Former colonial plenipotentiary Paul Bremer takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to make a pitch for securing the outcome that his boss dreamed of and bungled:
The withdrawal of all American forces has now had its predictable results.
First, our departure meant that the Iraqis lost a lot of immediate on-the-ground intelligence, a vital need for any effective military force. Second, though Iraqi military leaders publicly and privately stated that their national forces were not yet ready to defend the country, American training of those forces was cut back.
Finally, America lost considerable influence over political events in Iraq. Our military presence always had an important political dimension. It was symbolic of our intent to help Iraqis stay the course in rebuilding their country. Removing Saddam Hussein upended a thousand years of Sunni domination in the lands of Mesopotamia. It takes hard work and a long time after such a political revolution for stability to return. No amount of clever diplomacy could substitute for our continued military presence.
In an op-ed full of debateable assertions, viz:
America’s core interest remains a stable, united and democratic Iraq. But American regional interests are broader. At stake now is the century-old political structure of the entire region, with huge consequences for our friends and allies there.
he does include one sobering fact:
It is time for both American political parties to cease their ritualistic incantations of “no boots on the ground,” which is not the same as “no combat forces.” Of course Americans are reluctant to re-engage in Iraq. Yet it is President Obama’s unhappy duty to educate them about the risks to our interests posed by the unfolding drama in Iraq.
If doing what was politically popular or easy were the limits of presidential responsibility, we wouldn’t need a president at all. Sometimes presidential leadership calls for more than figuring out which way the band is going and getting out in front of it but in figuring out which way the band should go and convincing its members to go in that direction. Education and persuasion are among the roles and powers of the president.
I continue to urge the course of action I’ve advocated for some time: the president should outline what he believes our interests in the region are clearly, persuade the American people that his views are the correct ones, and then pursue those objectives with determination. That may be as Amb. Bremer puts it an “unhappy duty” but it’s his duty nonetheless.