President Bush’s surprise visit to Baghdad on Thanksgiving no doubt boosted morale in the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne, and perhaps throughout Iraq — as well as in the White House itself. But it did not change the reality there, which includes the fact that more than 60 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq in November, and that the number of violent incidents has been rising rather than falling.
U.S. forces have unquestionably done constructive things in Iraq. But even though some argue it is early to make an assessment, it is difficult to view the American mission there as a success. The recent turnaround in U.S. policy, aiming toward a swifter turnover to some kind of interim Iraqi government, suggests that many of our leaders know this as well as critics do.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s recent trip to Asia, combined with hints dropped about moving U.S. troops in Europe from Germany to places farther East, has contributed to increasing discussion of the redeployment of U.S. troops from some parts of the world to places where their presence seems more urgent. News stories also report the Pentagon, led by Arthur Cebrowski, director of the Office of Force Transformation, is looking seriously at the idea of creating military forces dedicated to peacekeeping and reconstruction after future conflicts.
It seems apparent our leaders are considering serious redeployment of U.S. forces around the world in light of lessons learned in Iraq and in the vaunted but still somewhat murky “war on terror.” This is a healthy impulse, but it would be healthier if it were part of an extensive national discussion.
An independent commission and Congress have looked into intelligence shortcomings prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and prior to the Iraqi invasion. It is time to make their findings public and invite the American people to consider the shape of future policy.
For example, some critics have claimed the U.S. had no real strategy for occupying Iraq after the initial military success and has been improvising ever since. Is there truth in this? If so, will future problems be approached by more extensive planning — or by a more modest view of how aggressively this country should use military force to reshape the Middle East?
Despite denials, some members of Congress believe the idea of a military draft is gaining traction, especially in light of the uneven record in Iraq and the likelihood (we’ll see over the next few months) that re-enlistments, especially in the National Guard, are likely to decline.
The issue of beefing up, reorienting or redeploying the military services is actually secondary. The primary question is this: What role does the U.S. envision for itself in the future? Does America really vow to bring democracy to the Middle East and other parts of the world, and, if so, what is the strategy? Will it be more military or more diplomatic in nature?
This is precisely the kind of discussion that should be part of next year’s election campaign. But the prospective Democratic candidates — as well as administration spokespeople — will have to be more specific for the discussion to benefit the American people.