Monday, December 12, 2005

A Voice of Experience

In the US, the debate over possible exit strategies from Iraq is getting increasingly intense.

After having been distinctly on the defensive, the administration has recovered some ground with the publication of a policy document on Iraq, while the Democrats have run into trouble when they tried to go from being just negative to shaping a policy line of their own.

Now Henry Kissinger has added his voice to the debate.

Apart from his usual sharp analysis, he seems to me to make two important points.

The first is that too early a withdrawal would have disastrous consequences well beyond the borders of both Iraq and the wider region.

"Our leadership and the respect accorded to our views on other regional issues from Palestine to Iran would be weakened; the confidence of other major countries – China, Russia, Europe, Japan – in America's potential contribution would be diminished. The respite from military efforts would be brief before even vaster crises descend on us. Critics must face the fact that a disastrous outcome is defined by the global consequences, not domestic rhetoric."

In this he is on the same line as the White House in its recent policy statement, but on the second point he clearly is not.

While the administration sees things in a purely military perspective, and says that withdrawal of US forces will be done in accordance with the military judgment of the military commanders on the ground, Kissinger sees this as much too limited perspective.

While it might be convenient from a political point of view to give the responsibility to the local military commanders, the issues are much too political and much too important than that.

Kissinger accordingly wants to see a strategy with a political rather than a military focus. And where the White House talks in terms of a "national strategy for Iraq", Kissinger argues for a strategy that brings in different regional and international political players.

That seems to be wise.

The lessons we have learnt clearly shows that state-building is a profoundly political process, with security no more than the necessary foundation, and that it can never really succeed without being supported in a wider regional and international framework.

Experience is often a good guide to the future. And Henry Kissinger has an abundance of it - in combination with an open mind and a first class analytical talent.

Moving toward a responsible exit strategy in Iraq | The San Diego Union-Tribune