Iraq is much too important to Western interests to be abandoned. The US and its allies – and far too few countries consider themselves to be US allies with shared interests – must not give in to calls to weaken its presence in Iraq. The Baker Commission’s recommendations are playing to US public opinion which longs for a change of course in Iraq and a soon withdrawal of US troops. However, the Commission does not offer reasonable solutions to address the current Iraqi quagmire without abandoning vital interests.
Transferring security tasks to Iraqi forces and withdrawing combat brigades to camps within Iraq or outside is highly illusive and will not work. It is highly unlikely that Iraqi military and police forces will be able to quell both terrorist cells, Sunni insurgency and sectarian strife and killings. The Iraqi forces are infiltrated by sectarian militias and do not reflect Iraqi interests but those of ethnic and religious tribes. Furthermore, the Iraqi military is under-equipped, under-funded and not sufficiently trained. In addition, the Maliki-Government is both unwilling and unable to strengthen its grip on the military and demobilise the sectarian militias.
The second main suggestion by the Baker Commission – to start talks with Syria and Iran about the stabilisation of Iraq – is futile as well. Both Syria and Iran will demand US returns for their help. These appeasement offers could be accepting Syria’s continued influence in Lebanon, pressing for negotiations between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights and starting negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme without any preconditions.
Furthermore, why should these rogue regimes help the US out of its current quagmire now that the US is utterly weak and dependent on outside support and assistance? The argument, that neither of the two is interested in the dismemberment of Iraq is true but not yet a factor pressing Iran and Syria to assist the US or the Iraqi government. As of today, they stand to gain more from prolonging the current state of affairs in Iraq. But even if these two countries would agree to help the US in stabilising Iraq it is far from certain that they would be able to deliver.
Strong US leadership should reject both ‘cut and run’ suggestions and ‘graceful exit’ recommendations. The US and its allies stand to lose strongly by the dismemberment of Iraq as this would invite or press neighbouring countries to intervene. An indirect, let alone a direct, confrontation in Iraq between Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran to get control of parts of Iraq is a scenario much too dangerous to western interests.
Europe needs to understand that the US must not lose in Iraq in order to forestall disastrous consequences for western interests. European allies – except for the UK – however lack courage, leadership and resoluteness to commit military forces and financial support for the stabilisation of Iraq. It is highly important to bolster western military presence in Iraq. This can not be done by the US military alone. US need European troops to help. If Europe does not respond it fails to understand its own vital interests.
Furthermore, it is futile to set strict and public benchmarks for the Maliki government. It is highly necessary to push Maliki to do a better job as Iraq’s leader, but not in public. It is, in addition, illusionary however, to expect the current Iraqi government to deliver results in due time and meet western expectations. It is far too weak for meeting these expectations.
Iraq needs more Western troops and increased financial commitments to rebuild the country. The true danger is, that the US is following the European lack of responsibility and opts for an allegedly graceful exit which is nothing more than the abandonment of vital security interests, the wrecking of western credibility and a major defeat in the military struggle against terrorism.