Greg Djerejian is a very sharp guy, so when he said that Obama’s foreign policy remarks in this NYT interview were worth looking at I decided I had to read it. Djerejian is not necessarily backing Obama here, but he says that Obama offers a relatively better foreign policy vision than the rest. Let’s say that I was less impressed.
His support for phased withdrawal is something, but I agree with one of my commenters on another post that the “we must withdraw so that Iraqis can reconcile” argument is not persuasive. It isn’t persuasive because it is very likely untrue that this will happen. At first glance, it seems at least remotely possible, but then you ask: what incentive do the stronger factions have to reconcile at that point? No incentive at all. That is not to say that reconciliation is going to happen with a large U.S. presence in the country, because the factions likewise have little incentive to reconcile, because the presence of U.S. forces is simply delaying the inevitable.
Supporters of withdrawal in the Obama mould are trying to make withdrawal seem like the hopeful, optimistic option, when it really cannot be that. Perhaps this is a calculation that Americans only respond to optimistic plans, and so withdrawal has to be cast as a “problem-solving” alternative. Yet the underlying assumption in favour of withdrawal from Iraq is that the problems of Iraq are either not ours to fix or they cannot be fixed by us. We cannot claim simultaneously that we cannot referee their civil war and that our willingness to depart will more effectively bring their civil war to an end and forge a political settlement. It really is one or the other, and if the first is true we have to take into account that withdrawal means that the civil war goes on, and may get worse. The response to the “we broke it” argument at this point is that we are continually re-breaking the country, like someone who went into a china shop and began knocking off more and more pieces from the shelves in a harried, clumsy effort to clean up the original broken pieces already knocked to the ground. If we “own” much more of what we have broken in Iraq, we might as well annex the country outright and keep it in perpetuity. The other response to this objection is that we cannot actually “pay for it” or “fix it,” and eventually we will withdraw, at which point the same dynamic of political rivalries inside Iraq will still be there.
One place where Obama does seem to be on the right track is when he says this:
But what I don’t want to do is to make our withdrawal contingent on the Iraqi government doing the right thing because that empowers them to make strategic decisions that should be made by the president of the United States.
It has to be one of the greater ironies of this irony-laden administration that the “tough” nationalists and unilateralists, who claimed that America had to be able to act alone if necessary, have been the ones to give us foreign policy outsourcing and entrusting what they believe to be vital national security matters to dysfunctional foreign governments. Obama does make some sense here. However, I still find his broader foreign policy vision not pertaining to Iraq deeply troubling.