Monday, December 12, 2005

Some Optimism for a Change

Amid all the talk of torture and this latest prison scandal today, a BBC/ABC commissioned poll "finds optimism in [the] new Iraq."

Three impressive statistics stand out:
  1. Iraqis predominately want one centralized Iraqi government.
  2. A solid majority wants democracy immediately, while a stronger majority wants democracy within 5 years.
  3. Two-thirds of Iraqis believe next year will be better than this year.
Also interesting is the public confidence in the local police forces as well as the Iraqi military.Confidence in Iraq's religious leaders falls in between the two security forces. Unsurprisingly, the occupational forces rank the lowest out of everyone.

All this is promising. The data demonstrates that Iraqis genuinely want a representational and federal government with certain centralized powers. Plus, the police and military are earning the trust of a good majority of Iraqis. What the U.S. now needs to do is ensure that public confidence stays with the nascent security forces by ramping up training and giving up more responsibility with U.S. forces retreating to the periphery. That thing called the Syrian border isn't going to secure itself. Border security would do marvels at starving the insurgency and the jihadists of their vital needs: bodies, bullets, and bank. We should really get to securing that while leaving everyday interactions to the Iraqi government. When needed, the Iraqis can call on air support and U.S. Special Forces to battle large concentrations of insurgents or jihadists with an aim of keeping strikes discriminate and surgical. No more offensives like that on Fallujah, which constitute war crimes considering the use of phosphorous bombs and the disregard for civilian lives and infrastructure.

So for those of us who eventually want a responsible withdrawal from Iraq, the strategy should be to gradually recede to the outskirts of Iraq as domestic security forces "stand up," giving critical help when genuinely needed to defeat insurgent or jihadist threats.

In the immediate future, the two most valuable things the U.S. could do is stop using torture as an interrogation tool and publicly pledge, on the Constitution no less, that the U.S. will not plant permanent military bases in Iraq. Both would do a lot in countering Sunni and Islamist propaganda while also aligning our political values with our foreign policy. In return, U.S. forces could hopefully and gradually withdrawal from Iraq within the next couple of years, give or take, as conditions on the ground permit.