War in Iraq

The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign-policy authorities about the conflict in Iraq

Q: What would be best for Iraq's security and stability over the next two years?

58%: Significantly fewer troops than we have in Iraq today, and less daily interaction with Iraqis

“Iraq would be most stable if a massive presence of U.S. troops brought order to the country, secured the borders, and enabled the Iraqi government to gradually assert its control. However, this would require an increase in the U.S. presence of several hundred thousand troops — and is essentially out of the question. Accordingly, I think we are inevitably headed toward fewer troops in Iraq, and the U.S. should do what it can to help prepare the Iraqi government and army for a diminished U.S. role.”

“We need to demonstrate that we will not be a participant in an Iraqi civil war. As long as Iraqi political leaders believe that we will support them at all costs, they will not make the hard political choices that just might provide the type of political solution to the civil war that has already begun and will only continue to grow — absent a change in the current Green Zone–centric politics of the administration and the Iraqi political elite.”

“Drawdown should be to a gradual, residual presence that should focus on giving advice, sustainment, and specialized forms of support to Iraqi security forces, e.g. logistics, mobility, airpower, and electronic intelligence.”

“On balance, I would opt for fewer troops. It is the only choice which offers hope of our becoming less of the problem.”

“Fewer troops, except that there need to be more daily interactions with nonmilitary Iraqis to complement the lower profile of the military.”

“More troops would be best, but is utterly impossible given the politics and the strain under which the Army and Marine Corps now labor —and which has been under-reported in the press, and disgracefully ignored by Congress. We can argue all we like, but fewer troops is where we are headed.”

“Unfortunately, the time for ‘ significantly more US troops’ has come and gone, both there and here. We sure should have stabilized the country and quelled the insurgency before handing off to a callow, inexperienced, cobbled-together Iraqi government.”

“We need to withdraw all combat forces in 2007 and keep only trainers and U.S. Mission security units. Our over- the-horizon presence can prevent the creation of terrorist sanctuaries.”

“We must reduce our troop presence primarily to reduce the strain on our Army, which is suffering from recruiting shortfalls, as well as a decline in the quality of people entering the service. However, our troops should have greater interaction with Iraqis through a program of expanded embedding of U.S. troops in newly trained Iraqi Security Force units.”

“I see a force presence in the region; however, that may go in and out of Iraq if required.”

“Interaction with Iraqis is good —just not with guns!”

“More troops would work better if we were not currently perceived as planning a strike on Iran. But to add many more and visible troops in this circumstance will just further inflame matters, appearing as it would to confirm rumors that this is stage one of a new aggression toward Iran. In the present circumstances, it would be better to have fewer troops. A poor solution, but better than the others.”

“I think it is possible that the current situation —a level of violence too high for normal life or investment or growth but short of civil war — will continue for a number of years. Many societies in Africa have lived with this kind of violence for decades. If the United States reduces its troop levels, it will also reduce casualty levels and hence also the immediate pressure and leverage on various Iraqi factions to compromise. We broke it, but we don't own it forever — as a matter of practical politics if not of morality. And sadly, it can remain broken for a long time.”

26%: Significantly more U.S. troops than we have in Iraq today, with a stronger daily presence in Iraq's population centers

“More troops would be better for Iraq, but not necessarily for the U.S., and only if it is clearly understood that the U.S. presence was for a finite period.”

“The basic condition for successful governance in Iraq — security —is still absent. More U.S. ground forces are needed to secure and hold pacified areas, train Iraqi soldiers over a longer time horizon (at least five years), and seal the borders. More troops are also needed as tensions with Iran increase — U.S. troops may be needed to put down Iran-sponsored militia.  More U.S. troops could avert a full-fledged civil war.”

“To immediately establish a federalist system of government —divided by Kurd, Sunni, Shia, and Baghdad—with a weak overarching central government, we need a significant increase in the troop level; however, it needs to be from the international community and from the newly formed and trained Iraqi army.”

“We need more U.S. troops in Iraq, not to have a stronger presence in population centers but to seal the borders and train Iraqi troops and police so that they can gain control over their country.”

16%: About the same U.S. troop levels and visibility as today

“If we do not shift responsibility to the Iraqis, they will not take it ... and they will blame us for continued division and violence.”

“The political will does not exist to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, and the U.S. military would be hard pressed to sustain a larger presence even if it did. Iraqis will read any unilateral U.S. decision to dramatically reduce the number of U.S. troops as a sign they are being abandoned to the wolves, thereby persuading militias to accelerate their plans to go to the mattresses.”

“In the best of all possible worlds I would prefer more troops, but that is politically impossible. Having the same number of troops may also be tough politically, but should assure stability. A reduction in numbers would only make sense if Iraq's military and police improve their performance. The question can only be answered on a tentative basis because of the many variables.”

“Although the U.S. could greatly benefit from more troops in Iraq if we could find them, the more important shift is to better employ the troops on hand to create the kind of security for the bulk of the Iraqi people to finally allow political and economic reconstruction to take root and begin to build from the bottom up.”

None of the above:

“Iraq’s security and stability can’t be accomplished by just putting troop levels up or down. The key is cutting a political deal that works and drawing down our troops in that context.”

"This is the wrong question. The right question is: What kind of political situation in Iraq would allow the troops to leave? You need to use the troops as a way to deal with the politics. That is now, and has always been, the situation."

“There are more important questions concerning ‘Iraqization’ and greater international political support — a Contact Group — that need to be addressed around or before the time the troop-deployment issue gets addressed.”

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