One of the pillars of the Obama Administration’s approach to national security is called building partnership capacity. The idea is to help partner countries do more for themselves so that the United States is able to do less. This concept is doubly important when it comes to Iraq since the plan to withdraw our forces is critically dependent on the ability of the Iraqis to provide for their security. In order to ensure that Iraq can meet the test of self-protection, Baghdad has asked to purchase a large quantity of U.S. military equipment including 140 M1 Abrams tanks, 400 Stryker vehicles, 80 Armored Security Vehicles, helicopters and small arms. There is even the possibility of future sales of F-16 fighters. Not only would these sales help Iraq’s security but they would make it easier for Iraqi forces to operate with those of the U.S. and simplify U.S. efforts to train Iraqi forces.
But in order to purchase U.S. military equipment under our Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, the request must be deemed a “dependable undertaking.” This means that the country in question must be a good credit risk, able to pay for what they want to buy. As is the case with every home loan or credit card application you or I would make, a country’s ability to qualify for the transaction or loan depends on the requestor’s credit rating. Like a lot of Americans today, Iraq’s credit rating is lousy. In addition, critics argue that the country suffers from too much corruption and its military procurement system is too primitive to meet U.S. standards.
One possible outcome is that Iraq will forego the desired purchases, in which case its security will be impaired and our ability to withdraw put in question. A more likely consequence of the Administration’s short-sightedness would be that Iraq goes elsewhere for the equipment it needs, to countries such as Russia, Ukraine, France or South Korea. While this might solve Iraq’s immediate security problem it would do nothing for interoperability with U.S. forces. It would actually make it harder for the U.S. military to train Iraqi forces, so we can finally remove our own forces.
The Iraq FMS problem would appear to undermine an important part of the Administration’s approach to national security. Simply put, there is little need for the United States to build partners’ capacities in those nations with very good credit ratings. The countries that need the help generally are poor, with inadequate infrastructure, spotty governance and more than a little corruption. If its long-term strategy is to be successful, the Administration needs to devise a way of funding military sales to countries with bad credit ratings. The immediate problem is to find a way to sell Iraq the U.S. military equipment it wants and needs.
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