Nathaniel, that New York Times story was to be expected. When President Obama managed to get all remaining U.S. troops kicked out of Iraq last year, he claimed credit for “ending the war.” But of course the only thing he has ended in that country is our strategic position.
In the last six months we’ve seen the results: Pro-American factions in Iraq have been weakened and forced to hedge their bets, widening the strategic opening for Iran. As our presence has waned dramatically, the essentials of our counterterrorism policy — governance capacity building and a lasting alliance relationship — have crumbled. The formerly pro-American government of Nouri al-Maliki, which we used to be able to pressure into preserving a united front against our common enemies, is focused increasingly on internal political opponents in the Sunni bloc, thus lending impetus to the proxy war that many Iraqis believe Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting in their country.
Now comes this latest news, that our police-training program is being whittled down and could be eliminated by the end of the year. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad quickly downplayed the New York Times story, but there is no denying the fact that a proper training program for security forces of any kind requires a significant footprint of advisers embedded in the field. Such training programs (and the joint operations they facilitated) were keys to the success of the 2007 surge, and to consolidating its gains afterwards. But without the framework of a U.S. troop presence, the State Department’s training effort predictably found itself hiding in the embassy, doling out pointless PowerPoint presentations without any way to know whether the training was relevant or effective.
#more#The success of modern South Korea was built upon decades and decades of cooperation and U.S. training for Korean security forces. At the start of that period, the South’s security institutions appeared just as dismal, incompetent, and corrupt as Iraq’s did a few years back. But luckily Americans of both parties understood what the Obama administration seems incapable of grasping: that the institutions of stable governance on which our entire national-security strategy depends are not built in a matter of months or even years. They require long-term real-world commitments and stable alliance relationships.
They also require a State Department that is willing to go out in the field and take risks operating in dangerous environments — a vital prerequisite to the success of any training program for local security forces. One could expect the State Department to resist such a mission even under a president who was committed to imposing it on them as part of an overall long-range vision of foreign policy. But of course what we have in the White House now is quite the opposite, and so State’s apparently feckless effort to train Iraqi police from deep inside the lavish comforts and security of the U.S. embassy are no surprise.
Meanwhile, America’s strategic position in Iraq — gained after so much sacrifice — continues to vanish.