Popular emotions blur U.S. perceptions of national interest in Iraq

By PAOLO LIEBL VON SCHIRACH, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  June 10, 2009 at 2:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 10 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's determination to evacuate all U.S. combat forces from Iraq in fact is only fulfilling a commitment made by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, in 2008.

Bush was highly reluctant to make the commitment, and Obama was eager to do so. But both were, in fact, forced to make that decision because of the insistence of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that a deadline for the evacuation of all U.S. combat forces from his country had to be imposed.

However, Obama's determination to implement that policy has been made far easier because of a widespread consensus attitude spreading from right to left across the U.S. domestic political spectrum.

This attitude can be expressed the following way: "The Iraqi people and their government are clearly falling short in their abilities to maintain law, order and security in their country without continual hands-on support from the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines after a couple of 'tough love' attempts that did not work. Therefore, clearly the American people and the United States government should accept the evidence of the Iraqis' terminal failure to deliver. As time and again the Iraqi government and their security forces have proven to be unable to shape up, the U.S. armed forces will have to leave."

So according to this attitude, the U.S. armed forces will be leaving Iraq because the American people and their government flunked the bad student. This will teach him a lesson. Right?

Unfortunately, here we are not in school. There may not be other opportunities for the unfocused Iraqis to concentrate and take the test again. Most Americans have not considered the likelihood that the Iraqis did not "shape up" in the past because, given the infancy of their political institutions and the government they formed, they were not yet capable. And the fact remains that, since the highly successful counterinsurgency policies of Gen. David Petraeus were implemented, the Maliki government and its 630,000-strong police and army forces have proven far more effective in establishing their mandate of control over most of their own country.

It is a very easy job for the critics to point out all the failures of the Maliki government. But, after American and other critics have fixed the blame and thus can feel good about their choices based on undeniably reasonable standards, if applied to ordinary circumstances, can they really say that they have fixed the problem?

There are dangers for Americans to indulge the fantasy that they are "teaching a lesson" to the immature Iraqis by blaming them for the many security failures in their country over the past six years. Fixating on that attitude can blind Americans to the key factors that should shape U.S. policy in America's own national self-interest.


Part 6: Defining the most important U.S. national interest for staying in Iraq


(Paolo Liebl von Schirach is the editor of SchirachReport.com, a regular contributor to Swiss radio and an international economic-development expert.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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