Report Projects Continued U.S. Military Presence in Iraq
By Michael Novinson
July 01, 2009 "AXcess News" - Washington - When former Republican presidential candidate John McCain said in January 2008 that he would be OK with United States troops in Iraq for another 100 years, Democrats ridiculed him as a warmonger.
Now, a report from a centrist political think tank predicts that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq well after the current December 2011 withdrawal deadline.
"The Iraqi government is going to come to its senses in 2010 or 2011 and recognize that an American presence of combat forces is very much in the interest of the government of Iraq," said John A. Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security. "What I'm not sure of is whether the American people are going to be able to accept that."
Nagl presented his findings to the Middle East Institute on Monday, one day before the deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq's cities.
The center's June 11 report on the future relationship between Iraq and the United States, written by Nagl and Research Assistant Brian M. Burton, also projects that recent bombings will fail to foment sectarian tensions and that Iran will pose a less significant threat than feared.
Nagl said that United States troops will remain vital to Iraq's national security beyond 2011, noting that U.S. forces often maintain a military presence in former war zones for decades. A small assistance force could be necessary to help Iraqi security forces develop skills and capabilities, and he recommended that U.S. policymakers prepare for that contingency.
He said that extending the presence of U.S. troops would be mutually beneficial but the Iraqi government would have to request assistance because it would alter the current status of forces agreement between the two nations. Any U.S. efforts to initiate such an agreement would smack of imperialism.
The agreement would be a tough sale for the Obama administration due to public war fatigue. Nagl admitted that the American people are much more concerned about conditions in the United States than conditions in Iraq.
"We have failed to mobilize the nation for this long of a war," he said.
Nagl said recent incidents, such as Wednesday's bombing of a Baghdad market that killed approximately 70, are unlikely to be strategically destabilizing. He attributed the campaign of violence to sectarian groups such as al-Qaida of Iraq.
However, the attacks will be insignificant as long as Shiites don't retaliate because that would enable al-Qaida in Iraq to reassert its claims of being the protector of the Sunni community.
"It is important that we not overreact to every instance of violence or bombings," Nagl said. "There will be many of them, I'm sorry to say."
Nagl also said the prospects for Iranian hegemony over Iraq are less significant than once feared. Despite Iraqi Prime Minister's Nouri al-Maliki's links to Iran, he has demonstrated dissatisfaction with Iranian actions perceived to undermine Iraqi stability.
American diplomatic efforts should coordinate improved strategic ties between Iraq and the rest of the Arab world to diminish Iran's influence, Nagl said.
He expressed concern about Iraq becoming a forgotten war, especially because the issue has been absent from United States political discussion since President Barack Obama announced a new strategy for the area in February. But Nagl said a strong, long-term relationship between the two nations will be essential in creating a more peaceful and secure Middle East.
"There are going to be a lot more international crisis over the next couple of years, and Iraq is only going to be one of them," he said. "But it's going to remain an important one."
Dr. Nagl was a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy Class of 1988 and served as an armor officer in the U.S. Army for 20 years, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Source: Scripps Howard Foundation Wire