The Jaker

Mostly rational politics, with occasional rants about how a few crazy Republicans are ruining the country.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006
My Contrarian Plan for Iraq
Conventional wisdom, or at least the mainstream view in the Senate, is that we need to withdraw our troops from Iraq in phases at some point in the near future, without giving an explicit timetable for that withdrawl.

I think we should do almost the exact opposite.

I think we should set a timetable, or at least announce our intention to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq to meet approximate percentage milestones at approximate dates, but then not actually do it. Or let those deadlines slip a little; not quite meet them as quickly as we'd like. And leave substanital numbers of our troops there for awhile.

The conventional view is that we need to withdraw, but save face. I think we need to purposefully lose face, but not withdraw.

Why do I think this? We have totally screwed up Iraq, and we can't just leave the country to demolish itself and its innocent citizens. That's not a novel view. Even more worrying to me, however, is that rather than establish a democracy in Iraq that will over time spread the ideals of democracy throughout the Middle East, I think we've done the opposite - set up a situation in which Saudi-backed Sunnis are ferociously fighting Iran-backed Shi'ites, with the potential to create an enormous Middle East war between extremely dangerous countries.

We can't just pull out. For a good argument why not, read Bobby Ghosh's latest TIME commentary (Ghosh has been reporting candidly from Iraq for >3 years) [click for full post].

But what I want to see is what happens when we announce our intention to leave. How will citizens react? How will the Iraqi government react? How will Iran and Saudi Arabia react? I don't think we can pull all our troops home without those data points, because if we do, and things go badly, I think we'll feel the need to go back.

On another note, I think it's fascinating what we're saying to military members and family members today the more we continue with George Bush's strategy... which has led to 3,000 soldier deaths. We're basically saying some U.S. citizens will die from terrorism. Better that we volunteer servicepeople, who have already accepted some level of mortal risk in their lives, to die away from home, than allow the uncertainty of something happening to unsuspecting citizens in the U.S.

What We Would Leave Behind
If the U.S. goes, the Iraqis won't stop shooting. They'll still have each other

What would happen to Iraq if Washington follows the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group? The group's underlying assumption is that Iraqi forces will be ready to take over from the U.S. military by early 2008. To test that thesis, it is instructive to look at parts of southern Iraq from which coalition forces have already been withdrawn. There Shi'ite militias backed by Iran have taken control, intimidating government forces into submission and terrorizing Sunnis. On several occasions Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, has had to plead with radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to restrain his fighters from killing soldiers and police--with limited results.

If the Iraqi government can't stop sectarian killing today when it is able to call on the world's most powerful military, it can hardly be expected to do so once the Americans have left. The more likely outcome is an escalation of the civil war, with elements of the security forces taking sides. The Shi'ite militias will enjoy numerical superiority and the continued surreptitious backing of Shi'ite Iran. But what the Sunni insurgents lack in numbers, they make up for in greater killing experience. Their suicide bombers, fighters and improvised explosive devices are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the 2,800-plus U.S. deaths in Iraq. And the Sunnis have friends. The U.S. has long accused Syria of harboring both Iraqi Baathists and jihadis of various nationalities who infiltrate Iraq to make mischief. And Iraqi officials routinely claim that the insurgency receives money and men from extremist organizations in neighboring Sunni-majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan.

Those countries can't afford to be seen as openly supporting groups responsible for killing Americans. But if the Americans depart, the dynamic changes. Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to the government of Saudi Arabia, warned last week that if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, Riyadh will intervene to protect the Sunnis from the Shi'ites. In an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, he said the Saudis would probably supply the Sunni insurgency with money, arms and logistical support. Quiet intervention is always an option: Iraq's porous borders are ideal for smuggling cash, weapons and jihadis.

As talk of withdrawal has gathered momentum in recent weeks, some Sunni groups dedicated to fighting U.S. troops have already begun to recalibrate their gunsights. One of the largest Sunni insurgent groups, Islamic Army, dramatically changed course last week and called on its followers to wage a "battle of destiny" against Shi'ites for control of Baghdad. Only a year ago, the studiously nationalistic and nonsectarian group vehemently opposed al-Qaeda leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi's call for a holy war against Iraqi Shi'ites.

With the U.S. gone, the intensified fighting would probably be internecine as well as sectarian. Shi'ite militias in the south have shown a propensity to fight one another, as have Sunni groups in the volatile Anbar province. Iraq could look very much like Afghanistan after the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops--sectarian or ethnic warlords battling for territory, with the backing of sponsors from neighboring countries. An Afghanistan-style civil war would provide international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Hizballah with fertile ground in which to recruit, train and battle-test a new generation of global jihadis.

One set of Iraqis would be targeted by all sides: the tens of thousands who have worked closely with the Americans--as translators, fixers, drivers, cooks, clerks, cleaners and managers. Both Sunni and Shi'ite extremists have repeatedly warned Iraqis that collaborating with the occupiers is punishable by execution, and many have already been killed merely because they were suspected of working with the Americans.

Can America save Iraq from itself? Yes, but it would require giving up the illusion that the Iraqis can fix their own problems. They can't. The Americans created this mess; it's their responsibility to fix it. They'd need 30,000 more coalition soldiers and a real willingness to thrash the Shi'ite militias, something they've avoided so far. Having foolishly dismantled the existing Iraqi army, the U.S. has the duty to create a genuinely proficient new one, instead of rushing recruits through Boy Scout lessons just to satisfy predetermined quotas. It may take five more years. But if the U.S. leaves sooner, Iraq will devolve into an even bigger mess. If the Americans insist on pulling out, they ought to park their hardware nearby, because like it or not, they'll be back.

posted by CB @ 12:21 PM  
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