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America's Responsibility

From the September 15, 2003 issue: Should the administration place all its bets on being able to find tens of thousands of foreign forces to fill the dangerous gap in Iraq?

Sep 15, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 01 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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DESPERATION BREEDS ILLUSIONS. The latest illusion, embraced reluctantly by the Bush administration and enthusiastically by its critics, is that the burden of establishing and maintaining security in Iraq can be substantially shifted off American shoulders and onto someone else's--whether it be the United Nations, Turkey, India, or the poor Iraqi people themselves. In principle, there is nothing wrong with trying to shift control back to the Iraqis. That should be our goal. Nor would any reasonable person deny that international assistance is essential to rebuilding Iraq. But what we are witnessing today is neither prudent multilateralism nor the normal, gradual process of turning power over to Iraqis that we all expected to occur over time. On both the international and Iraqi fronts, the administration's actions are being driven by the realization that there are too few American troops in Iraq.

At least the administration has begun dropping the pretense that everything is under control in Iraq and that the civilian authority has the resources and the field commanders the troops that they need. Last week the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, admitted that his forces could not handle any new eruption of conflict in Iraq should one occur. "If a militia or an internal conflict of some nature were to erupt," Gen. Sanchez told reporters in Baghdad, ". . . that would be a challenge out there that I do not have sufficient forces for." So when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the United States has enough forces on the ground in Iraq, what he means is that we have enough so long as nothing untoward happens. But even that may be inaccurate. General Sanchez went on to acknowledge, as the Associated Press reported, that "the coalition lacks sufficient troops to protect Iraq's porous borders or its thousands of miles of highways." This is a special problem inasmuch as the main "security challenges" Sanchez sees "looming in the future" include the infiltration of al Qaeda and other foreign forces across those porous borders and along those highways.

It's not surprising, therefore, that the American officials most eager for a U.N. resolution these days are to be found not just in the State Department but also among the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of U.S. forces in Iraq. Secretary of State Powell's aides spun the press about their boss's big victory over Rumsfeld, thus perpetuating the petty personal feuds that plague this administration even during times of crisis. But in fact the administration's new push for U.N. backing is not a victory for the multilateralist spirit Powell allegedly harbors. It is a simple matter of an unwillingness by America's leaders to shoulder the necessary military burden.

But the bad news for the U.S. military, and for all those out there who would like to see us shift some of the burden of the Iraqi occupation to the U.N. over the next few months, is that we aren't likely to get more troops from the international community. It's a good bet France will strike a hard bargain before agreeing to any resolution acceptable to the administration--if it ever does. But even if a new resolution passes, don't expect a big influx of foreign forces. The Europeans have few, if any, troops to spare. India and Turkey, who are the real targets of the administration's diplomatic efforts, show every sign of not wanting to play. The Turkish government will apparently not even put the issue to a vote before October, and Turkish public opinion remains hostile to any deployment in Iraq. Nor should one have high hopes for India, where public opinion is also hostile and the government wary. After all, what country would want to rush troops into Iraq now when even the Americans have been unable to create a secure environment?

Never mind whether it is desirable to replace American troops with forces from Poland and Thailand and Mongolia in such sensitive places as Najaf. After the August 29 car bombing that killed the prominent Shia cleric Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, the U.S. Marines decided to extend their stay in Najaf another two weeks. Two weeks? Will things be back to normal in Najaf in two weeks? Then there are other problems. As Reuel Marc Gerecht points out elsewhere in this issue, there is a real question whether non-American forces, and particularly Muslim forces from Turkey and Pakistan, will make the situation in Iraq better or worse. This week the newly appointed Iraqi foreign minister said he was not happy about the idea of Turkish troops in Iraq. There's symmetry to that, because the Turks aren't happy about the idea either.