I had some additional thoughts on the Baker-Hamilton report that I didn’t get to in my column this morning but that I think are worth touching on. While I noted that helping the U.S. in Iraq would not be in the interest of Iran and Syria, the report does make a convincing case that Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States do have an interest in stability in Iraq because “battle-hardened insurgents from Iraq could pose a threat to their own internal stability, and the growth of Iranian influence in the region is deeply troubling to them.” Perhaps a diplomatic effort that reinforced for these nations the dangers they would face in the wake of an abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would convince them to cooperate with us more than they are currently. One potential downside is that increased involvement, for instance, by Sunnis in Saudi Arabia could add fuel to the fire of sectarian warfare and increase regional tensions.
Another point worth noting is that the report, in emphasizing the risks of a premature U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, says: “If we leave and Iraq descends into chaos, the long-range consequences could eventually require the United States to return.” One of the arguments that many opponents of the Iraq War have made is that they believe in fighting terrorism and attacking terrorist bases, but Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism. If, however, the U.S. leaves Iraq and Al Qaeda establishes terrorist bases in Western Iraq, by that logic, the U.S. would have a legitimate reason for military action in that region. This made me think of an op-ed Al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen wrote in October, which is sounding more and more like the right strategy in Iraq:
While withdrawing a substantial number of American troops from Iraq would probably tamp down the insurgency and should be done as soon as is possible, a significant force must remain in Iraq for many years to destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Creating a stable democracy in Iraq would be great, but it clearly isn’t achievable in the foreseeable future and the patience of the American people is wearing thin. Therefore, it’s best to pay less attention to those groups only interested in internal Iraqi issues and concentrate our efforts on weakening those groups who, once we leave, would potentially come after us on our own soil.