I tried a little while ago to start a discussion of this subject without a great deal of success. The conversation quickly degenerated into name-calling. Now Dan Darling has started a discussion of the same subject over at Winds of Change. Dan adds an interesting and important log onto the fire:
What I’m worried about, and this was underscored by my Thanksgiving trip back home to Fort Leavenworth and talking with literally dozens of officers and enlisted who have recently served in Iraq (I communicate with a lot of them, as well as folks still serving in Iraq, on a regular basis via e-mail, but there’s a big difference between getting this sentiment in one-on-one conversations versus getting it from dozens of people in person in 24-48 hours), is that a lot of the impetus to pull US forces from Iraq are due to the fact that the National Guard and the Reserves are more or less broken and aren’t likely to be replaced any time soon. One officer that I have a lot of respect for stated that had we increased the total size of our military in 2001 or 2002 or 2003 or even 2004, it would have gone a long way towards avoiding many of the current problems that we are currently facing. Assuming this officer wasn’t relying on hyperbole, this would seem to add further ammo, at least to me, for the McCain/DLC initiative to increase the total size of the US military.
I think that both advocates of withdrawal and advocates of staying the course have tremendously difficult issues that they need to address.
Those who advocate withdrawal before a stable and decent government has been established in Iraq should consider the implications of such a course of action. If we withdraw our forces from the Iraqi cities into the countryside (as was suggested by Juan Cole), this does little to combat the rising level of ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq. Presumably the assumption is that the overwhelming preponderance of the insurgency’s goal is removing the occupation. Does moving into the countryside achieve this? Or just encourage more attacks? And how do you square this with the reality that the targets of most attacks these days are Iraqis? The insurgency would appear to me to be not just an insurgency against Americans but against the current Iraqi government whose objective is to re-establish the status quo ante or, worse, a Taliban-style regime in Iraq. That’s certainly what’s happened everywhere in Iraq they’ve actually established some level of control.
If we withdraw from Iraq to an over the horizon presence in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or other Gulf States as suggested by Congressman Murtha, how does that address any of the problems above? Does it continue to encourage the resentment of people in the area and put our military in danger of continuing Khobar Towers-type attacks? And how does it address Dan’s problem above?
If we remove troops from Iraq and bring them home, won’t this, as Dan suggests, create a Congo-type situation in which Iraq’s neighbors intervene from time to time in the ongoing civil war there? If, by removing Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq, we’ve de-stabilized the Middle East, isn’t the better course of action now to attempt to control the outcome of the de-stabilization rather than just abandoning the people there to their fates? Ride the wave rather or be drowned by it?
And if all we achieve is the status quo ante what is the new grand strategy for the War on Terror?
That’s probably the worst aspect of withdrawing from Iraq. We’ll have lost two three years in a blind-alley strategy having borne the costs, achieved none of the benefits, and without a new plan in place.
Those who advocate staying the course also have some ‘splaining to do. If your metrics for success are insurgents killed and insurgent strongholds pacified, it still remains to be seen if the numbers of insurgents and insurgent strongholds are fixed. If every insurgent killed creates more insurgents among the Iraqis and foreign jihadis continue to come across the borders from Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, when will the job be done? How do we sustain even the current level of activity in the face of mounting political pressure at home and the realities that Dan addresses above? And can the current level of forces in Iraq continue to battle insurgents, secure the borders of Iraq, and train the new Iraqi military?
If your metrics for success are schools and hospitals built and elections held, hold do those things alter the dynamics of opposition in Iraq? As was pointed out in the last post what’s emerging in Iraq may be an ethnic and sectarian civil war along the lines of Lebanon. So long as the current structures remain in place and the current incentives Sunni Arabs in particular will continue to see little to lose and much to gain by continued insurgency. The new Iraqi military is itself divided along ethnic and sectarian lines. It doesn’t seem to be a likely candidate for improving the situation but, rather, a part of the incipient problem.
And how do you plan to sustain the level of commitment we have now for the foreseeable future?
The most pernicious of the many errors we’ve made over the last several years is the notion that we can achieve good things in Iraq or in the War on Terror without substantial costs. That just isn’t going to happen. Come what may there will be major political, social, economic, and human costs.
I think that every project of any substantial scope should have a useable subset i.e. deliverables that are available at some fraction of the total cost of the project that has value in and of itself. Bringing democracy to Iraq doesn’t. Now we’ll either cut our losses and bear the costs we’ve already borne without any of the benefits either for ourselves or the Iraqis possibly creating big new hazards in the process or we’ll invest more in what may well be a forlorn hope to try and make good our losses.
Rather than ending on that note I want to repeat my plea to engage in a constructive discussion of changing the dynamics in Iraq. Neither staying the course nor declaring defeat and going home is a worthwhile strategy.
UPDATE: McQ of QandO Blog traces the history of plans for reductions of forces in Iraq and questions the timing of the MSM’s questioning of the timing.
Ed Morrisey thinks that Joe Biden’s take on the War on Terror as expressed in his Washington Post op-ed it totally wrong:
Nations do not deploy their troops in order to engage in timelines for their return. They send their men (and women) abroad to tackle specific missions, and the only timetable that matters is victory. Here Biden not only puts the cart before the horse, he also shows that he has no concept of victory.
If our security interests in Iraq have not been secured, then our troops need to remain there until the mission has succeeded. Not only should that be obvious to any thinking person, it answers Biden’s questions in the order they should have been asked.
On this much I agree with Captain Ed. But while removing terrorist strongholds and conducting elections are both good and necessary they’re not sufficient. And unless we change what’s going on in Iraq somehow we won’t alter the fundamental dynamics of the situation as we must do to either avoid a permanent mass deployment there or a descent into chaos.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Jeff Medcalf of Caerdroia joins into the conversation with a post as sound as you’d expect from him. To which I respond: the removal of Saddam Hussein and his heinous regime, the end of support for terrorism in Iraq, the end of development programs for weapons of mass destruction, and our new bases in the Middle East are all contingent on our establishing a stable, decent government in Iraq. If we leave before it’s soup, a regime every bit as horrible (or worse) than Saddam’s may arise, sponsor terrorists, and develop programs for weapons of mass destruction. And, of course, we’ll have abandoned our new bases.
What we will retain is the knowledge of the very limited extent of Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Is that alone worth the hundreds of billions of dollars we’ve spent and the lives of the more than 2,000 American that have been sacrificed? Would we have gone to war solely to achieve that objective? I thought that’s what we had a CIA for. Why do we have a CIA, anyway?
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Bill Quick says that what’s going on in Iraq isn’t representative individual democracy but representative tribalism. That view doesn’t sound incompatible with the view that Lounsbury expressed which kicked off this whole discussion. Bill writes:
Despite a lot of neo-con triumphalism about “establishing democracy in Iraq,” that goal is still twenty years down the road, minimum. What we have now in Iraq is representative tribalism, an entirely different breed of animal. Some might think there is no difference between the multiple tribes of Iraq, and the multiple political parties of Europe, but there is. In a tribalist society, the most important entity is the tribe, and the most important goal is gathering more and more power to the tribe, so as to better the lives of the tribal members, even at the expense of the nation itself. It’s a tragedy of the commons with tribes instead of individuals as players, and the ultimate expression of it in Iraq was the elevation of Saddam’s own tribe to a position of supremacy over every other tribe, and even over Iraq itself.
The questions remain: how do we achieve some resolution in Iraq in a manner that’s consistent with our goals and our values?