This article was first published in The Daily Bruin by Julia Erlandson, Daily Bruin senior staff.
Despite General David Petraeus' recent optimistic report on the U.S.'s progress in Iraq, the situation is in fact much grimmer and would benefit from major policy changes, two experts told an audience of students and community members Wednesday.
Larry Korb, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, and Phil Carter, an Iraq War veteran and UCLA alumnus, discussed Petraeus' report with nearly 100 students, faculty and members of the public during an event hosted by UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations.
Both Korb and Carter refuted Petraeus' conclusion that the recent troop surge has led to major improvements in Iraq.
"We Americans tend to think we can engineer success if we apply enough ingenuity, if we apply enough technology," said Carter, who served in Iraq in 2006. "I think we’ve reached the limits of our effectiveness."
Carter added that he believes rebuilding Iraq's political infrastructure is critical, and tactical and security successes by the U.S. military will not achieve that.
Korb suggested the American government should set a specific date for withdrawing troops from Iraq, but should not completely leave the region because the U.S. has lasting interests in the area.
Withdrawing troops would help solve some of the political problems Carter referenced because it would transfer responsibility for security and governance to Iraqi politicians, Korb said.
"Not only does this galvanize the Iraqi government ... (but) you also undermine those, particularly in the Muslim world, who say we came to occupy, we came for oil," Korb said.
Korb also cautioned that if the U.S. continues adding troops in Iraq, the government might be forced to consider reinstating the draft in order to sustain military operations.
He noted that members of the military Reserve and National Guard are essentially being deployed on active duty, and that tours of duty have increased to 15 months.
"You can’t keep doing this," he said. "The surge is going to end unless we want to go to a draft."
Carter echoed Korb's concerns about strains on the military due to the troop surge, and suggested that those strains could affect the U.S.'s ability to successfully implement policy elsewhere in the world.
"You can't break the army in Iraq and expect to have successful foreign policy in North Korea or Iran or elsewhere," Carter said.
Foreign policy should be an integral part of the way the U.S. proceeds in Iraq, Korb added.
He said he believes the U.S. should work with regional powers such as Iran, which he noted helped topple the Taliban in Afghanistan, to help stabilize Iraq.
Other Middle Eastern countries have vested interests in ensuring Iraq does not become a failed state, because that could lead to refugees fleeing Iraq to nearby nations, or to an increase in terrorism, Korb said.
He added that the combination of partnering with other middle eastern countries and withdrawing troops could help improve the U.S.'s international image.
But some audience members questioned whether the effects of withdrawing troops would detract from image improvements.
"How does withdrawing and leaving behind a sectarian civil war improve our image?" said Andrea McCarthy, a senior student from Pepperdine University.
Carter said the troop withdrawal would have to come in combination with other policy changes to offset potential negative consequences. For example, he said the U.S. should make it a point to welcome Iraqi refugees and immigrants into America.
Audience members also brought up current issues in Iraq, such as the State Department's contract with Blackwater, a private security firm whose tactics have recently stirred controversy.
Ryan Waters, a UCLA law student, questioned whether using such contractors actually improves security in Iraq.
Carter responded that while Blackwater guards have been highly effective in protecting U.S. officials, the job they were hired to do, they have also alienated Iraqi citizens and perhaps created hostility toward the U.S. military.
"It’s a thorny issue," he said.