Reaffirms necessity of U.S. commitment to war

Alex Potter

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The National Intelligence Estimate is the collective opinion of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies on current issues in national security. It is considered the most comprehensive and authoritative intelligence document in the nation. The NIE released this August focused specifically on the situation in Iraq and served as a prelude to Ambassador Crocker ’71 and General Petraeus’s report before Congress on Sep. 10.

The NIE cites “Analytic Caution” in deriving conclusive claims about the situation in Iraq due to mind-numbing complexity of the intra- and inter-ethnic, religious, tribal and terrorist violence. Taken as a whole, however, one conclusion certainly may be drawn from the NIE: that withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and even the perception of such a withdrawal’s imminence would cause catastrophe for U.S. interests in the region and for the Iraqi people.
The Perception of U.S. Withdrawal and Its Consequences

“The IC [Intelligence Community] assesses that Iraq’s neighbors will continue to focus on improving their leverage in Iraq in anticipation of a Coalition drawdown. Assistance to armed groups, especially from Iran, exacerbates the violence inside Iraq.”

The NIE leaves no doubt that violence in Iraq is more severe due to the perception internationally of an impending U.S. withdrawal. If the U.S. abandons Iraq, it will profoundly destabilize the Middle East by allowing neighboring states to fuel conflict along ethnic lines. This kind of situation would almost certainly result in a horrific civil war.

Further, the perception of U.S. withdrawal causes “the reluctance of the Sunni states that are generally supportive of U.S. regional goals to offer support to the Iraqi Government [which] probably bolsters Iraqi Sunni Arabs’ rejection of the government’s legitimacy.” Not only are our enemies increasingly violent in Iraq because of the perception of our withdrawal, but our allies are less likely to support U.S. forces and the Iraqi government at a time when such support is critical to stabilizing Iraq’s central government and military.

From the NIE we can thus conclude that even the perception of an U.S. withdrawal has caused an increase in the influence of neighboring states that have their own interests in Iraq and a weakening of the central government’s strategic positioning. This reality should make the American people aware of the effect that an attitude of defeatism and withdrawal in the Democratic Congress has already had on our nation’s ability to achieve a successful outcome in Iraq.

The Next 6-12 Months

“The IC assesses that the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition.” The NIE makes it starkly clear that the next year will be the most critical juncture of the democratically elected Iraqi government, yet it is in this very time frame that many American politicians would begin to withdraw our troops.

At the same time as the government faces mounting problems with political reconciliation and power distribution, the NIE says, “We assess, to the extent that Coalition forces continue to conduct robust counterinsurgency operations and mentor and support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), that Iraq’s security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months.” What the NIE tells us is that the security situation in Iraq has and will improve. Our nation’s intelligence services show that the security situation in Iraq, though not ideal, is certainly not lost.

One of the major recommendations by the NIE to increase security and combat al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is to arm Sunni tribal leaders. “The IC assesses that the emergence of “bottom-up” security initiatives, principally among Sunni Arabs and focused on combating AQI, represent the best prospect for improved security over the next six to 12 months.” The danger of this proposal is that it will provide autonomy from the central government security forces, which could ultimately lead to opposition should the political situation change or if U.S. forces withdraw and the government no longer looks like a safe bet as an ally. The NIE recognizes this threat, saying, “We also assess that under some conditions ‘bottom-up initiatives’ could pose risks to the Iraqi Government.”

The success of such a “bottom-up” solution would depend on the ability of the central government to maintain a strong military foundation capable of defeating potential split-offs from its coalition. Without this military strength, the survival of the central government would be in question at best. The U.S. needs to maintain a military presence in order for such security initiatives to be tried and tested. If real policy initiatives are to be taken in Iraq, they must be carried out from a position of strength.

How essential U.S. military presence is to the tenuous balance of security and political progress in Iraq is exemplified by the NIE’s counsel not to alter the mission of U.S. troops from active combat to support of Iraqi Security Forces. “Recent security improvements in Iraq, including success against AQI, have depended significantly on the close synchronization of conventional counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. A change of mission that interrupts that synchronization would place security improvements at risk.”

Even the prospect of changing the military focus within Iraq is advised against by our nation’s intelligence community as completely contradictory to establishing a secure Iraq and preventing al-Qaeda from developing a strong base of operations in the chaos of a civil war-torn Iraq. The consequences of a full and perhaps even partial pull out of troops from Iraq are so obviously catastrophic to our security interests and to Iraq itself that such a policy cannot be responsibly supported.

Though the complexity of our predicament in Iraq should impart humility to all policy makers, we cannot be content with either passivity on behalf of the status quo or defeatism; both options allow for the circumstances of our security to be defined by external actors. Rather we must act positively to shape the circumstances in which we operate, which can only happen when the American people demand success rather than minimized cost.