Revitalizing the partnership: the U.S. and Iraq a year after withdrawal.

Author:Cotter, Michael W.

By Melissa Dalton, Visiting Fellow, and Dr. Nora Bensahel, Deputy Director of Studies & Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security

Prior to our military withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 the U.S. and Iraqi governments signed a Strategic Framework Agreement that set out certain mutual objectives. While the two sides were not able to agree on terms that would allow a residual U.S. military presence, we still maintain a large embassy in Iraq that includes a significant military element. Congress approved $1 billion in economic and other assistance in fiscal year 2012 and we have a $10 billion foreign military sales program with that country. The future course of the bilateral relationship nevertheless remains uncertain.

In this "policy paper" from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) the authors assess the current state of that relationship and offer suggestions for a "revitalized" strategic approach by the U.S. They succeed to a large extent in including most of the major issues that will affect the relationship in the future, and the paper is worth reading for that reason.

CNAS was established as a bi-partisan, objective viewer of U.S. national security issues, and the writers of this paper follow that policy carefully. But CNAS is a Washington think tank and studies like this suffer a bit from "establishment" biases. So while the paper is about "revitalizing the partnership," the bottom line is to identify actions that maximize achieving U.S., not necessarily bilateral, objectives.

The analysis begins with the premise that the U.S. and Iraq actually have common objectives, a questionable assertion. The common objectives cited include a strong, sovereign Iraq that contributes to regional security and "helps to balance an ambitious Iran;" maintaining a unified Iraq; bilateral security cooperation; Iraq remaining "a valuable strategic partner for the U.S.;" and integrating Iraq into "the region's security architecture."

The premise of common objectives underlies the authors' analysis and conclusions, but the facts as they are described suggest that the U.S. and Iraq define those objectives in radically different ways. Since the basic question of whether Iraq remains a unified state remains unanswered, it is probably premature to plan for a policy framework that assumes it. In fact, at the present time it is very difficult to define the...

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