Military Withdrawal, Political Engagement

Meanwhile, the debate over the American military engagement in Iraq has been reduced to the choice between maintaining or withdrawing our troops. Ignored is the notion that we can maintain troop levels while disengaging politically (e.g. disengaged bases) or that, conversely, we can withdraw our troops while significantly ramping up our political engagement. The latter option is what this report (.pdf) by the Task Force for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq proposes as the basis for a complete withdrawal of American forces within 12-18 months, beginning with a modified UN mandate that internationalizes the Iraqi aid and support mission in the context of a gradual American troop drawdown. There’s also this, which strikes me as a pretty sensible regional equivalent of the Six-Party talks with N. Korea:

Support the establishment, as part of the existing International Compact with Iraq, of an International Support Group comprising the five permanent Security Council members, Iraq’s six neighbors, and a representative of the UN Secretary General.

As for security priorities, the report suggests stopping the flow of arms and funding for all parties to the frozen Iraqi civil war, instead of taking sides, and the eventual introduction of UN peacekeepers in particularly sensitive areas susceptible to violent flareups following American withdrawal. There’s also a broad regional diplomatic component that includes engaging Syria and Iran, organizing a standing forum for Iraq and its neighbors to maintain multilateral communication channels, and reinforcing regional commitment to Iraqi economic reconstruction.

Finally, the report gives some helpful suggestions for how to orient Iraqi reconstruction aid. Removing American oil interests’ leg up on the competition, renewing American development aid, funding refugee programs in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and a civil public works program (as opposed to the military public works program known as the Awakening) are all sound ideas that the Bush administration has in its eternal wisdom decided to forego.

The report forthrightly acknowledges the potential pitfalls of such an approach. But it also ably illustrates the broad range of options for political engagement that is currently being ignored as we assume the costs of Iraq’s security nightmare, outsource its humanitarian burdens and export the strategic advantages of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow to Iran. Critics will argue that not all of what is proposed is mutually exclusive with maintaining a military presence. But neither is military withdrawal the equivalent of political abandonment.

As a brief aside, given the names of the people involved in its preparation, I’m surprised the report has gotten so little notice (so far as I’ve seen).