The only measure of where and when to use our military forces is: Does it make us safer? More than 2½ years into the continuous deployment of more than 100,000 troops to Iraq, the clear answer is that having such a large number of troops on the ground in Iraq is diminishing our security and that of the Iraqi people. For the past several months, the U.S. population has been debating the wrong issues, instead of looking to answer the real question before us: When and how do we begin redeploying our troops to make the American people safer? The best answer among bad options is to begin redeployment in January, right after Iraq’s national elections. The Bush administration has left us with no better choice.
It has become clear that if we still have 140,000 ground troops in Iraq a year from now, we will destroy the all-volunteer Army. Keeping such a large contingent of troops there will require the Pentagon to send many units back to Iraq for a third time and to activate Reserve and Guard forces a second or third time. To paraphrase Vietnam-era Army Gen. Maxwell Taylor: While we sent the Army to Iraq to save Iraq, we now have to redeploy the Army to save the Army.
As redeployments begin, the remaining forces in Iraq would focus on our core missions: completing the training of Iraqi forces; improving border security; providing logistical and air support to Iraqi security forces engaged in battles against terrorists and insurgents; serving as advisers to Iraqi units; and tracking down terrorists and insurgent leaders with smaller, more nimble Special Forces units operating jointly with Iraqi units. This strategic redeployment will enable the United States to operate with a leaner force that is more effective at rooting out insurgents and terrorist networks.
Strategic redeployment also will strengthen the Army and minimize the drawbacks of our eventual withdrawal from Iraq. It also will enable us to respond to other emerging threats in the broader battle against violent extremists. Redeployment from Iraq will enable us to prevent other countries from becoming terrorist havens and enable us to address other threats our country faces.
Approximately 140,000 U.S. forces operate in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Of those, about 90,000 are active-duty forces, 33,000 are National Guard and 13,000 are Reserve forces. In addition to the U.S. troop presence, approximately 24,000 non-U.S. forces from 26 countries support the ongoing operations in Iraq.
The United States should immediately begin a slow and irreversible drawdown of military forces to make us safer by preserving our all-volunteer Army and refocusing all elements of American power on the real threats our country faces.
The redeployment of U.S. forces should be conducted in two phases. Phase one would take place in 2006, with the drawdown of 80,000 troops by the end of the year. In phase two, the remaining 60,000 would withdraw by the end of 2007.
United States troops would immediately and completely redeploy from urban areas, with Iraqi police, troops and militias, such as the Kurdish pesh merga, taking responsibility for security in those areas. This redeployment from urban areas — which has already begun in places such as Najaf and Tikrit — will decrease the number of insurgents motivated by the U.S. occupation. It also will free remaining U.S. forces in Iraq to dedicate their efforts in 2007 to high-priority tasks related to our core mission.
By the end of 2007, the only U.S. military forces in Iraq would be a small Marine Corps contingent to protect the U.S. Embassy, a small group of military advisers to the Iraqi government, and counterterrorist units working closely with Iraqi security forces. This presence, along with the forces in Kuwait and at sea in the Persian Gulf area, will be sufficient to conduct strikes coordinated with Iraqi forces against any terrorist camps and enclaves that may emerge and deal with any major external threats to Iraq.
The 80,000 troops coming out of Iraq in 2006 should be redistributed as follows:
• All Guard and Reserve troops would be demobilized and would immediately return to the United States. This would allow the Guard and Reserve to return to their policies of troops not spending more than a year out of five on active duty and let the Guard focus on shoring up gaps in homeland security.
• Up to two active brigades — approximately 20,000 troops — would be sent to bolster U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan and support counterterrorist operations in Africa and Asia. In Afghanistan, more troops are urgently needed to beat back resurging Taliban forces and to maintain security throughout the country. If NATO is unwilling to send more troops, the United States must pick up the load. In the Horn of Africa, countries such as Somalia and Sudan remain a breeding ground for terrorists.
• The remaining 14,000 troops would be positioned nearby in Kuwait and as part of a Marine expeditionary force located offshore in the Persian Gulf to strike at any terrorist camps and enclaves and guard against any major acts that risk further destabilization in the region.
• This also would enable the Army and Marines to return to the time-tested policy of allowing a soldier or Marine to spend at least two months at home for every month deployed abroad.
The second pillar of strategic redeployment is a more concerted global communications effort to counter the misinformation, conspiracy theories and hateful ideology of our terrorist enemies. Without a communications campaign that speaks more clearly about our actions and intentions, our enemies will be in a strong position to present our eventual military drawdown from Iraq as a defeat.
An essential component of clarifying U.S. intentions to enhance our security is an unambiguous announcement by President Bush that the United States will not build permanent military bases in Iraq, counteracting arguments made in recruitment pitches by militants and Iraqi insurgents. Telling the Iraqi public and the world that we do not intend to remain in Iraq forever will reaffirm our commitment to supporting a truly democratic Iraq that is sovereign, independent and unified.
Strategic redeployment means placing more focus on other elements of American power — including its diplomatic power. The president must personally lead a diplomatic initiative in the region to create a cooperative security and intelligence network aimed at securing Iraq’s borders and eradicating terrorist networks.
The redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq requires that Iraq’s neighbors play a more active role in supporting stability and in efforts to fight terrorist extremists. Therefore, Bush should convene a meeting of the heads of state in the region to discuss measures aimed at securing borders, taking down terrorist networks and enhancing cooperation between military and intelligence services in the region. Working with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Iran and other countries in the Gulf, the United States should use its diplomacy to bring together the countries that share a common interest in a stable Iraq.
If a grand multilateral effort proves to be impossible given the complicated politics in the region, the Bush administration should work more closely at a bilateral level with Iraq’s neighbors to support efforts to bring greater stability to Iraq. In many cases, the United States has unilaterally taken itself out of the diplomatic game, particularly with Iran, which must be a part of the equation.
The United States also should continue supporting Iraq’s reconstruction and transition to democratic governance, but adopt a different approach. The United States should not try to impose its own vision of democracy on Iraq — on this important policy question, our tactics have become our strategy. The United States must commit to promote democracy in a way that does not leave the next Iraqi regime illegitimate in its people’s eyes. This requires less meddling in Iraqi elections and the constitutional process. The United States should stop funding hand-picked Iraqi political parties.
The January 2005 elections in Iraq showed the value of the United Nations in providing technical assistance and support to Iraq’s election commission. The United States should support continued United Nations engagement in Iraq’s democratic political transition.
Continued support for Iraqi nongovernmental organizations, including human rights organizations and civil liberties groups, is particularly vital as discussions on Iraq’s national constitution will continue, according to a deal brokered on the eve of the October constitutional elections. As Iraqis continue to work on revising the draft constitution and begin considering implementing legislation, the United States, in cooperation with American and international nongovernmental organizations, should support an organized national dialogue on the constitution. One grave mistake made in the Iraqi transitional government’s deliberations on the draft constitution in the summer of 2005 was setting artificial deadlines that did not allow the broader Iraqi society to have a meaningful voice in the process.
As Iraqis continue to discuss the national constitution, important work remains at the regional and local levels of government. The United States should continue projects to develop and strengthen local government in Iraq. It should work through the United Nations in efforts to provide training and assistance to provincial, municipal and district councils. Though local government is not a substitute for central government, local government institutions, properly equipped, can more expeditiously respond to the basic needs and deliver basic services needed to improve the lives of Iraqis.
The United States should also support a new approach to reconstruction assistance, targeting its efforts at local communities through projects that create a peace dividend for the Iraqi people. A greater priority should be given to including Iraqis in the design and implementation of U.S.-funded reconstruction projects. To the extent possible, projects should be contracted out to Iraqis instead of to U.S. firms or international organizations. When they are contracted out to international organizations, they should be required to employ Iraqis as much as possible. In addition, more emphasis should be placed on small-scale grants. Finally, there needs to be greater oversight of and transparency surrounding reconstruction projects.
The United States should organize another conference of donors to follow up on the pledges made by other countries in the international conference on Iraq held in Brussels in June 2005, since most of the money pledged has not been sent.
The dangers of staying the course in Iraq require a new approach. Strategic redeployment represents a threat-based approach that integrates our country’s military, economic and diplomatic powers to make the American people safer.
Strategic redeployment rejects calls for an immediate and complete withdrawal, which would only serve to further destabilize the region and embolden our terrorist enemies. But strategic redeployment also rejects the current approach — right out of Osama bin Laden’s playbook for us — of a vague, open-ended commitment that focuses our military power in a battle that cannot be won militarily.
Strategic redeployment of our military forces in Iraq does not mean cut and run — it means focusing all elements of our power on real priorities in the fight against terrorists and increasing chances for global stability when we begin our near-term troop withdrawal from Iraq.