March 27, 2008

Conditional Engagement in Iraq

Colin Kahl and Shawn Brimley have a short, smart policy brief up on the CNAS website.

President Bush and his successor have only three basic choices on strategy for Iraq: unconditional engagement, conditional engagement, or unconditional disengagement. Only a policy of conditional engagement can help translate recent security gains into something more sustainable. ...

It is time for the United States to pursue a political strategy that does not squander the opportunity our troops have helped provide. Because it is the only strategy that employs both carrots and sticks, conditional engagement offers the best means of fostering political compromise and achieving some semblance of lasting stability in Iraq.

This is a hint of the kind of smart, centrist policy that should be getting more play in the presidential election right now. Just one warning: while it is correct to apply leverage in Iraq, we should be sure what kind of sticks and carrots would be effective first. Sticks and carrots that we might think would be effective -- and would be effective if we were the ones on the other side of the negotiating table -- might not work on Iraqi politicians. So whoever goes to Baghdad for the Obama or McCain administration -- Dennis Ross, c'mon down! -- better have a clear idea of the decision-making processes of the guys ruling Iraq first.