Couric: ... Prime Minister Maliki on the same page when it comes to a troop withdrawal by 2010. Why do you believe that the Iraqi security forces, which have taken so long to get up to speed, will be equipped to protect the country at that point?This is Vietnamization, Richard Nixon's 'secret plan' to end the Vietnam War. AKA, 'as they stand up, we'll stand down.' In a sense, this has been happening in Iraq since late 2006 - at which point Mario Loyola noted that Iraqi military capacity and engagement were increasing.
Obama: Well, keep in mind that, and I can't speak for Prime Minister Maliki now, but under my proposal, you'd still have U.S. forces with a capable counterterrorism operation in the region. You would still be training Iraqi security forces. We'd still be providing logistical support. We would still provide protection for our diplomatic corps and other civilians as well as our forces on the ground.
So we would still have the capacity to help promote effective actions by the Iraqi security forces. And, in fact, we're already starting to see more and more of those forces take the lead in actions where we're playing more of an advisory role. The key is for us to not inhibit the Iraqis from taking that kind of responsibility on.
It's a meme among old Nixon hands that Vietnamization worked in Vietnam, that the South Vietnamese government and military were viable after the U.S. pulled its troops out, that the regime in the South could have survived if the U.S. did not pull the plug on military aid and air support. That storyline was effectively debunked by Nixon himself, who confessed privately as early as 1969 that the U.S. could not win. So why might the process work in Iraq?
The South Vietnamese government was facing a sovereign, organized, relentless enemy that had been fighting as a unit for more than thirty years and that was backed by Soviet military might. The North Vietnamese regime and its antecedents had defeated the Japanese, defeated the French, and sustained its effort to control the entire partitioned country for more than 20 years. The Iraqi forces opposing or competing with the Maliki government are fragmented, nonsovereign and at best only sporadically and equivocally backed by Iran (some of the Shiite groups, that is). So, as Petraeus has revamped and executed counterinsurgency strategy, Bush-Obama could make Vietnamization work.