Like practically everybody else I’m very discouraged by the situation in Iraq. The deaths of ordinary Iraqis is unacceptably high whether it’s the 49,000 estimated by Iraq Body Count or the 650,000 reported in a recent study (which Rick Moran sensibly notes does not seem to distinguish among al-Qaeda, insurgents, and truly civilian Iraqis).
Only two of Iraq’s provinces are currently under the control of the nominally sovereign Iraqi government and the progress is glacially, unacceptably, politically untenably slow. Those were the easy provinces.
The U. S. military is on the horns of a dilemma. If they go after the militias who are now responsible for a lot of the deaths vigorously, they take more casualties which are trumpeted in the press and which erodes domestic political support for our military presence in Iraq, already flagging. If they avoid the militias, Iraq comes ever closer to a full-blown civil war, more ordinary Iraqis are killed, and support among Iraqis for our presence, already wavering, fails more quickly.
As of this writing it looks very likely that Democrats will take control of at least the House and possibly the Senate as well. Given the rhetoric of the last year or so it seems very unlikely that they’ll sustain our military presence in Iraq or financial support of the Iraqi reconstruction. John Edwards and Russ Feingold, both presidential aspirants, have both come out in favor of withdrawing our military from Iraq by the end of 2006. Other have said six months or a year or a partial withdrawal. I’ve heard some Republicans arguing in favor of a partial withdrawal.
I think that the idea of a partial withdrawal is fantasizing. It reminds me of Kissinger’s “peanuts” memo from 30 years ago. I don’t see that any argument that supports withdrawing, say, 100,000 of our troops doesn’t work even better towards withdrawing all of them. The conceivable policies are retaining our forces there or removing them. I think that the idea of actually increasing our forces in Iraq is a politically impossible at this point.
Let me make my own position very clear. I opposed our invasion of Iraq. I thought that all of the Adminstration’s arguments in aggregrate did not support the conclusion that we should invade. I’m not a true believer like Dean nor do I believe, as President Bush apparently does, that liberal democracy is a universal human aspiration. I believed that, when Saddam’s government was removed, the overwhelming likelihood was that Iraq’s other institutions, specifically mosque and tribe, would re-assert themselves and, unless incentive structures were put in place that made it more valuable to cooperate than to contend, nothing that resembled what I would consider “victory in Iraq” (a liberal democratic government friendly to the U. S.) would emerge.
At this point I believe that, while invading Iraq was imprudent, abandoning Iraq would be imprudent, too. Yes, it may be true that the presence of U. S. forces in Iraq is an irritant. I continue to believe that the only force preventing the incipient civil war in Iraq from becoming a full-fledged civil war with pitched battles, hundreds of civilian deaths a day, and likely intervention by Iraq’s neighbors is the large U. S. force there. We’ve mounted the tiger.
So, I have some challenge questions for partisans on both sides of the aisle. For Republicans, how can political support for our continued presence i.e. “staying the course” be maintained? “We just have to” isn’t a good enough answer.
For Democrats, why is our withdrawal from Iraq in the U. S.’s interest? Why is our withdrawal from Iraq in the Iraqis’ interest? The burden of proof is on the advocate. “It’s worth a try” isn’t a good enough answer. Nor is “what we’re doing now isn’t working”.
UPDATE: I see that the Army is budgeting a U. S. presence in Iraq through 2010.