The president will be under enormous pressure from Europeans, Middle East leaders, and top advisers in Washington to withdraw American troops and civilian officials from Iraq within months, not years. He shouldn’t. The military occupation of Japan after World War II lasted seven years, and Japan is homogenous, not divided as Iraq is among three often hostile ethnic groups. American forces won’t need to stay that long, but it will take at least a year, maybe two or more, to restore order, foster a viable economy, and establish democratic institutions with roots deep enough to survive.
This is one of the topics that I have the hardest time making up my mind about. Barnes, I think, is absolutely correct that establishing a decent successor state in Iraq is a long process that requires considerable commitment from the United States. If we’re serious about it, we’ll stay put for a while.
But the critics are also right: a long and substantial occupation by the United States is just begging for trouble. Not only will it leave the unavoidable taint of neo-colonialism, but it also acts as a magnet for terrorist recruiting. The kind of young Arab who leans toward terrorism will almost certainly be easier to recruit if the local al-Qaeda representatives have an occupying force of Americans to point to year after year.
I suspect there’s no really good solution to this, but there’s an obvious one that could at least help: the United Nations. Or, more to the point, the United Nations with the full backing and commitment of the United States. Properly constituted, a UN force could provide the stability and guidance Iraq needs without the symbolic provocation that the United States military represents.
Of course, it doesn’t look like this will ever happen. Just another reason why George Bush and Jacques Chirac should both be ashamed of themselves for their childish antics of the past six months.