By L Paul Bremer, III
The opinions expressed are his own.
In announcing that all American troops will be out of Iraq by year’s end, President Obama has placed a big bet on the future of Iraq and on America’s position in a restive Middle East. While the initial public response to his decision, in America and in Iraq, may be positive, this will not shield him from the consequences if his bet goes sour.
The single most salient lesson in countries emerging from tyranny is the importance of providing security for the population. This is not just one of many tasks that must be addressed: security is the essential prerequisite to progress in the other two foreseeable challenges—in Iraq, Egypt and now Libya: beginning a process of political reform and starting economic reconstruction.
The American government learned this lesson the hard way in Iraq. For several years after Saddam was thrown out, we lacked the comprehensive counter insurgency strategy and sufficient forces needed to provide security to the Iraqi people. Predictably, security deteriorated as an unholy alliance of Sunni and Shia terrorists, the first backed by al Qaeda, the other by Iran, took advantage the situation. The deficiencies in strategy and troops while Iraq’s own national security forces were still in training produced a bloody and chaotic year in 2006.
There were two game-changers in Iraq.
1. President Bush’s courageous decision to change strategy and to surge forces. Contrary to widespread skepticism in the American political class, these decisions gradually brought the security under much better control.
2. The almost unimaginable stoicism of the Iraqi people. In many individual months in 2006 and early 2007, Iraqi casualties from terrorism were greater, as a percent of the country’s population, than the casualties America experienced on 9/11. Fortunately by the summer of 2011, violence had fallen against both Americans and Iraqis.