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September 25, 2007 |  1 comment |  Print  Your Opinion  

Europeans Want America to Stay in Iraq

Joerg Wolf: We asked European policy experts for their opinions on proposed ways forward in Iraq. Respondents from ten different countries provided some surprising results.

Against Troop Withdrawal

While the American public and policy debate revolves largely around exit strategies and “redeployment,” there is apparent consensus among European policy analysts that American troops should remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future. In contrast to both European media opinion and the prevailing views of American liberals, our respondents supported sustained troop levels. Many consider the announcement of a timetable for withdrawal to be counter-productive and even outright dangerous, saying that lack of American involvement would drive Iraq into further chaos.

Many of those interviewed focused on military strategy as a means to political reconstruction in Iraq, rather than an end in itself. “Winning” and “losing” the war, a theme in the American discourse, was not discussed. The US focus on military progress was, in fact, largely viewed as damaging to priorities in rebuilding the country. Dr. Reidar Visser, a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs who also runs the Iraq website Historiae, observed that the “main problem [with the current strategy] is the heavy emphasis on security instead of creative political initiatives to encourage national reconciliation.” And Dr. Jean Y. Haine of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute warned that “the tendency for the Pentagon to control civilian aspects of reconstruction is not a recipe for success….force protection will remain the highest priority. In other words, the game is tipped in favor of the spoilers.”

However, the reigning sentiment was for continued military involvement to secure a still tenuous security situation, and against any rushed exit from Iraq for the sake of short-term political goals. For instance, Mark Burgess, Director of the World Security Institute (WSI) in Brussels, argued that the refusal to provide a timetable for withdrawal without fulfillment of specific political achievements “is necessarily flexible and realistic about what is achievable.” In the words of Jan Techau, of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), “withdrawal should be the last resort if the current improvements turn out to be short-lived.” Yet most of the analysts we asked did not expect the US to stick around for too long: Etienne de Durand of the Institute Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) said that while “the Bush administration will want to avoid the appearance of, and the blame for, defeat by almost any means….[b]eginning in 2009, I expect what you call Edward’s plan (fast withdrawal) to take place in one way or another, except that it’ll take more than 12 months.”

In Favor of Involving Iran and Syria
There was also a widespread consensus that Iraq’s neighbors Iran and Syria must be more strongly drawn into the nation-building process. Given the countries’ undeniable influence and interest in Iraq’s future, America cannot employ a policy that shuts out Iran and Syria if it hopes to achieve stability in Iraq: “It is, in fact, a strategic contradiction to have a military surge on the one hand and an increased rhetoric against Iran on the other,” noted Dr. Jean Y. Haine.

Most experts agreed that, should America fail to achieve a sustainable peace, military responsibilities should be shared with a supranational or regional force and that. Pierre Drai of the Centre D’Etudes Transatlantiques, proposed that the “US should make significant efforts to form a new international framework under the authority of the UN Security Council.” Many respondents worried about the plausibility of achieving what the studies recommend, however. Discussing the Conetta Plan, Boleslaw Wozniak, of the Center for European Strategy questioned the likelihood of “encourag[ing] Arab speaking and Muslim countries to provide all the front-line troops of the new international force in Iraq.” And Truls-Hallberg Tonnessen from the Fosvarets Research Institute (FFI) pointed out that “[groups of] insurgents perceive the UN and NATO only as a US tool.”

Mixed Views on Soft Partition
There was a strong polarization on the question of whether America should try to manage soft partition and population movements along sectarian lines. Some analysts argued that ethnic homogenization was already underway and, if managed correctly, could avert the bloodshed that is likely to follow American withdrawal:

For instance, Tom Vandenkendelaere of the University of Kent argued that “soft partition seems to be the conditio sine qua non for stabilization.” Likewise, a renowned Italian political scientist, who asked to remain anonymous, stated bluntly that soft partition “is not really a plan, but more a reality that is most likely to play out.”

Others, however, were strongly opposed to a partition. In their view, any such announcement would only result in accelerated bloodshed and further isolate any remaining nationalist sentiment in the country:

Oreste Foppiani, of the Graduate Institute of International Studies (HEI) in Switzerland, surmised that any such action “would destabilize the whole region (Turkey, Iran, Syria et cetera), most conspicuously by the aggressive Kurdish territorial claims.” Iva Venkova of the Institute Europeen de Hautes Etudes Internationales (IEHEI) went into further detail, pointing out that “deep rifts are running not only between, but within the three communities,” that relocation would be a “traumatizing experience,” and that in any event the plan would require “deployment of massive troops,” making it unfeasible in practice. Reidar Visser forcefully condemned the strategy, saying that “[t]his state model is not consonant with Iraqi history, is rejected by most Iraqis except the Kurds, will be condemned by all regional powers except possibly Iran and Kuwait, and will infuriate the Islamic world to the point where groups like al Qaeda would see it as ‘decisive proof’ of a crusader plot to divide and rule the Muslims.”

This is the first of three installments analyzing the results of interviews conducted with European policy analysts and our community.

The second installment about possibilities for increased European engagement was published on September 28, 2007 at
Europe Should Help Iraq, But Not Follow US Lead

The third installment, Premature US Withdrawal Could Threaten Europe , was published October 4, 2007.

Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:

Written by Niklas Keller, Will Nuland and Joerg Wolf

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July 21, 2008

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These experts certainly are free to hold this self-interested view as vehemently as they wish. The situation for Americans, however, is that we cannot afford to stay in Iraq. It's absolutely true that we ought not to have intervened in Iraq -- and did so only because of the obstinate foolishness of the Bush Administration. But it's not true that, having foolishly intervened, we have no choice but to stay there.

Put bluntly, the U.S. cannot afford to stay in Iraq. Nor, for that matter, can we afford our interventionism in the rest of the Middle East, Europe, South Asia, and the Far East. We are broke and need to apply such of our wealth as remains to rebuilding our own physical infrastructure and investing in our people.

There has been no defensible rationale for our acting as The World's Policeman for many years now. If policing is in order, let the E.U. act in that role in Europe and the Middle East. Let Japan and South Korea act in that role in the Far East. The E.U., Japan and South Korea are very wealthy societies and are quite able to take on these roles if they have the political will to do so. Public opinion polls in the U.S. increasingly are showing that the American people no longer have the will. A non-interventionist policy by the U.S. is more and more attractive to American opinion leaders, intellectuals, and thoughtful lay people. Believe me when I say that, in the years ahead, the U.S. will embrace a non-interventionist role, irrespective of who's elected President this November.

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