40 prominent conservative foreign policy leaders in Washington are planning to release an open letter to President Barack Obama urging him not to shrink the size of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq down to 4,000, as several reports say he plans to do.
"Failure to leave a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq will leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States," the pundits and former officials argue. "A successful, democratic Iraq will remain a model for other emerging Arab democracies and one day, its neighbor, Iran. However, a failing state in the heart of the Middle East would destabilize the region, empower Iran, and make vain more than eight years of efforts by the United States in Iraq."
The letter goes on to say that a residual force of only 4,000 U.S. troops "is significantly smaller than what U.S. military commanders on the ground have reportedly recommended and would limit our ability to ensure that Iraq remains stable and free from significant foreign influence."
The letter was organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a group led by William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman, and Dan Senor, and run by Executive Director Jamie Fly. Other signatories on the letter include Gary Bauer, Max Boot, Paul Bremer, Norm Coleman, John Hannah, Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Danielle Pletka, John Podhoretz, Karl Rove, Kori Schake, Randy Scheunemann, Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, Marc Thiessen, and Paul Wolfowitz.
There was one Democratic signee, the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon. One of the organizers of the letter told The Cable that many Democrats contacted to sign on to the letter largely agreed with its contents, but weren't ready to speak out.
"We believe that many Democrats share our concerns about the need for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, but some wanted to give the administration more time to make a final decision. Many of us, however, are concerned that time is running out and the message sent by recent press reports is not encouraging to our Iraqi allies," the organizer said.
The Obama team has been negotiating with the Iraqi government on changes to the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the two countries in 2008, which calls for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year. The administraiton had been proposing 8,000 to 20,000 troops to remain, but now seems set to settle on a much lower number.
GOP lawmakers are not holding their fire and have already been decrying the expected decision by the White House.
"It would be one of the biggest blunders in American foreign policy to lose Iraq because you had 3,000 troops when you need 10 to 15 [thousand]," Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said this week. "Iran would love that."
Read the full text of the letter after the jump:
Dear President Obama:
The United States has invested significant resources in Iraq over the last eight years. Under your leadership and that of your predecessor, America has helped Iraq's fledgling democracy emerge as a symbol to other peoples of the region, becoming, in the words of former Secretary of Defense Gates, "a multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic society in the Arab world that shows that democracy can work."
We are thus gravely concerned about recent news reports suggesting that the White House is considering leaving only a residual force of 4,000 or fewer U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of this year. This number is significantly smaller than what U.S. military commanders on the ground have reportedly recommended and would limit our ability to ensure that Iraq remains stable and free from significant foreign influence in the years to come.
While the Iraqi Security Forces have become increasingly capable of defending Iraq against internal threats, they are not yet able to defend Iraq from external forces. As a result, Iraq's troops will require after the end of this year continued U.S. assistance in combined-arms training, border protection, air and naval capabilities, logistics, and intelligence. It is also essential that we maintain a significant military presence at multiple places along Iraq's disputed internal boundaries to allow the United States to assist Kurds and Arabs in the disputed zones with confidence-building.
In recent months, Iran has increased its attempts to expand its influence in Iraq, including through the killing of American forces and support to Iraqi political parties. Maintaining a robust American presence in-country would blunt these efforts, and help ensure Iraq remains oriented away from Iran and a long-term ally of the United States.
We therefore urge you to ensure that an adequate number of U.S. troops in Iraq remain after 2011. We were encouraged by your pragmatism in 2009 as you showed flexibility in the pace of America's drawdown. We believe that the same pragmatism would counsel a significantly larger force than 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of this year.
Failure to leave a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq will leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States. A successful, democratic Iraq will remain a model for other emerging Arab democracies and one day, its neighbor, Iran. However, a failing state in the heart of the Middle East would destabilize the region, empower Iran, and make vain more than eight years of efforts by the United States in Iraq.
You have fulfilled your campaign commitment to the nation to end the war in Iraq. Now, we request that you ensure that in doing so, we do not lose the peace.
Reuel Marc Gerecht
Bruce Pitcairn Jackson
Kenneth M. Jensen
Marisa Cochrane Sullivan
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.