The House Armed Services Committee met on Wednesday to receive alternative perspectives on the president’s strategy for Iraq. The witnesses called to provide testimony included former Defense Secretary William Perry of Iraq Study Group, Lawrence Korb of Center for American Progress, and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute.
Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) began by describing the purpose of the oversight process: providing the American people with the ability to hear a full range of options for the war and allowing representatives to make an informed decision when presenting the best plan forward. All three witnesses had alternative visions, and the House Armed Services Committee members were given the opportunity to question these plans afterwards.
Frederick Kagan’s testimony most closely paralleled the president’s plan. He argued that the surge will be a successful tactic in Iraq, and that the president made the right call in first trying to secure Iraq before expecting real political goals in the country. He argued that the president’s goals are entirely plausible, despite the fact that the president now plans to provide fewer troops than he originally suggested.
Kagan was unconcerned about American involvement in a civil war, stating, “We have, in fact, succeeded in refereeing civil wars in the past.” This last point received particular dissension from congressmen and the other witnesses, many of whom were unconvinced when he cited Bosnia as evidence worthy of a comparison.
Both Perry and Korb adamantly disagreed with Kagan and the president’s similar plan of action. Perry stated, “When the ISG was in Baghdad, we asked specifically if [a few more] brigades would help, they said no.” Korb expressed a similar sentiment saying, “We could put a soldier or marine on every corner and it wouldn’t make a difference.”
Perry argued that America needs to focus more on training the Iraqi troops if success is ever to be achieved, saying, “As soon as army troops leave, the disorder comes back again. Maintaining security can only be done by a strong Iraqi army.”
Korb agreed with Perry’s assessment, but also professed strong doubts that this plan could work in isolation. He explained that much of the Iraqi army’s 300,000 troops had more training than the green American troops freshly sent to Iraq, and that the tasks they had set before them were easier than those in a typical military. He described their responsibilities as being much more similar to police work than anything else, and said that other problems are preventing the job from getting done.
The issue is much more complex than lack of training, Korb argued. “The Iraqi army is not a multi-ethnic army. They are loyal to their tribe,” Korb explained, “will [Iraqi PM Maliki] take action against a Shia group? The record so far is not encouraging.”
The larger problem, Korb believes, is tied to motivation: “They are not motivated because there is not an Iraqi nation that they are devoted to and willing to die for.” Korb said that it was an absolute necessity to solve the political disputes between the warring factions if any ground is to be made on their most serious issues.
Perry agreed that solving these political disputes is a necessity, but disagreed with his outlook on how to accomplish this task. Korb argued that we need to implement the Center for American Progress’ strategic redeployment plan in order to pressure the largely Shiite Iraqi government to make the necessary concessions to the Sunni factions. “The only card we really have left is the presence of American troops,” he said. “It is the crutch they are dependent on.”
Strategic redeployment parallels the Iraq Study Group plan in many ways, but differs in maintaining that we need to set a date for troop withdrawal in order to reach these political compromises. “I believe until you set a date certain to leave they will not do these things because they are tough,” Korb said. “You are asking a Shia government to concede power to the Sunnis, and they don’t want to do it!”
Although the Iraq Study Group does not sponsor a set date certain for withdrawal, Perry agreed that it is necessary for the Iraqis to know that the U.S. will leave, saying, “The only pressure we have on the Iraqi government to make [the political] moves is they need to know they will stand on their own.”
Kagan seemed unconcerned about the increasing strain upon the American military or the heightening threat of Afghanistan. He instead emphasized that now is, in his opinion, a pivotal moment in both American and world history in Iraq. Despite his great concern for how to dealt with this pivotal moment, he was not convinced that it would be necessary to enact the “diplomatic surge” Korb suggested, despite Iran’s increasing role in the region. The evidence Korb provided of Iran helping during our initial invasion into Afghanistan did little to sway him.
Kagan said multiple times that he did not share exact views with the president on this issue. Yet his conclusions that it is not yet essential for the Iraqis to become more involved in their own safety and that neighboring countries do not need to be engaged are both shared by President Bush. Those views remain highly contested by the Iraq Study Group, the Center for American Progress, and the American people.
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