Kucinich / O'Hanlon

The American Prospect has an interesting exchange between Dennis Kucinich and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution discussing the situation in Iraq. I tended to agree fully with Kucinich (surprise). Particularly irritating is O’Hanlon’s first response to Kucinich, wherein he completely ignores Kucinich’s mention of the UN entirely, detailing a worse-case “power vacuum” scenario, forcing Kucinich to re-state his case:

I want to reiterate that my plan is not for an immediate withdrawal. We are not abandoning Iraq. Many people who are opposed to withdrawal use historical examples such as the Soviets leaving Afghanistan and enabling the rise of the Taliban, but there is an important distinction here. I am advocating working with an international body, the United Nations, to assume responsibility for peacekeeping, development of a transitional government, administration of assets and reconstruction, and management of reparations. That is very different from pulling out and letting Iraq fall apart. I am talking about removing our country from a situation in which we appoint ourselves the policemen of the world and the ultimate arbiters of other nations’ conduct. Instead of insisting on “the American way,” we should allow others to serve as international “honest brokers.”

O’Hanlon misses a few critical things, as well:

But on the security side, I do not believe we have as much room for maneuver as Rep. Kucinich alleges. While we should be able to secure greater commitments from nearby countries, Arab nations are not enthusiastic about sending large numbers of forces to Iraq, and Iraqis do not necessarily want lots of Syrians or Turks or Iranians or Saudis on their land. Rivalries, irredentist claims to land, and other jealousies and paranoias can be stoked by such deployments. Plus, most Arab militaries lack the specialized skills to conduct counterinsurgency operations with minimal loss of civilian life. As for our major allies, while I agree a greater U.N. political role in Iraq could lead to more military help from countries such as France, Germany, and India, I would not expect more than 20,000 troops from these and other distant countries under the best of circumstances, given the limited capacities of their armed forces for deploying troops abroad.

First, I think the symbolic value of even trying to invite international support should not be understated. Of course the world is not interested in getting involved in Iraq: It’s our mess – but partially because we are making it our mess. Should we actually concede error or even a change of strategy in any way (a far stretch for this administration), we may find the global community more receptive.

Second, regarding security, he ignores the possibility that a well-received international force would not necessarily need the “specialized skills to conduct counterinsurgency operations”, because the insurgencies may very well ebb.

In any event, it would in my view be a miscarriage of American principles of justice to let a few thousand Baathists and jihadists cause us to withdraw from Iraq prematurely. That would allow Saddam’s cronies or equally unsavory elements to retake power. Or it could lead to large-scale and sustained civil warfare in Iraq. We are better than that.

Here, he has put forth a massive fallacy, either willingly or unwittingly: that these insurgencies are “jihadists” – the ol’ “foreign fighters” defense. This is simply not true, as this article by Jim Krane attests:

In Fallujah, U.S. military leaders say around 90 percent of the 1,000 or more fighters battling the Marines are Iraqis. To date, there have been no confirmed U.S. captures of foreign fighters in Fallujah although a handful of suspects have been arrested.

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey has said foreigners account for just 1 percent or so of guerrillas. Of 8,000 guerrilla suspects jailed across Iraq, only 127 hold foreign passports, the U.S. military said.

In the south, no one has suggested that foreigners pack the ranks of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army. The group, which has fought U.S. and allied troops across southern Iraq, is made up of Shiite Muslim radicals, many of whom hail from the slums of Baghdad.

In March, Dempsey called the idea that foreign fighters were flooding Iraq ‘‘a misconception.’’

Further, it would be a mistake to characterize the insurgencies as small in scale simply because of the “1000 fighters” figure, which ignores the fact that even a small minority of Shiite support means millions willing and able to provide aid and infrastructure.