Hagel Proposals Warrant Attention

Senator Chuck Hagel’s response to President Bush’s plan for Iraq is similar to many policy recommendations put forward in The National Interest and deserves serious consideration.

In responding to President Bush's January 10 speech on Iraq, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) outlined his own proposals for Iraq:

"Instead of increasing our troop presence in Iraq, we should be focused on helping the Iraqis find a political solution and creating a policy that allows us to leave Iraq honorably, has the sustained support of the American people and does not further destabilize the Middle East. This will require redefining our mission and our involvement in Iraq. A new American strategy for Iraq should include:

  • moving our troops out of the cities to Iraq's border areas, allowing us to help secure the territorial integrity of Iraq which will be seriously threatened and is critical for the future of Iraq;
  • begin turning over internal security of Iraq to the Iraqis;
  • engaging all nations in the Middle East to develop a regional internationally sponsored peace process;
  • accelerating training of Iraqi troops."

A number of experts and former officials with detailed knowledge of the Middle East have expressed opinions very similar to those put forward by the Senator. Some of these ideas found their way into the Iraq symposium that was featured in the November/December 2006 issue of The National Interest.

In that forum, Dov S. Zakheim wrote:

It is, of course, desirable that Iraqis can benefit from the many freedoms available to citizens in the West. But what is desirable is not necessarily a justification for an ongoing American commitment to Iraq; only that which is necessary-an Iraq with stable borders that is finally at peace with its neighbors-can justify such a commitment. Such a commitment may take years to fulfill. Nevertheless, it is of a nature that Americans understand and accept-witness the more than fifty years that American forces have been deployed to Germany, Japan and Korea-and it is likely to require fewer troops than are currently deployed in Iraq, thereby making it even more palatable to ordinary Americans and their elected representatives.

Daniel Pipes noted:

The basic coalition message to Iraqis should have been: You are adults, here is your country back, good luck. Transfer some seed money and station coalition forces in the deserts with a clearly defined mandate-defend Iraq's international borders, ensure the security of oil and gas exports, search for Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, prevent large-scale atrocities.
These should-have-beens remain relevant as 2007 approaches. The administration can still frame the debate in terms of U.S. interests, not Iraqi ones. It can contrast Iraq today with yesteryear's totalitarian model rather than a potential ideal. It can distance itself from Iraq's fate by reminding the world that Iraqis are responsible for shaping their destiny.

And Stephen Biddle concluded:

There are options. James Dobbins of RAND has proposed a regional diplomatic campaign to induce Iraq's neighbors to use their influence with their Iraqi clients to compel compromise on a power-sharing deal. Given the Sunnis' dependence on outside backers for money and supplies, and the growing Shi‘a links with Iran, an agreement by neighboring states to sever this support unless their clients compromise could have real traction. Of course, this means offering neighbors such as Iran and Syria inducements that would make this worth their while; inducements sufficient to do the job could be expensive indeed, in many ways. And even if Iran and Syria cooperate, someone would still have to police the deal. But regional diplomacy could at least provide some real bargaining leverage, which we lack today.
The United States could also begin to use its own military policy in Iraq as a tool for settlement, rather than merely as a quick ticket home for U.S. troops. This would require the United States to make our presence, and our assistance, conditional on the parties' bargaining behavior: Those who compromise must be rewarded with security guarantees, but those who refuse must be threatened with military sanction. Today, U.S. military policy is independent of Iraqis' bargaining behavior: It is disconnected from our diplomatic strategy.

What Senator Hagel has proposed is in line with what some experts have recommended-and deserves to be seriously considered.