"Did They Forget?" by LTG James Dubik (Ret.)
Did They Forget?
by LTG James M. Dubik, U.S. Army (Ret.), ARMY Magazine, July 2010
The final phases of the Iraqi theater of war may be playing out over the next several years. When historians write this chapter of the war, will the title be “Did They Forget?” Regardless of one’s position concerning the war in Iraq, the fact is that blood, sacrifice and treasure—of Iraqi, American and coalition countries— have brought us to a point where a slow end to the insurgency may finally be in sight. But wars do not end by themselves, and a “better peace” does not just emerge. Every aspect of war is tough, but perhaps none is tougher than war’s end, when all sides are weary, will wanes and other crises demand attention.
These conditions seem applicable to where we are with respect to Iraq. What needs to be done now is the hard and sometimes contentious work necessary to elicit peace from the ambiguous conditions that could yet have any number of unsatisfactory results. This means that the United States,primarily but not exclusively, and the Iraqis stay involved with one another.
Bringing about a better peace that would bring dignity to the sacrifices made requires hard work in at least three areas.
Diplomatic. The tendency may be to lighten the grip on the diplomatic steering wheel and claim: “Iraq is a sovereign country; let Iraqis work out their own accommodations.” Iraq is a sovereign country. The status of forces agreement and the strategic framework agreement—as well as America’s compliance with these agreements and Iraq’s acceptance of responsibilities as they are transferred—all demonstrate solemn recognition of that sovereignty. Recognition of sovereignty does not mean diplomatic disengagement, however.
Iraq is still a fledgling democracy. History shows us how fragile democracies can be in their initial formation. An American—and potential coalition partner’s—“hands off” approach now would be tragic for Iraq’s future, and ours.
The collective voice in the set of recent elections—local, provincial and national—suggests that most Iraqis support a pragmatic government that increasingly delivers public goods and services on a more equitable basis, regardless of religious sect, tribe or geographic area. This voice, however, can still be stifled by postelection power politics. America’s diplomatic engagement, and that of our former coalition partners, ought to insist that the voice of the Iraqi people is heard. Our firm, yet respectful, position is important. If we shy away from the essentiality of our role because we have defined success as “pulling out,” then some other regional player will fill the void. The diplomatic efforts of the United States and other coalition partners during the surge’s counteroffensive were huge; they ought to be equally huge now.
Iraqi leaders know that the government they form must be inclusive, but the forces of diffraction are still strong among some factions in Iraq. These forces could still reemerge and deny Iraqis the opportunity to live in conditions of increasing peace and prosperity, conditions they—and we—have paid an enormous price to create. They need (and, when you talk to them privately, want) help, provided in the right ways: respectful, not domineering; offered as partners, not neocolonialists; and delivered emphatically or indirectly as the case may require. This is the stuff of good diplomacy.
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