Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, November 28, 2005

What Should We Do About Iraq?

The war in Iraq has become one of the defining issues of American politics. Bush's current policy is to stay in Iraq until either the Iraqi government announces they are ready to take over or all the violence ends. Folly though it may be, Bush's policy sounds simple and strong--and so until the opposition can unite behind a clear, alternative policy on Iraq, Bush will continue to be able to defame his critics as cowards, liars, and opportunists, and to distort their criticism as a call for retreat or as no meaningful alternative at all. Until the Democrats can offer a competing Iraq policy, they will remain critics instead of leaders... and if Bush decides to leave early or otherwise alter his policy, he will just steal his critics' thunder instead of proving them right.

So what should this policy be? Should we set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq? Should it be a phased timetable, or should it be a simple deadline? Should we start now, sometime next year, or later? Should we set quantitative milestones instead of specific dates for a withdrawal? Should we try to bring in the international community in some way that we have not already done?

Much of the debate centers on the question of what would happen if we were to pull out... and what will happen if we do not. If we leave, will all hell break loose? Will the Iraqi government collapse from civil war? Will the insurgents win? Would an American retreat instead strengthen the Iraqi government's legtimacy with its own people? Would the withdrawal of the occupying forces deprive the insurgency of its rallying point... and hence its support? And if we stay, will we eventually stamp out the insurgency, or will our provocative presence merely ensure that the violence never ends? What do The Citizens think?

I'll start off the discussion with my own proposal: we set a clear date of April 10th and call all U.S. forces from Iraq home by that date. (The festive holiday celebrating the birth of Mohammed will be officially observed on the next day--April 11, 2006--so it seems an auspicious time for Iraq to make a new beginning.) Here is my reasoning.

1. I believe the U.S. presence has become an agitating force in Iraq. So long as we are there, the violence will never end and the Iraqi government will never be seen as legitimate by the Iraqi people. In fact, if we stay long enough, we will completely de-legitimize the current government and the insurgency may have time to provide a viable alternative, and there may erupt a real civil war. Continuing the occupation is a dead-end. We cannot fix all that is wrong in Iraq. The Iraqis have to do it themselves.

2. Yes, there probably will be greater violence after we leave. Things probably will get worse before they get better. But I do not believe a full scale civil war will erupt. I believe the Iraqi government will win out. The insurgency is fractured and its ranks swell with foreign nationals. It also resorts to kidnapping, terrorism, and other criminal behavior. While this has given them the ability to continue the fight against us, it has also assured that once the rallying point for their hatred is gone, they will be not be perceived as a viable alternative to the current government. The only real horse to back in Iraq right now is the Iraqi government, and I think most Iraqis will realize that. A steady infusion of cash from the West should seal the deal.

3. Some say we should use milestones instead of a timetable, but I believe using milestones is a mistake because it effectively hands control of our exit strategy to the insurgents. It will also be seen as wishy-washy, since there is always wiggle room with milestones. We will not be believed.

4. Some argue for a phased withdrawal, but I believe that by dragging it out over months, it really would look like a protracted retreat as we suffer mounting losses by our increasingly outnumbered troops. By setting a handover date and sticking to it--instead of just signing the papers and sneaking out of the country a day early like Paul Bremer did--we show that we are not afraid of the insurgents. It is a sign of strength and confidence in the Iraqi government.

5. Full withdrawal by a set date is a clear, simple alternative policy. It has immediate benefits (troops come home!) and enables us to save a lot of money, too.

It's time to take our hands off the bike and let the Iraqi people show that they can ride--we can't be parents forever. It's time to show faith in the democratic process we have set up; it's time to show that we believe the Iraqi government is strong enough and legitimate enough to successfully take on the insurgents. And it's time to show that the U.S. is not going to let car-bombs dicate our policy anymore.

We've kicked out Saddam and set up a democracy, and to say we must stay longer in vain hope of "finishing the job" is entirely the wrong message. Our job is done. It is time to go home.


Anonymous said...

I think Dr. S is correct: a date certain for withdrawal will cause short-term chaos but long-term stability. Put another way, so long as the Iraqi "government" thinks that it is backed by US power, it is just role-playing. It is not making the same kind of decisions it would make if it really had to take into account logistics and politics. Role-playing of this kind never really simulates reality. There is, in short, no substitute for genuine responsibility.

After US forces leave Iraq, this much, at least, is clear: whatever government emerges will, of necessity, be capable of maintaining itself without US support. Such a government will certainly be incapable of threatening the United States, even if it is very hostile. Mission accomplished. 

// posted by LTG

The Law Talking Guy said...

A little historical investigation here. The Bush Administration likes to compare this conflict to WWII and ask: would we have "cut and run" before we defeated the Nazis? This is the wrong question, because this is not about winning the war itself, but the post-war occupation. Why is Iraq in 2003-2005 so different than Germany in 1945? Why was Germany pacified, but not Iraq?
1. Paul Bremer attempted the de-Baathization of Iraq with a cleaver. The US de-Nazification was far more nuanced, and only the top echelon were removed. The rest of the party apparatus was allowed to remain if they foreswore the Nazi party and its goals.
2. We had about 10x troops in Germany.
3. Guerrilla warfare was in its infancy in the 1940s. The tools of the trade are cheap and plentiful today, as are tactics.
4. No outside countries supported a post-war Nazi resistance.
5. Victory was tough, not cheap. The German will to fight was destroyed through six years of bloody war and millions of dead. Iraq fell in weeks. Like France in 1940, Iraq in 2003 was mentally prepared for resistance.

The Big Difference: In 1945, the Allies more or less handed the keys over to existing German political parties (from 12 years earlier) who were viewed by the public as their own and were in favor of democratic politics. Nothing of the sort has happened yet in Iraq.

I think it highly significant that none of these factors concern the American home front or American will to fight. One equation suffices:
1. Let the US interest be "A"
2. Let the interest of the Iraqis (both for and against us) in their own politics be "I".
In the long run, A < I. Period. All our strategies must be based with this equation as a premise. It cannot be changed. No matter how big A is, it will never be enough. All the action is with the Iraqis.

Anonymous said...

The one problem I see with setting a solid date is one of security. You don’t want to give the “enemy” the opportunity of knowing your next move. And there are those who would argue that some insurgent groups would wait quietly until we leave and them raise hell after.

I think that the possibility of a civil war in Iraq should not be pushed aside lightly. The problem with insurgent groups is that you can’t be sure of their motivations, especially if many of them are not Iraqis. In fact, we don’t really know who these groups are, do we? It isn’t like you can go take a head count.

I think a phased pull out is smart. It allows for flexibility. And what I mean by "Phased" is that you pull out maybe 20K troops at a time. However, I would be concerned that as the numbers dwindle, the US troops would become more exposed targets with less protection. Our troops numbers, according to some analysts are too low now. I am hedging a little because I am not a military expert or a war strategist. I have a family member in Iraq now, and I would love for his 13 month tour to be cut in half so he can come home. But I also don’t think you can just pull up stakes and leave.

The other issue is the 150K independent contractors that are still in Iraq and who the government has little or no control over. DO you want to risk turning the whole country in to a Halliburton paradise? A private war?

I agree that as the Iraqis become more responsible, they will become more effective. I am very concerned, however, about the steadfastness of Iraqi troops. Reading some of the solider blogs, you will learn that military PR machines are not always honest about the actual skill of the Iraqis. Often, they aren’t allowed to report that Iraqi troops cut and ran. But perhaps, when faced with insurgents alone, they will stiffen up a bit.

Linked to this are reports this morning that US officials are being allowed to talk with Iranian officials. I assume this is about the nuclear program, however, I am also sure there will be words about alleged involvement of Iranians in the insurgency. I am convinced that intelligence agencies know full well that Iranian groups are assisting or at least fueling the insurgency.

You know, rather than trying to justify his past actions, what the President should be doing is laying out an exit strategy. That is really what we are talking about. If he hasn’t convinced people by now, he isn’t going to. It’s a waste of air time.

At this point, there is no exit strategy and there never was. That’s the part that I have a hard time swallowing. All the lessons from Vietnam, all the lessons from the first Gulf War and the establishment of the Powell Doctrine, and here we are, failing to learn from any of it. And it’s a little late for Congress to be invoking its rights under the War Powers Act. They should have done that from the start. But it’s all better late than never, I guess.

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

In the *Lion in Winter*, Anthony Hopkins threatens to stalk out on his mother, Katharine Hepburn, then hestitates, awaiting for a reaction. She replies:

"Departure's a simple act. You put the
left foot down, and then the right."

Whether or not Baghdad falls like Saigon after US forces leave depends on whether the government there is better off than S. Vietnam's. Is it?


// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

If the US stays and gives no set date for departure, we give our supposed allies in Iraq (the Iraqi government, moderate Shiites and Kurds etc) no incentive to make sacrifices or compromises to stabalize their situation on their own. We will be a crutch for them to which they will become adicted if they haven't already.

If the US sets a firm date and leaves, we will be tipping our hand the insurgents but we will also be forcing the hand of the moderates. They will have to put up or shut up.

I think a coalition of Kurds and Shiites has a reasonable chance to hold against the insurgents. In Vietnam, there was no domestic support to speak of for the S. Vietnamese military dictators. One thing the Bush administration has done better than the Johnson and Nixon administrations is that they realize that a dictatorship imposed by a foreign power is poor basis for sustainable government.

The situation in Iraq isn't great. But staying won't make it better. The moment we leave will be a moment of truth no matter when we do go. The only question now is how much are we going to pay in terms of lives and treasure before we grit our teeth and face that moment. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

Some of the debate over phased vs. single-deadline withdrawal is irrelevant. Because the logistics of the situation dictate that withdrawal of U.S. forces will take several weeks, if not months, for all practical purposes any withdrawal will be a phased withdrawal. It will surely be implemented in that manner! So the real question is how slow the phases should be.

As I see it, once we start withdrawing, we might as well do it with all deliberate speed. And as far as the notion that a firm deadline would tip our hand to the insurgents, it really does not matter: regardless of what we do, they will know we are withdrawing as soon as we start, and will have weeks or months during which to take action.

Rather than worrying about what our enemies might think, we should instead be more concerned with our friends. The Iraqi people--whose political parties have unanimously called for us to set a timetable for withdrawal--deserve an unambiguous answer as to when they will have their sovereignty fully restored. And the sooner we are gone, the sooner the Iraqi government can establish its legitimacy.

I believe setting a firm deadline will help our friends more than it might help our enemies. Let us not make the mistake of letting the insurgents dicate our exit strategy any more than we already have.