I find it interesting that the week after Francophobic Republican congressmen suggest that we should leave Iraq and polls show that public support for keeping troops there is at its lowest level ever, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is suggesting that we send more troops.
Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don't. As Stanford's Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, "Squandered Victory," puts it, we need "a bold mobilizing strategy" right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas. For weeks now, we haven't even had ambassadors in Iraq, Afghanistan or Jordan.
But even if it is clear that American forces must remain in Iraq, I am not sure whether it would be possible to "double the American boots on the ground." Considering that both the Army and the Marines are currently behind their recruitment goals, it has been suggested that it will be difficult to maintain the current level of troop deployment in Iraq, much less a massive increase on the size that Friedman suggests. If the Bush Administration were to support the creation of that great bogeyman of American youth everywhere, a military draft, the Republican Party would be crushed in the upcoming midterm Congressional elections, so it is likely that an increase in American forces in Iraq will not occur.
But the second part of Friedman's solution involves international cooperation solving the ethnic problems of the Iraqi government. Friedman does not outline exactly how this would occur, but one must assume that the mere of appearance of American and UN officials would not suddenly break the deadlocks and infighting that currently plague the government. One of the mental failures of the transitional period was the lack of the creation of a national "Iraqi identity," in favor of strengthening ethnic identities. We implicitly assumed that the Shi'ites and Kurds were our friends, while the Sunnis were Saddam loyalists. During the American occupation, American newspapers were constantly concerned that the Shi'ites would turn against us, or that the Kurds would declare their independence. It is possible that either of these occurrences might actually have made the current Iraqi government more stable. A joint Shi'ite-Sunni insurgency might have done wonders for the fragile Iraqi identity, while an independent Kurdistan would reduce the number of major ethnicities in Iraq to the more manageable number of two. As it stands, with Sunni insurgents criminalized while Shi'ite militias are legitimized, I would not be surprised if civil war broke out tomorrow.
But what is to be done? I think that despite our commitment to stay and ensure that Iraq does not become another failed state, it would be a good idea for us to sit down with the new Iraqi government and set a date when large numbers of American forces operating in Iraq will not be necessary. Conditions on the ground suggest that date will not be this month, or even this year, but I think the understanding that American soldiers would leave Iraq by, say, June 2006 would make the American people feel more secure that Iraq is really not another unwinnable war.