The United States and Britain did not invade Iraq out of ambition to conquer its people, annex their territory or expropriate their natural resources. American and British leaders acted out of fear for the safety of their own people to topple a regime they believed to be a threat to national security. In the process, we liberated the people of Iraq from an odious tyranny.
We now have a moral obligation, which also is in our self-interest, to help rebuild Iraq and to assist the Iraqi people to create the institutions that will generate economic growth and foster democratic self-rule. It is tempting to assume that neither of these two objectives can be achieved until order is restored - and therefore to conclude that we must continue to occupy Iraq militarily until it is. Yet I believe this kind of linear thinking is misleading and dangerous and could lead us into the quagmire of a guerrilla war.
It is true that we cannot immediately pull our military out of Iraq because it would create a power vacuum and invite the Baathists and radical Jihadists to take control and emulate that which happened in Beirut and Mogadishu. However, if we attempt to impose order by military force, even under U.N. auspices, the level of violence and brutality required will inadvertently create widespread popular resistance to our presence, dehumanize our military and ignite a conflict we will be unable to contain.
Although administration critics like Sens. Joseph Biden and John McCain are correct that we need to spend "a lot more money" on reconstruction in Iraq, McCain has it backwards when he says, "We need a lot more military."
We should not frame the situation in Iraq as a win-lose combat situation because we cannot "win," and should not fight, a low-intensity counterinsurgency war against Baathist guerrillas and Islamic religious insurgents in Iraq. We must do everything possible to prevent it from happening, and that is a political and economic undertaking, not a military one. If a guerrilla war must be fought, Iraqis must fight it, and that will require more than "putting an Iraqi face" on the situation - it will require putting an Iraqi force into the field.
Efforts to rejuvenate Iraq's economy also are being hindered by the dominance of the military in the reconstruction effort, combined with the anti-market bias entrenched inside the bureaucracies of the various international aid and development organizations. This military-bureaucratic complex is turning Iraq into a militarized, central-planning exercise that looks more like Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe post-World-War II.
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