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Foreign Policy Analysts Debate Iraq at UVA

September 28, 2007 at 6:50 PM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight, a different take on the fallout from the war in Iraq. It comes from a debate moderated by Margaret Warner for the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Here’s an excerpt.

MARGARET WARNER: What would keeping 125,000 to 135,000 troops in Iraq after late 2008 — which seems clearly in the president’s vision, anyway — do to the U.S. ability to deal with other military challenges around the world? And to what degree should that consideration be driving U.S. decisions about maintaining troops?

FREDERICK KAGAN, American Enterprise Institute: If you believe, as I do, that the United States has vital national interests in Iraq and that a defeat in Iraq would place our national security in jeopardy, then the priority when you are fighting a war is winning the war that you were fighting and not maintaining the resources to deal with possible contingencies that might or might not arise.

There’s no question but that you pay an opportunity cost when you are fighting a war, and you pay, of course, a tragic cost in lives and a cost in treasure. There’s no question about that.

If our focus is on keeping our military ready for any possible contingencies, then we will never fight any war. That’s how you do that. Any time you fight a war, you have a problem.

The issue should not be about maintaining the abstract readiness of the American military to deal with some contingencies that might or might not arise. The issue is, do you think that America has interests in Iraq that need to be preserved? If you do, do you think that they require the deployment of American forces to succeed?

I believe the answer to both of those questions are yes. If you think that the answer is no, then you should support, you know, some other strategy, and that’s fine. But the issue of preserving American military effort in the abstract is also not a strategy.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Chas Freeman, you think the answer is no. And my question to you is, so what are the likely challenges that you see on the horizon that the U.S. would have a difficult time dealing with militarily if we were to maintain this force posture in Iraq for the next 18 months to two years?

CHAS FREEMAN, Middle East Policy Council: One can look at contingencies in Korea, to which we remain deeply committed. One could look at other contingencies in East Asia, involving Taiwan, which, in fact, is moving towards some sort of crisis point at the moment.

But the issue is not whether we have vital interests in Iraq. Of course we have vital interests in Iraq. But we have vital interests elsewhere. And we are totally neglecting a whole series of issues around the world as a result of our single-minded focus on this.

I’d like to go back, if I may for one moment, to say that one of the reasons that the Sunni Arab tribesmen have been cooperating with us, have decided that we’re enemy number two, instead of enemy number one, or maybe even enemy number three, is that they think we’re leaving. They understand what the polls and the elections here say. And so they can afford to cooperate with us.

If we want to hang around, we’re going to see them turn on us again. And we’re going to see al-Qaida, which is on the run, come back.

RAY SUAREZ: The entire Miller Center debate will be available on public television beginning this weekend. Please check your local listings for the time.