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Robert Gates: Stand With Iraq

3:09 PM, May 25, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The notion that soft power can replace American military forces in Iraq on January 1, 2012, fundamentally misjudges the situation on the ground. The tenuous peace along the northern Arab-Kurd seam is maintained by the presence of tripartite peacekeeping forces in which American ground troops play a decisive role. The withdrawal of those forces would almost certainly lead to the collapse of the peacekeeping agreement and might lead to the collapse of the peace itself. Without the continued presence of American military advisers, Iraq’s security forces will be inadequate to meet the challenges from Iranian-backed militias and Sunni revanchist groups including Al Qaeda in Iraq.... 

If the administration understands that American interests in Iraq and throughout the Middle East are best served by supporting an independent Iraq and cementing a long-term U.S.-Iraqi relationship, then the White House must take the initiative. The administration must stop signaling that it can take Iraq or leave it and instead signal a determination to stand by Iraq’s leaders as long as those leaders stand by the democratic processes now tenuously in place and commit to the ethno-sectarian peace achieved at such a high price. The administration must make clear to the Kurds that there will be no American support for them now or in the future unless they throw their weight behind a new agreement between Washington and Baghdad. The administration must call on the Turks and the Saudis to help counterbalance Iranian pressures on Iraq’s leaders. Above all, the administration must stop using Iraqi missteps in forming their current government as an excuse to put off discussion of the U.S.-Iraq security partnership. Iraq has a prime minister and a parliament. That is enough to start negotiations.

American policy can no longer be to “end this war.” “This war” was over long ago. But the fight for Iraq and for America’s place in a critical part of the Greater Middle East continues. It is a fight the Obama administration must win.

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