Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) moderated a spirited discussion of the CNAS report “Phased Transition: A Responsible Way Forward and Out of Iraq,” which argues that America has three enduring interests in Iraq and the region – preventing al Qaeda safe havens, preventing regional war, and preventing genocide.
The report outlines three elements for a new strategy: an ‘outside-in’ regional diplomatic effort, continuation of a ‘top-down’ advisory mission with Iraq’s central government, and a robust ‘bottom-up’ advisory effort to help local and provincial security forces become more effective in their own localities. This proposed Phased Transition plan, authored by Dr. James Miller and Shawn Brimley, would include the drawdown of about 100,000 U.S. troops by the end of the current administration and should be based on pragmatic goals, not unrealistic hopes. Senator Reed argued that it is well past time for the debate over Iraq to shift from rhetoric and partisanship to strategy and America’s national interests, a theme echoed in the report. After Miller gave a brief overview of the report, retired General Anthony Zinni, Dr. Philip Zelikow, and Thomas Ricks discussed the report and offered their own thoughts on the nature of the conflict in Iraq and the way forward. All commentators concluded that there can be no short-term solution to the war in Iraq and that any plan for the way forward needs to be placed in a broader strategic framework that recognizes the importance of continued engagement and robust diplomacy. Questions from the audience included whether a timeline for a limited troop withdrawal increases or decreases U.S. leverage in Iraq, the chances of being able to contain Iraq’s civil war, and the merits of democracy promotion as a core American interest in the region.