March 20, 2007

Enduring U.S. Interests in Iraq

The Three No’s

By Michèle Flournoy and Shawn Brimley

After four years of war, the U.S. debate on Iraq has of late been dominated by arguments over surges, benchmarks, timelines, and deadlines. Lost in this partisan debate is a largely accepted but often unarticulated truth shared by many Republicans and Democrats, including most leading presidential candidates: Even as forces in Iraq are drawn down, the U.S. has enduring interests in that besieged country and the surrounding region, and these interests will require a significant military presence therefor the foreseeable future. These vital longterm U.S. interests in Iraq can be boiled down to Three No’s: no regional war; no al Qaeda safe havens; and no genocide.

No Regional War: The United States has an enduring interest in Iraq’s internal chaos not triggering regional conflict, and in external actors not further exacerbating Iraq’s civil war.
No Al Qaeda Safe Havens: The U.S. has an enduring interest in preventing Iraq from resembling Afghanistan on September 10, 2001.
No Genocide: The U.S. has an enduring interest in preventing genocide in Iraq.

To secure these enduring interests, U.S. forces and civilian agencies will need to perform a number of core missions: deterring or responding to cross-border incursions or aggression; counterterrorism; preventing or stopping genocide; gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance; training and advising Iraqi security forces; and defending key assets (e.g., airports and the U.S. embassy).

Unlike today, U.S. forces would not be focused on providing security to the population in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. These missions will require the following military capabilities: U.S. combat forces including quick reaction forces; special operations forces; combat service and combat service support capabilities; intelligence support; military and civilian advisors and trainers; and U.S. naval and air support, including basing and overflight rights in Iraq and neighboring states.

Although the Three No’s will require fewer U.S. troops than are in Iraq today, a robust military and civilian presence will likely be needed in Iraq for the foreseeable future. These forces will likely number in the tens of thousands.

The Bush administration should be held accountable for its many mistakes in executing this war and for failing to properly resource its overly ambitious goals. But an exit strategy that does not account for enduring U.S. interests and the requisite capabilities to protect them would worsen, not improve, America’s position in the region and the world. As Congress continues this critical debate, it is worth considering the Three No’s as a foundation on which to build a bipartisan consensus over the way forward in Iraq.

Authors

  • Michèle Flournoy

    CNAS Board of Director, Chief Executive Officer, WestExec Advisors

    Michèle Flournoy is CEO of WestExec Advisors and is the former CEO of CNAS, an organization she co-founded. She serves on the CNAS Board of Directors. She served as the Under ...

  • Shawn Brimley

    Former Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Shawn Brimley was the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where he managed the center’s research agenda and staf...

    • Commentary
    • Politico
    • September 7, 2016
    How to increase the pressure on the Syrian government

    Five years into Syria’s bloody civil war, it is clear that there is no appetite in Washington or European capitals for a more muscular military intervention to stop the Assad ...

    By Peter Harrell

    • Commentary
    • Foreign Policy
    • September 1, 2016
    Al Qaeda Is Gaining Strength in Syria

    The struggle for Aleppo poses an awful threat for the United States. The ongoing battle for what was once Syria’s second-largest city has united two of the most prominent oppo...

    By Nicholas Heras

    • Commentary
    • May 22, 2016
    Fighting Terrorism in Syria: It's More Than ISIS

    The fact of the matter is that although the United States has provided military assistance to individual Syrian armed opposition groups led by “trusted commanders” since 2012,...

    By Nicholas Heras

    • Commentary
    • May 10, 2016
    From the Bottom, Up: A Strategy for U.S. Military Support to Syria’s Armed Opposition

    As negotiations continue to uphold a teetering ceasefire in Syria, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Middle East Security Program researcher Nicholas Heras has written...

    By Nicholas Heras

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia