Iraq Withdrawal Highlights the Need for Smart Power

JURIST Guest Columnist Kevin Govern of Ave Maria School of Law says that the pending withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the challenges to maintaining security in that country and in the region requires a new strategy in dealing with the region to address security concerns amid likely cuts to the US defense budget...

Smart power has been touted as "a cornerstone to our new foreign policy" beginning in the Bush administration and continuing today. Smart power employs soft power tools including diplomacy, economic assistance and communications to supplement or augment traditional hard power capabilities of the military to defend and advance US interests around the world. As the mandate for US and coalition troop presence in Iraq expires on December 31, 2011, this concept of smart power is essential to matters of regional and international security.

The costs of the ongoing Global War on Terror have created a strong impetus for smart power strategies. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for an increase in smart power, advocating "to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use soft power and for better integrating it with hard power." Gates strengthened his point by comparing the State Department's annual budget of $36 billion versus 2007 military spending totaling nearly half a trillion dollars.

As 2011 concludes, the US Congressional Research Service has estimated that the US expended $1.283 trillion for the three operations initiated since the attacks of September 11, 2001. These expenditures went to military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans' health care. Of course, there can never be a value put on the 4,486 American lives lost, or the 32,226 wounded in action.

The year's end marks the end of the eighth year of military operations in Iraq. It also marks the third year under the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement [PDF]. That agreement established that US combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all US forces will be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011. The US and Iraqi governments also approved a Strategic Framework Agreement on mutual cooperation on primarily non-military matters.

The reality is that the US can no longer primarily rely upon hard power presence in Iraq, and must plan for likely withdrawals from Afghanistan and elsewhere. Instead, the policy and troop shift must manage the military presence in the region to not just rearrange military forces but to continue to develop integrated strategies (civil-military), resource bases (economic, political, and military) and tool kits (military and diplomatic capabilities) to achieve American objectives.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke November 26, 2011, at a conference in Baghdad as having "no concerns whatsoever" about security after US troops withdraw, asserting that Iraqi security forces have proven themselves capable and able to protect Iraq. So, aside from the US military and contractor presence for embassy assets in Iraq, the US will look to expand its bilateral and multilateral ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council. The US needs to foster a new "security architecture" for the Persian Gulf in the reality of troops withdrawn from Iraq and likely defense budget cuts. Despite a likely decrease in assets assigned to the region, expanded security relationships in the region will combine economic, political and military strategies that build capability as well as demonstrate commitment to "partner capability" and "partner capacity."

The new year could hardly bring higher stakes to the Middle Eastern security outlook. The consequences of the so-called Arab Spring beyond Iraq are far from settled. The Rand Corporation pointed out that the conflict in Iraq had in some instances entrenched and strengthened neighboring Arab governments while diminishing the momentum for political reform in those countries. Researchers also found that the Iraq War undermined al Qaeda's standing in the region and forced the network to adapt new tactics and strategies. In the Rand report estimation, no matter how the internal situation in Iraq evolves, the war's effect on the broader region will be felt for decades.

It appears inevitable, then, that the US initiate and implement a "smart power presence" in the region that "underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships and institutions at all levels to expand American influence and establish the legitimacy of American actions."

Kevin Govern is an Associate Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law. He began his legal career as a US Army Judge Advocate. He has also served as an Assistant Professor of Law at the United States Military Academy and has taught at California University of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise attributed, the conclusions and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the US government, Department of Defense or Ave Maria School of Law.

Suggested citation: Kevin Govern, Iraq Withdrawal Highlights the Need for Smart Power, JURIST - Forum, Dec. 13, 2011, http://jurist.org/forum/2011/12/kevin-govern-smart-power.php.



This article was prepared for publication by Jonathan Cohen, the head of JURIST's academic commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to him at academiccommentary@jurist.org

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