Toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime was supposed to usher in an era of peace for Iraq and bad times for Osama bin Laden and his followers. Today, these noble objectives are increasingly distant. Iraq is torn by crime and a vicious insurgency while the country’s Sunni Arab population is increasingly bitter. Bin Laden and his followers have exploited the USled intervention to bolster their claims that the United States seeks to subjugate the Muslim world, a perception that is growing throughout the Middle East. In the United States and the United Kingdom, the human and financial costs are mounting, and both military planners and budget analysts question their countries’ abilities to sustain their massive presence in Iraq, let alone increase it to meet the daunting challenges there. With each car bomb and kidnapping, voices calling for the United States to come home become louder.
A premature withdrawal, however, would be calamitous. Iraq could become a base for jihadists, sending operatives to attack the United States and its allies worldwide. Moreover, withdrawing precipitously from Iraq would increase civil strife and bolster Iran’s regional influence.
But slugging it out doesn’t mean slogging it out, as the United States and its allies have done since May 2003. Unfortunately, the discussion of Iraq still revolves around the validity of the initial decision to go to war and criticisms of post-war planning. What little debate that exists about the future is usually limited to ‘staying the course’ versus ‘get out now’, with no sense of the full range of possibilities. The relative success of the 30 January 2005 elections offers the United States an opportunity to reassess its approach to Iraq without seeming to do so under fire.
There are, essentially, five options…