Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wes Clark on Iraq

It seems like yesterday that I mentioned Wes Clark as someone whose judgment I respect when it comes to considering what we should do next in Iraq. General Clark was right on cue, publishing an op-ed piece in the New York Times:
While American troops have been fighting, and dying, against the Sunni rebels and foreign jihadists, the Shiite clerics in Iraq have achieved fundamental political goals: capturing oil revenues, strengthening the role of Islam in the state, and building up formidable militias that will defend their gains and advance their causes as the Americans draw down and leave. Iraq's neighbors, then, see it evolving into a Shiite-dominated, Iranian buffer state that will strengthen Tehran's power in the Persian Gulf just as it is seeks nuclear weapons and intensifies its rhetoric against Israel.
This is the outcome Clark most fears. I heard him use the same phrase -- buffer state for Iran -- last summer:
What a disaster it would be if the real winner in Iraq turned out to be Iran, a country that supports terrorism and opposes most of what we stand for.
In Clark's view the pace of withdrawal is not the central issue. He believes that a sharp change in strategic focus is essential to protecting America's interests in the region. Patroling the borders, focusing on insurgent strongholds and enforcing the prohibition against private militias are part of his prescription. But he sees the central issue as working towards a political accomodation by reaching out to include alienated factions in the political process.
Is he right? I don't know. But I do know that we need a national conversation that considers all of the factors if we wish to avoid leaving things worse than when we went in.

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