Has the surge of US troops into Iraq worked? Has security improved enough for the Iraqi government and security forces to increase their effectiveness? Or have the insurgents simply moved to new locations? Most of all, can the US - and British - troops now begin to leave?
It is a critical time for those nations’ policy on Iraq, and the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, gives evidence to US Congress on Monday and Tuesday.
Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, answers FT.com readers’ questions in a live debate on Tuesday September 11 between 2pm and 3pm BST.
What will the political repercussions of the Petraeus report be for the US?
Jamie Fulton, UK
Michael Clarke: The Petraeus Report is bound to get caught up in the US election campaign. The general has delivered an impartial analysis but, as a soldier, he has also bought some valuable political time for his President so his report will always appear controversial in the maelstrom of American politics. It poses a real dilemma for the Democrats who would like to recommend withdrawal but will be hard put to lean against such eminent military advice. So they will look for reasons to undermine both the report and, probably, its author in the coming months.
Do you think the surge been a success? I can’t see how the objectives of the surge are in large measure being met, as Gen Petraeus puts it. As far as I can see Iraq is a lost cause whether troops stay or withdraw. Your views?
Helen Bancroft, London
Michael Clarke: The surge has certainly had an impact on security in Baghdad and Anbar Province. The problems for the surge are, firstly that it can only be maintained up to next Spring at the latest when troop rotation will begin to reduce the numbers again; secondly, the surge can only buy time for the Iraqi government to create meaningful processes of national reconciliation and economic growth. There is little indication that this is happening. So from the perspective of General Petraeus, a number of the technical bench-marks of the surge are being met, but if the Iraqi government cannot use the time it is being given, the strategy must ultimately fail. It is premature to see Iraq as an inevitable lost cause. It is still possible - though not likely - that the coalition could leave behind a workable government that is capable of exploiting Iraq’s natural wealth and talent.
Why has Just War Theory been the prevailing battlefield ethical system in the Bush Administration’s attempted military prosecution of the war on terror as, say, opposed to the overwhelming force doctrine used by the Allies in the second world war and advocated by such individuals as Colin Powell and retired Gen. Shinseki?
Michael Labeit, New York
Michael Clarke: The doctrine of overwhelming force is entirely consistent with Just War theory, but only makes military sense when the enemy can be clearly identified and located. It is in the nature of a war on terror that it is not clear who the enemy is and notions of proportionality, causality, etc., and cannot be applied without unjust consequences to the innocent. It is also a matter of pragmatic common sense that, in the glare of world media, any war on terror has to be prosecuted with great attention to international and domestic codes of practice.
Is it not better for the foreign forces to quit Iraq and let the locals sort themselves out, however bloodily? After all, the bloodshed continues as long as the foreigners are occupying and will be justified as resistance. With the occupiers gone, there will be a brief and bloody spell of infighting and different factions will have to make concessions or face partition of the country.
Borzou Aram, London
Michael Clarke: Ed Luttwak argues that we should ”give war a chance”. Many argue that a number of civil conflicts would be less destructive in the long run if we did. But in the case of Iraq, the implications would now be far too de-stabilising for the region since this would not be a ”contained” civil conflict. The 2003 invasion put the US and its allies too deeply into the region to be able to pull out cleanly. The prospect of fragmentation in Iraq and active intervention from neighbours in both north and south mean that however difficult, the US has got to remain actively engaged.
Are the rules of a new cold war beginning to emerge in the middle east, e.g. with major powers (USA and Iran, the regional superpower) shying away from direct confrontation in favour of conflict through clients? Are there any other “rules of engagement” emerging in the region? Alternatively, will this issue simply fade away after western forces withdraw from Iraq?
Jeremy Kourdi, London
Michael Clarke: There is an increasing degree of proxy conflict throughout the middle east. The Lebanese war of 2006 was one such example with the US and Iran on opposing sides. This will continue in other ways and US Iranian competition will drive middle eastern politics for some time to come, almost certainly without a direct military confrontation between the two taking place.
What is the plan to win the war in Iraq? And can it be achieved?
Mr Chatmunk, Switzerland
Michael Clarke: The original ambitions for Iraq have been steadily scaled down by the US since 2004. Having established an electoral process and a legitimate government in Iraq, the US finds that this is not a sufficient basis for social or economic stability. Far from the aspirations of 2002, the US now aims merely to leave Iraq as soon as there is some structure in place which does not collapse as soon as they have left. Therefore the plan for the war in Iraq is simply to establish a sufficient security blanket across the country to allow some indigenous structure - democratic or otherwise - to evolve. The problem for the US is that even if the surge is helping to provide such a security blanket, there is no convincing evidence of the evolution of viable social and economic structures beneath it. Seen in this way, some measure of success is still achievable but not for the immediate future.
Does the Petraeus report provide enough basis for the British to announce further withdrawal next year? It seems that more attention is being paid to the potential (nuclear) threat of Iran. Is that too a reason for the UK to get out of Iraq before it gets drawn into a US military campaign against Iran?
Hans Wesseling, London
Michael Clarke: The Petraeus Report will buy the Bush administration more time to remain engage militarily in Iraq. The UK will have to live with this as a prevailing reality and any decision on the part of the Brown government to draw down further our forces in the south will be made more delicate by that fact. The UK would like to find more options in the Petraeus Report for a different policy stance. But the reality is that this Report -albeit that General Petraeus praised British tactics - will make Downing Street’s life a little more difficult.
To which degree do you think the current situation in Iraq resembles the war in Vietnam? If history is repeating itself, why hasn’t the US learned their lessons?
Michael Clarke: The current military situation in Iraq is completely different from that of Vietnam. But the political parallels are striking. American lost the Vietnam War at home, not on the battlefield and this may well be the case in Iraq. There is also a parallel in both campaigns in that US military forces are too strong to be beaten, but not trained or structured correctly to win. The military can create and live with a stalemate. The politicians in Washington cannot.
What effect did the surge have on humanitarian relief, in particular on the refugee crisis and what future provisions are the US and UK planning in that respect?
Cynthia Murphy, London
Michael Clarke: The surge has allowed some genuine humanitarian relief to be implemented in Baghdad and Anbar Province and there are encouraging signs of people drifting back to their shattered neighbourhoods. But this good news is a drop in the ocean and the fact is that the civil war has created self-segregation between the different communities, particularly in central Iraq which is a problem which goes beyond humanitarian aid.
About the expert:
Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London, UK, has a distinguished academic career in the defence field including founding the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London. He has been a senior Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Defence Committee since 1997, having served previously with the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. In 2004 he was appointed the UK member of the United Nations Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters.