livelihoods?"

Rend al-Rahim replied that the dire conditions in which large numbers of refugees in Syria and Jordan live could breed radicalization, and therefore make refugees prone to taking extremist positions. Colin Kahl emphasized that clear and well-enforced property rights laws for returning internally displaced persons and refugees will be very important in securing a peaceful transition to regular life once refugees are resettled, but this will be a difficult task. Kahl also suggested that the IDPs be allowed to vote in the upcoming elections.

I applaud their recognition of the huge role that vulnerable refugees will play in the future and for understanding that the reactions of the displaced will have a huge impact on the future of Iraq and therefore should be considered when discussing America's role in the conflict.

Photo Caption: Panelists speak about the future of the U.S. military in Iraq at a forum hosted by the United States Institute of Peace

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