Saturday, March 17, 2007

Petraeus and a Political Solution

The opening line of the TV news story went something like this, “General Petraeus, our top military commander in Iraq, admitted that military force alone was not going to resolve the issue there.”

Admitted….yes, admitted.

“Admitted,” as if he’d walked into Iraq armed with only a plan for destructive conflict because he’s a military man and that’s all the military knows or does. “Admitted,” as if he’d suddenly, begrudgingly accepted the role of the military in resolving conflicts after some kind of paradigm shifting revelation which had only occurred to him after reaching Baghdad.

The word “admitted” as it was used in the opening line and in the context of the story was that of yet another gloomy condemnation of Iraq and yet another reason to be pessimistic. After all, even the top military commander didn’t see a military solution to the problem.

Well no kidding!

That story and others following General Petraeus’ first news conference revealed both a lack of understanding about the role of the military in national strategy as well as ignorance of the education of professional soldiers.

Most military commissioning programs require college courses in Political Science and Military History which teach future officers the role of the military in our democracy and its place in national policy. Education throughout one’s military career is required for promotion which also includes education about the military’s role in conflict resolution.

This continued education includes a lengthy required reading list on military history and national security policy, correspondence courses from advanced military schools, resident attendance at professional military schools, and even completion of advanced degrees from places like the Naval War College.

The enlisted ranks have similar professional military education requirements for advancement which may include some of these same opportunities or educational opportunities designed specifically for enlisted leadership.

At each step along the way, military professionals are taught the art of warfare and where they fit in the big picture of conflict resolution.

So to act is if it were some kind of revelation or setback for General Petraeus to speak to the need for something other than a military effort in Iraq is grossly ignorant and grossly underestimates his comprehension of the task at hand.

I’m confident, that long before he reached his current rank, he was fully aware of the continuum of politics, diplomacy, and warfare on which his profession exists in our democracy; a continuum which happens before armed conflict breaks out, continues while hostilities are occurring, and is ongoing after they cease.

I’m confident he understands that no conflict is resolved by military force alone.

Each conflict has its own type of diplomatic efforts, a series of fits and starts to those efforts, and various intensities of armed conflict to achieve political ends. The amount and type of diplomacy and the intensity of armed conflict ebbs and flows, with one becoming more prominent at times than the other. But in the end, all final resolutions are political or diplomatic, not military.

Military actions are simply one of the means by which political solutions are achieved.

It was good that all relevant parties to the war in Iraq recently came together in pursuit of a political solution to the problems there. It demonstrates the continuum of diplomacy on which armed conflict exists. Both can and did occur at the same time. We don’t have to have one without the other. In fact, one often enables the other, creating the potential for better political solutions.

So calls for a “political solution” in Iraq are not ignorant, but become such when they are demanded as generic solutions to the problem without proper consideration given to the unavoidable component of armed conflict there. Generic calls for a political solution are simply disingenuous when they are offered by those who have no specific solution of their own, and downright dishonest when offered as thinly veiled attempts to force our surrender.

So far there have only been two proposals for political solutions in Iraq. One is the current strategy we’re applying, using military force to enable the current Iraqi government to stand on its own and politically, diplomatically address its internal and external challenges while establishing a position of strength for us to withdraw from.

The other is dividing Iraq into three autonomous states based on sectarian backgrounds. This is untenable, as it ignores the will of the Iraqi’s, ignores the fact that much of the country’s middle consists of areas of mixed neighborhoods and villages, ignores the fact that Turkey would not allow this because of the Kurds, and ignores the fact that regional Sunni Arab countries would not allow it because of the power it would garner Iran. Additionally, the rest of the world is not ready to allow Sunni militants like Al Qaeda another safe haven as would become the case in Anbar province, nor is the world ready to tolerate genocide and societal upheaval at the levels which are sure to come with trying to implement such a plan. Iraq’s own history shows the frivolity of drawing such artificial lines for states.

So until a better political solution is proposed (“cut and run” is not a political solution) it’s better to stick with the current plan, which is still better than no plan at all.

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