Whether US troops stay in Iraq beyond the end of year or not, the US must foster the relationship between Iraq and Turkey. Ankara is the perfect counter to competing Saudi and Iranian influence.
Iraqis often remind Americans that the US presence in their country is only temporary, while the country’s neighbors are permanent. This long view is important to remember in the midst of the drama surrounding Defense Secretary Panetta’s recent visit to Baghdad. Mr. Panetta visited last week to express “tremendous concern” regarding increased Iranian arms in Iraq and push forward discussions with the Iraqi government on whether American troops will be asked to stay on after the end of this year.
A small US troop presence would probably provide a psychological confidence boost to Iraq’s messy democracy, but even if requested, will be limited in scope and duration. America also clearly faces sharp constraints in fully resourcing its military and civilian missions in Iraq.
In this era of limited means, reinforcements need to be found to complement investments of American blood and treasure. This requires a revamped regional strategy that starts by asking which of Iraq’s neighbors share US interests in a strong and stable Iraq that can contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East. At present, Turkey stands out as the only neighbor that has the incentive to actively work toward this outcome.
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