Thursday, August 19, 2010

When Optics Require Innovation

The Status of Forces Agreement means that the US military has to be out of Iraq entirely by the end of 2011 with the combat brigades leaving this month.  But the US still has aspirations of doing important stuff after 2011, so State leads and is guarded by ... contractors.  Private military companies.  I am sure that if you asked Iraqis which they would prefer, they would prefer to have US military guys doing this kind of work rather than contractors because the former are accountable and the latter not so much.  But both Iraqi nationalism and American domestic politics require no American soldiers or Marines of any size to be in the country. 

Yep, the policy is drive by optics--the uniforms would look bad on Iraqi and American TV.  So, we must innovate and have a really large civilian presence guarded by contractors.  But is this really a good idea?  Probably not, but politics, as they say (this is a morning for cliches), is the art of the possible.

The former head civilian, Ryan Crocker, suggests that this should be revisited:
“We need strategic patience here,” Ryan C. Crocker, who served as ambassador in Iraq from 2007 until early 2009, said in an interview. “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality. We do have an Iraqi partner in this. We certainly are not the ones making unilateral decisions anymore. But if they come to us later on this year requesting that we jointly relook at the post-2011 period, it is going to be in our strategic interest to be responsive.”
I think Obama could imagine keeping some troops around, so this really hinges on Iraqi politicians taking a brave stand.  Perhaps they could frame a request for some US troops to stay by framing it exactly as: do you want some US troops to remain or do you want a bunch of trigger happy, unaccountable private military contractors like Blackwater Xe?  Put that way, I am pretty sure that Iraqis would punish their politicians less for letting some troops stay.  Framed as US troops or nothing is something else entirely.  But first we need a  settled Iraqi domestic political scene, which does not seem to be close at hand.

No comments: