Friday, July 02, 2010

Ryan Crocker on Iraq

From The National Interest:
It is vital that this engagement continue. Iraq is not yesterday’s war.

Strategic patience is often in short supply in this country. It is not a new problem for us, and it is not limited to Iraq. My time in the Foreign Service, from Lebanon in the early 1980s to Iraq twenty-five years later, was in many respects service in a long war. Dates such as 4/18 and 10/23—the bombings of the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983—were seared into my memory well before 9/11. I learned a few lessons along the way. One is we need to be careful about what we get into. It is a complex, volatile region with long experience in dealing with outside interventions—our adversaries often do not organize for the war until some point after we think we have already won it. But a second lesson is that we need to be even more careful about what we propose to get out of. Disengagement can have greater consequences than intervention.

Our withdrawal from Lebanon in 1984 was a victory for Syria and Iran who created and used Hezbollah against us with devastating consequences. They drew conclusions about our staying power, and when I stepped off the helicopter in Baghdad on a warm night in March 2007 as the new American ambassador, I had the eerie feeling that I was back in Lebanon a quarter of a century earlier. Iran and Syria had again combined efforts against us, this time supporting Jaish al-Mahdi and al-Qaeda instead of Hezbollah (in fact, Hezbollah trainers were working with Jaish al-Mahdi).

The surge confounded their expectations—we stepped forward instead of back. But they almost succeeded. When then–commander of U.S. forces in Iraq General David Petraeus and I testified before Congress in September 2007, the surge was starting to make a difference. But Americans, and much of Congress, were tired of the war. A major theme in our testimony was that we needed to consider that the costs of disengaging from Iraq could be far greater than those of continued involvement. Al-Qaeda would have had a base on Arab soil from which to plan operations throughout the region—and beyond. Iran and Syria would have won a major victory over the United States, fundamentally realigning the entire area with very grave consequences for the security of our allies, as well as our own. We continue to pay for our loss in Lebanon more than a quarter of a century ago. The costs of defeat in Iraq would have been exponentially higher.