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D. Achieving Our Goals

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This is truly a stunning quote from George W. Bush, and it’s almost as stunning that the Study Group blandly agrees with it. After years of neocon claims that we would make Iraq a light unto the nations, a model democracy that would transform the region, we now are willing to settle for a state that can ‘govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself”? Isn’t this what we had with Saddam?

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Implicit throughout Baker-Hamilton is that stability must be achieved in Iraq before America can leave. History suggests that the sequence is wrong: only when the central objective of insurgents, usually getting the foreigners to leave, has been realized can “security” be attained. This is the lesson of insurgencies from the American Revolution against the British, the Spanish guerrilla against the French, Tito’s Yugoslav partisan war against the Germans, the Algerian war of national liberation from the French and so on. In each of these wars, to be sure, there was a period of chaos immediately after the foreigners pulled out — they had been unable to prevent chaos with their massive armies — but, once they were gone, the fighting died down.

Why did this happen and is it likely in Iraq? The answer was given to us by that great practitioner of guerrilla warfare, Mao Tse-tung: there are two elements in guerrilla wars, he said, the combatants and those who support them. He called the combatants the “fish” and their supporters “the water.” Without water, fish die. What has happened in guerrilla war after war is that the people, Mao’s “water,” get tired of the suffering that is inherent in guerrilla war and when the object for which they have sacrificed has been won, they don’t want to continue to sacrifice. So they stop supporting the “fish.” Then, one of two things happens: either some of the fish take over the government (which is the most common) and then themselves suppress the more radical combatants (as happened in America, Spain, Ireland, Yugoslavia, Algeria, etc.). The second possible outcome is that the combatants become outlaws or “warlords” (as happened in Afghanistan after the Afghans forced the Russians out). This is already happening under the guise of religious strife among Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. Foreigners cannot prevent this; the only way it can be prevented, or at least the only way it has ever been prevented or stopped, is by natives. They can be helped, however, as we have urged in our plan with an international stabilization force during the period when a national police, no longer tainted by appearing to be collaborators with foreigners, become functional. In short, sovereignty is the first, not the last step in the process. Once sovereignty, not just a collaborationist government, is established, the steps lead (and can be helped to move with all deliberate speed) toward security.