The Major Issue in This Election ....

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Major Issue in This Election ....

... is Iraq, by a long shot. If Democrats take the House, they will automatically secure greater leverage in the debate over U.S. policy in Iraq. So what will they propose to do?

In the Nov. 6 issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria has written one of the best, most reasoned articles about Iraq that I've read. He calls for a rapid draw-down in troops, but not a complete pullout anytime soon.

Among his observations and prescriptions:
Currently we have 144,000 troops deployed in Iraq at a cost of more than $90 billion a year. That is simply not sustainable in an open-ended way.

I would propose a force structure of 60,000 men at a cost of $30 billion to $35 billion annually — a commitment that could be maintained for several years, and that would give the Iraqis time to come together, in whatever loose form they can, as a nation.

True, as we draw down, violence will increase in many parts of the country. One can only hope that will concentrate the minds of leaders in Iraq. The Shia government will get its chance to try to fight the insurgency its way. The Sunni rebels can attempt to regain control of the country. And perhaps both sides will come more quickly to the conclusion that the only way forward is a political deal.

But until there is such a change of heart, the United States should stick to more limited goals.

The core national-security interests of the United States in Iraq are now threefold: first, to prevent Anbar province from being taken over by Qaeda-style jihadist groups that would use it as a base for global terrorism; second, to ensure that the Kurdish region retains its autonomy; third, to prevent or at least contain massive sectarian violence in Iraq, as both a humanitarian and a security issue.

Large-scale bloodletting could easily spill over Iraq's borders as traumatized and vengeful refugees flee to countries like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Historically, such population movements have caused trouble for decades to come.

These interests are achievable with fewer forces.

President Bush is fond of warning, "If we leave Iraq, they will follow us home." This makes no sense. Qaeda terrorists from Iraq could have made their way to America at any point in the last three years. In fact, Iraq's borders are more porous today than they have ever been. If a terrorist wanted to inflict harm on U.S. civilians, he could drive across Anbar into Syria, then hop a plane to New York or Washington, D.C.

Does the president really believe that because we're in Iraq, terrorists have forgotten that we're also in America?

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