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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What To Do About Iraq?

In one of my very first posts ("Leaving Afghanistan Smartly") I recounted a remark by counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, who was one of General Patraeus's advisors in Iraq during the "surge" and an opponent of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 in the first place: "Just because you invade a country stupidly doesn't mean you have to leave it stupidly (see Tom Rick's book, "The Gamble" page 29).

We would have been smart to have heeded Kilcullen's advice. Unfortunately, we didn't. Although the invasion of Iraq was ill-advised, it was just as shortsighted to leave the country in such a hurry. Rather of removing all of our troops, we should have left a small force behind that could have continued to secure the safety of the Iraqi citizens.


Instead, we now have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. ISIS is showing no mercy to religious minorities, who have been told to leave or die. Many in the West have seen video clips of Iraqi Yazidis fleeing for their lives (see above), and for the first time in 1600 years, there are no Christians living in Mosul ("ISIS and Mosul's Christians").

What should we do? Dr. John Arquilla, chair of the Defense Analysis Department at the Naval Postgraduate School (where I teach) and author of numerous books on military history and strategy, argues that President Obama's three-prong strategy is on the right track ("Obama's 3-part Policy Can Ease Bloodshed"):
  1. Deploy a very light military contingent, composed primarily of special operations forces
  2. Drive a wedge between the majority of Iraqi Sunni insurgents and ISIS by urging al-Maliki to give Sunnis a much greater voice in their country's governance
  3. Coordinate with Iran, which wields considerable influence over Baghdad
This is the topic of a recent episode of KQED's Forum ("U.S. Launches Airstrikes in Iraq"). In addition to John Arquilla, guests include Borzou Daragahi, the Middle East and North Africa correspondent for the Financial Times and Peter Mansoor, chair in military history at Ohio State University, former brigade commander in Iraq and author of "Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War". The episode can be downloaded from iTunes or you can listen to it at the KQED Forum website ("U.S. Launches Airstrikes in Iraq").

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