Friday, February 26, 2010

Will Obama Have an Iraq Crisis?

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By Barry Rubin

If—and I repeat, if--this story is true it is going to be a very big development that may, as they like to see in the television promos, change the Obama administration forever. According to Thomas Ricks, the former Washington Post military correspondent, General Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is asking for an additional combat brigade to be put into Kirkuk and to stay beyond Obama’s August 2010 withdrawal deadline for all combat forces.

Reportedly, Odierno is worried about Kurdish-Arab-Turkoman conflict in the city, which would be a reason why an Iraqi brigade of Arab soldiers might further inflame the situation. Such a request makes the administration very uncomfortable. We saw how it took three months to make a decision over military strategy in Afghanistan which resulted in a highly politicized strategy designed to please all.

Ricks concludes: “I expect that Obama actually is going to have to break his promises on Iraq and keep a fairly large force in Iraq,” He knows better than I do about such things but I wonder if that’s true. I’d expect that for political reasons—and especially just before the critical congressional elections in November—Obama’s team will go for political profit rather than strategic safety.

By the way, this story clears up a mysterious detail that hints the U.S. military is thinking along these lines. The Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review Report for 2010 says: “The United States will…manage a responsible force drawdown in Iraq and support an orderly transition to a more normal diplomatic and civilian presence.” The word “drawdown” means fewer troops, not complete withdrawal. This suggests the Defense Department wants to keep serious forces in Iraq.

Ricks mentions that he heard the story from three different sources, which not only attests to its likely accuracy but also implies that a number of people in the army feel this is something really important to push with the White House.

So the Obama administration might have an unpalatable choice coming up:

Keep the commitment of getting out all the combat forces, say "no" to the commnder on the scene, thus appearing to sacrifice the safety of troops and endanger an important place for political expediency and public relations’ points.

Or break his promise, anger some of his constituency, and possibly create more electoral problems for his party.

This might not happen but a few hours ago such a potential crisis wasn’t even on the horizon.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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