Monday, April 30

In defense of timetables.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to . . . something something.

It's kind of ironic, I guess, that exactly four years to the day after our Mission was declared Accomplished by the president, he finds himself embroiled in a debate that mainly serves to remind all of us just how un-Accomplished it in fact is. Some might call that "karma," but that would be looking to the past, and I'm interested in looking to the future for a little bit. What if, rather than surrendering or declaring defeat, the Democrats' plan for a pullout timetable was actually the only real way to win in Iraq?

First of all, since I know individual opinions of what constitutes "winning" in Iraq could be as varied as snowflakes, let me tell you what my ideal situation is: My ideal situation involves an Iraq with a stable democratic government that can run its own legislative affairs and its own defenses -- and can do so by itself, without requiring a single American soldier on hand for any of it. That's not so wacky, you might be saying. And obviously I think you're right, but I think my scenario does sound wacky to a lot of the neocons in the Bush administration, because I think their intention from the get-go has been to rebuild Iraq as a forward operating base where our troops will be stationed in perpetuity. The fact that our "phased pullout" from Saudi Arabia began almost simultaneously with the invasion of Iraq is not, I think, a coincidence, and there's plenty of other evidence to indicate that our presence in Iraq is not something the Pentagon is in any hurry to end.

And I think even the most ardent supporters of Bush's Iraq policy, to the extent that he has one, would have to admit that he has taken a decidedly open-ended attitude toward our troop presence there, particularly as it relates to the Iraqi government. Obviously he hasn't given any indication of a date when our troops might be able to come home, and it doesn't even seem like anyone in the administration is leaning on the Maliki government particularly hard to take control of their own military and their own defense. That hands-offness has brought us to a point where Maliki is now actually purging security officials who are policing Shiite militias too aggressively.

How can Maliki get away with doing stuff like that, particularly at a time when the rest of his military is languishing in incompetence and disarray? Simple: Because the Bush administration has let him. Bush hasn't given any indication that U.S. troops are going to be leaving anytime soon, and he certainly hasn't exercised a lot of oversight over the Maliki government in terms of holding them to some of the goals that supposedly have been set, so as far as Maliki is concerned, he can just sit back and let the American troops do the dirty work for as long as he wants; he has been given absolutely no incentive to do otherwise. You'd think that the Bush administration would be upset about this, but apparently they're not. And again, it fits into the idea of the U.S. troop presence as being more or less permanent.

One way or another, someone's going to have to light a fire under the collective ass of Maliki's inner circle and get them to put some actual muscle behind the development of the national government and the training of the Iraqi defense forces. Bush doesn't appear much interested in doing so; in fact, the Pentagon has just de-prioritized the training of Iraqi troops. So maybe we're just at a point where someone's going to have to set a date. People on the right may look at a timetable as a "surrender," as a date until which the insurgents can officially stop waiting us out, but when you frame the debate in those terms, what alternative is there other than keeping our troops in Iraq forever? And if we don't give the Maliki government some kind of indication as to when we expect them to get their shit together, what makes us think they're ever going to do it?

Look, I'm not someone who considers the Democratic timetable plan a perfect option; anyone who thinks there are any perfect options left at this point is pretty much kidding themselves. Maybe you can quibble with precisely when they're saying we should have the troops out of the country (or at least out of the most violent central region). But when someone says that pulling the troops out of Baghdad would leave the region open to violence and chaos, I have to ask them, just exactly what the hell is going on there now? How much worse can things get, really? Why should we be forcing our military to chase their own tails in the midst of someone else's civil war when we could move them to the northern Kurdish territory where they could do some good -- keeping a closer eye on the Iranian border, perhaps? And given the choice between forcing the Iraqi government to confront this and letting them skate, shouldn't we be leaning toward the former?

I mean, if what you want is a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq, then come right out and say that. Certainly you wouldn't be the only one. But I think you'd also be in a definite minority, because the American public was sold on a quick, easy, fairly sacrifice-free invasion of Iraq, and if current public opinion is any indication, they've gotten pretty sour at the fact that that didn't happen. If we're ever going to start clearing a path for our troops to come home, then at some point we're going to have to tell Maliki and his government that the time has come to either shit or get off the pot. And again, while the Democrats' plan for doing that may not necessarily be perfect, they seem to be the only ones who are even looking in that direction at this point. It's time for Bush to ask himself whether he's going to sack up and actually hold Maliki to account for anything, or whether he's going to allow himself to be remembered as the president who slunk off with his tail between his legs and did everything he could to make sure he could dump the Iraq problem off on the next guy.

ADDED: Good freaking Lord. The irony . . . is . . . killing . . . me.


Will said...

I think the far more disturbing scenario (I think you've hinted at it and there's a great write-up on it from a Johns Hopkins prof in The Atlantic Monthly) is that the Pentagon/Bush's shift to blaming primarily one religous group in Iraq, that just happens to be the dominant Muslim sect in Iran is that they'd prefer escalation here.
The fingerpointing at Iran's already started in earnest, the question is whether or not Bush and co. try for WWIII (war in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and anything else nearby) or not. Obviously, I'm hoping not.

CoolSchool said...

We should leave Iraq yesterday. I hear people say we just can not leave. I say why not. We've done enough, it's on the people of Iraq now.

Anonymous said...

You say that the Pentagon is in Iraq to keep it as a springboard for U.S. operations in the Middle East, but hell, we're stil in Germany and Japan and that was 50 years ago. Strategically, I'm fine with having some troop presence in Iraq if we can stop the attacks (admittedly that'll be hard).

Now the biggest problem with total withdraw is that while you can talk about how we've been in a civil war, the absence of U.S. troops would open up an entirely new conflict that would make what's going on right now look like a picnic. The Shiites would get the majority of the military's toys (once the government splits up, which it invariably would without US support) and then start a new round of ethnic cleansing unparalleled so far. To leave right now is to sentence most of the Sunnis and many of the Shiites to death or exile due to the total release of pent-up rage from the Shiites. So keep that thought in mind while you cheer on Harry Reid telling our soldiers that they've lost.

Anonymous said...

Why can't we be upfront with our soldiers and say that we have bitten off more than we can chew, and there is not winning this war, what with Iraq shooting itself in the foot in its attempts to govern itself post-Hussain.

They might even have been better off with Hussain at this rate! But that is water over the dam. Why let the Iraqis get our troops in their sights, along with their own countrymen?

Doug said...

The Shiites would get the majority of the military's toys (once the government splits up, which it invariably would without US support) and then start a new round of ethnic cleansing unparalleled so far. To leave right now is to sentence most of the Sunnis and many of the Shiites to death or exile due to the total release of pent-up rage from the Shiites.

Anonymous@3.47, everything you have described is happening right now, by all accounts with the full sanction of the Maliki government.

Now, to counteract that, we would have to either clean out the entire government and install puppets, or send in another couple hundred thousand U.S. troops to do the Shiite-wrangling that Maliki's government and the indigenous defense forces currently can't (or aren't willing to) do. So which one of those would you prefer?

DC Trojan said...

Historical note: the US stayed in Germany and Japan for 50 years because they were levelled, and part of their not re-arming was based on having US forces on their soil to counter-act the USSR and the PRC.

One could make the argument that the US could attempt the same thing with Iraq, but that would require "pacification" on a scale that I doubt the American public is likely to suggest.

As for the rhetorical gambit of claiming that Harry Reid is telling our troops that they lost - the politicians and senior command are responsible for this debacle. I won't presume to know what the average soldier / Marine thinks but I'm guessing that their self-confidence isn't being dented by Beltway infighting.

Anonymous said...

Being a US service member I am insulted by Harry Reid saying we lost...We HAVEN'T lost by a long shot. As a matter of FACT we have WON every engagement with the insurgency. From a military standpoint this has been an overwhelming success.
Also most Iraqis want us here and ARE willing to work to make their country better.
We HAVE turned the corner in Western Iraq, that is a FACT. Look it up.
I don't like Donald Rumsfield and his arrogance was mind numbing.
He was told in 2002 by the former CENTCOM Commander that at least 350000 troops were needed to
1) Defeat Hussien
2) Win the peace

He didn't listen and here we are.

The new MNF-I Commander has the right idea and his tactics are similar to David Gouya's in French Algeria. Don't know what that is?
By 1954 a David Gouya French Army had defeated a similar insurgency that we face but the French people had been fed a steady stream of "we lost". The leader of that insurgency had been captured and jailed. When the French troops pulled out this guy was made their president.
Bit off more than we can chew? I don't think so. Let me say it again. We WHIP THEIR ASS when they face us. The ONLY thing the insurgency can do is set off IED's and we CLOSE to defeating that.
I love the way guys on this blog and the blogger love to ridicule ANYTHING that is Republican and give opinions on Iraq that have NO real base outside of the steady stream of BS fed to him by CNN and other media outlets.
How bout't this? Enlist serve over there and then give an opinion.