In a nationally televised address on June 28 designed to highlight positive developments in Iraq, President Bush vowed that the United States would defeat the insurgents who are trying to subvert political progress. The President spoke amidst signals by some military and foreign policy analysts that, a year after the transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government, the administration needs to do a better job in explaining to the American people why the mission in Iraq is still so important.
Retired Marine Corps officer Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, author of Sling and the Stone: On War and the 21st Century, praised the President for advocating “staying the course” in Iraq. At the same time he warned that – if Washington cannot maintain the political will of the American people – winning the war on the ground “will not matter.”
Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Encounter, Colonel Hammes said the United States needs more troops and it simultaneously needs to do a better job of training Iraqi troops. Peter Khalil, a former Coalition Provision Authority official who is currently an analyst at the Eurasia Group in New York, noted that “the victory in Iraq is of utmost importance to the whole Middle East region,” and if political will dies in the United States, everything else would collapse in Iraq. Both analysts applauded President Bush for not setting up a timetable for the U.S. troops withdrawal.
Peter Khalil noted that, although the presence of U.S. troops stokes up “jihadist” anger, if those troops were to leave now, it would not automatically stop the insurgency. He said that is because some of the insurgents want to return to a pure state of Islam and others, such as the Baathists, want to regain political power. According to Colonel Hammes eighty percent of the Iraqi population is in favor of the government, and the U.S. administration is doing the right thing trying to engage the Sunni minority in the political process. He noted that, if the Sunnis see that their concerns are being addressed, it may help to draw them away from the insurgency. According to Colonel Hammes, that is more important than writing the constitution by August 15th.
Peter Khalil predicted however that, if important benchmarks, such as writing the constitution, are not met on time, the problem would get worse. According to him, the nature of that insurgency will depend on the Iraqi political process over the next 6 months.
For full audio of the program Encounter click here.