The United States begins the year discussing whether to increase troop
levels generally and in Iraq specifically.
Unfortunately, there is virtually no discussion of the question that should
precede that decision: What should the role of the United States be in the
world and with respect to the elected government of Iraq?
Let's begin with Iraq.
President Bush is said to be contemplating a "surge" of U.S. troops to
achieve security in Baghdad and perhaps elsewhere in the country. Put aside
the question of whether this strategy would work for a moment. It is not
the direction that the elected government of Iraq wants to take.
Such a surge would represent the United States taking an even more direct
responsibility for security in Iraq. There might be attempts to put an
Iraqi facade on the operations. However, at its essence, the surge strategy
calls for the imposition of U.S. martial law in substantial parts of Iraq
for some period of time.
The Iraqi government has not asked for such a surge or U.S. role. In fact,
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has specifically asked for his government to
have greater control over security forces and operations.
Advocates of a surge strategy say that it will give the Iraqis more time to
reach the sort of political deal necessary to reduce the sectarian conflict
and violence. However, the current disproportionate U.S. role may very well
be inhibiting rather than facilitating such a deal.
The continuing U.S. usurpation of the exercise of sovereignty by the Iraqi
government gives the minority Sunnis reason to hope that the U.S. will
force the Shia and the Kurds to accept an oversized role for them in the
governance of the country. Indeed, the Iraq Study Group report is basically
a brief for the United States to use its power and influence to force
exactly that. That's why Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, called it,
with considerable justification, an "insult."
The United States went to war to depose Saddam Hussein's regime, which was
perceived to be a threat to U.S. security. The United States provided a
protectorate under which the Iraqis approved a constitution and elected a
At this point, what justifies the United States substituting its judgment
about the next steps forward for that of the elected government of Iraq?
There is even less justification for a permanent expansion of U.S. troop
levels, as President Bush has indicated he will support and as even some
Democrats in Congress have advocated.
The United States already spends, in rough terms, as much on its military
capability as the rest of the world combined. We have the second largest
fighting force in the world, and one not even closely rivaled in firepower
and operational capacity.
The United States currently deploys outside of its national boundaries more
than twice as many troops as the rest of the world combined. We have the
only military in the world with a true ability to operate globally.
Simply put, we already have a military large and powerful enough to protect
the country against any realistic conventional threat.
Of course, the United States faces the unconventional threat of terrorist
attack. However, responding to that threat does not require more
conventional military forces. It requires international intelligence
operations, and international cooperation in detecting and incapacitating
terrorist plans and cells. It requires financial sleuthing and
international cooperation in shutting off funding pipelines. And it
requires buttoning up domestic security.
Now, it is good to have an unrivaled military capacity. The United States
needs to have the robust ability to act independently to protect our true
national security interests. The world remains an uncertain place and the
United States cannot depend on multilateral organizations and alliances to
take tough but necessary actions.
There are even some areas, such as missile defense, in which the United
States does needs to do more.
However, the only reason to expand the number of troops is if the United
States plans to get regularly into the business of toppling other
governments and occupying other countries.
If we need to take action to eliminate a government that truly represents a
security threat, such as in Afghanistan after 9/11, we already have
demonstrated the ability to do that lethally, effectively and efficiently.
But surely the Iraq experience demonstrates the need for circumspection
about taking such actions on the margins, and the discomfort and
unsuitability of the United States as an occupying power.
The United States should not develop a military capacity it is not in our
national self-interest to exercise.