After the New Way Forward (Updated)

The New York Times and Washington Post are both reporting on a new GAO report on “the Surge” AKA “the New Way Forward”.

The report notes the improvement in the security situation in Iraq and points out some of the failures in political and economic progress in the country.

A summary of the study is here. The full report is here. I found the responses of State, Treasury, and DoD to the report particularly interesting.

I agree completely with the recommendations of the report:

As The New Way Forward and the military surge end in July 2008, and given weaknesses in current DOD and State plans, an updated strategy is needed for how the United States will help Iraq achieve key security, legislative, and economic goals. Accordingly, we recommend that DOD and State, in conjunction with relevant U.S. agencies, develop an updated strategy for Iraq that defines U.S. goals and objectives after July 2008 and addresses the long-term goal of achieving an Iraq that can govern, defend, and sustain itself. This strategy should build on recent security and legislative gains, address the remaining unmet goals and challenges for the near and long term, clearly articulate goals, objectives, roles and responsibilities, and the resources needed and address prior GAO recommendations.

A lot of Americans seem to believe that new plan should include the complete withdrawal of U. S. forces from Iraq. It’s not clear to me how that would eliminate the shortcomings the report identifies but it’s pretty to clear to me it would effectively nullify the security gains of the last year. That Americans’ views as reflected in polls is frozen in time and hasn’t responded to the changing situation in Iraq may be related to the fact that the major news media are devoting very little time to Iraq these days—the network news has only devoted a hundred or so minutes to Iraq since the first of the year.


Cernig points to a guest post at Marc Lynch’s place on the complicated and perverse partisan politics of Iraq and the U. S.’s inevitable role in it. Although Cernig links to it approvingly, the post makes a pretty good argument against Cernig’s preferred policy position of immediate withdrawal of U. S. forces from Iraq and for mine (staying there reluctantly):

Something about just being in power and, especially, having tons of money, ends up creating a constituency, creating a social base. And the stronger the PTB get, the Iraqi people will look past the dubious makeup of the government and just be happy that the state has returned and there’s a modicum of law and order. At least for a while, and at least as long as the government is rich, at least as long as the US is there to back it up, at least as long as the PTB stay united. Hardly a recipe for a stable political order, but one that will work for the time being.

Is supporting this government worth the cost to the US? The interests we sacrifice, the destabilizing role such a government would play in the region, the lives and money, and so on. How much better is it than alternatives that would emerge without our managing of the political scene? I mean that as a serious question, meaning I’m open to the answer to the first question being “yes.” If we are going to stick with this general idea, however, we do need to tilt things in the general direction of getting the PTB to let more of the PTA in. That’s the best definition there is of what “reconciliation” means in the current political context as far as I’m concerned. We’re so intent on getting a large portion of our troops out fast, and so eager to sew Iraq up into this little box, and thus so singlemindedly focused on making the government strong, that we’re missing an opportunity to make this government at least a bit more inclusive and a bit more stable and thus a bit less reliant on us.

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