- By John Hudson
John Hudson is a staff writer for Foreign Policy where he chases down stories from Foggy Bottom to the White House, the Pentagon to Embassy Row. Between 2009 and 2012, John covered politics and global affairs for The Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August War between Russia and Georgia for Salon.com and other news outlets. Over the years, he's dug up resignation-causing FEC documents; unmasked world-famous Internet trolls; exposed bizarre Photoshopping by government media; and revealed a secret Iranian military facility. John's weakness is cold craft beer from his birthplace of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He's appeared on MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, and other broadcast outlets.
As Iraq faces its worst violence in half a decade, retired Marine Gen. John Allen has a message for Washington’s chattering classes: It didn’t have to be this way.
Speaking at a conference in Washington, the newly-retired four-star general said if U.S. forces had remained in the country, Iraq may not be unraveling to the extent that it is today.
"We weren’t there long enough to provide the top cover for the solution of many of the political difficulties that might have resolved itself had we had been there for a longer period of time," he told attendees of the Foreign Policy Initiative forum. "So consequently, as we departed, we have seen those tectonic plates begin to grind against each other and that has created instability and the body count is going up, the bloodletting is going up."
Allen, a widely-respected general, was credited by President Obama for stemming the tide of Iraq’s insurgency as a "battle-tested combat leader" in Anbar Province. He was later assigned as commander of the International Security Assistance Force, the allied coalition in Afghanistan. Without question, sectarian violence has skyrocketed in Iraq since U.S. troops departed in late 2011. Moreover, al-Qaeda and its affiliates appear stronger than ever, executing mass-casualty attacks many times a month in an onslaught that has killed more than 6,000 Iraqis this year — a shocking figure that recalls the darkest days of 2006-07.
But whether a lingering U.S. presence could’ve benefited Iraq’s security situation is subject to debate.
Yes, U.S. officials sought to keep several thousand troops in Iraq as a "residual force." However, discussions ultimately broke down over the issue of immunity for U.S. troops in Iraqi courts. Without the deal, the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement set the deadline for all American troops to leave Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.
But even if U.S. diplomats had somehow negotiated a new Status of Forces Agreement, the troop numbers floated at the time were a relative pittance: 8,000 to 12,000 troops — mostly for training purposes. That’s nowhere near the more than 160,000 troops that existed in Iraq during the surge. With Iraq now experiencing the worst violence in the last five years, the idea that these residual 12,000 troops could keep the peace in the same way raises doubts.
But putting aside the general’s argument, the Obama administration is being pressured to do more to stem the sectarian violence in the country; Its desire to commit remains unclear.
Last week, the White House announced that on Nov. 1, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will visit President Obama to discuss U.S.-Iraqi coordination on security issues. On that topic, Iraqi officials tell The Cable that the idea of letting U.S. combat troops back in Iraq is still too politically toxic, but they are offering other suggestions, such as U.S. military equipment, advisers, air surveillance and even drone strikes.
Thus far, the administration has rejected the idea of deploying armed drones in Iraq, and analysts aren’t surprised.
"The Iraqis are asking us to do their dirty work for them," Sam Brannen, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Cable. "The Iraqis had a chance to keep U.S. troops and U.S. advisers on their soil and they chose not to."
Brannen added that U.S. officials have reasons to be skeptical. "They’re basically saying, ‘fix our problem for us.’ But that’s not how security cooperation works, especially when the threat on their soil is not a threat on our soil and would surely entangle us in their internal politics."
FP’s Situation Report: Why Jordanian spies hold the keys; John Allen to lead international effort; Is air power like casual sex?; Rosa Brooks: no more dumb wars, please; and a bit more.Gordon Lubold and Nathaniel SobelGordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4. | Situation Report |
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |