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July 11, 2006


the Iraqis don't want us to leave yet

Well, plainly, many Iraqis do want the US to leave... and have been saying so since 2003.

Pulling out and leaving the Iraqis to a mess we helped to create seems like a solution only insofar as it means that we don't have to see reports of Americans being killed in Iraq on a regular basis.

It would also save the lives of all Iraqis who will be killed by the US occupation from now until the US occupation leaves. Given that, according to first-hand report, US soldiers are killing unarmed civilians on a regular basis for no better reason than they're "Hajji" and could be threatening, this sounds like a plus.

If we are to leave Iraq better than we found it, we will have to help the Iraqi government create an army and police force capable of maintaining order.

And ponies for all.

It was evident, by October 2004, that nothing serious could be done about Iraq until the Bush administration was removed from power, since so long as the Bush administration were running the occupation, it would be run badly. I've seen nothing since to change my mind about this. Whatever the Bush administration's motivations for attacking and occupying Iraq, the earliest date at which a "next step" becomes practicable is January 2009, assuming the electoral problems are fixed and a competent administration is elected. Trying to discuss now what sensible, practical thing should be done is futile: it'll never happen.

this current situation was predictable. that the various Iraqi factions would start fighting each other once Saddam's controlling influence was removed was obvious. that BushCo wasn't being up-front about the reasons for doing it at all was obvious. that BushCo would screw up the occupation was obvious.

i know that doesn't do a damned thing to help us find a way out, but this hole is so deep, the best i can offer is "uh, duh. any fool could've told you that. why the fnck did you dig it in the first place?"

The Iraqi people themselves are divided on whether or not U.S. forces should leave.

Kudos to you for correcting.

I don't believe in an Iraqi national army distinct from the sectarian and ethnic divides in society -- or that if such an institution was possible, that it wouldn't end up running Iraq for its own interests. I do not believe that the US is capable of training Kurds to make war on Kurdistan. We are capable of training Kurds who can and will leave the army when Kurdish interests require. Ditto Shi'a and Sunni, although I'd qualify by saying of both the Arab groups that I think we can train 20% of Sunni soldiers to make war on 'Sunnistan' --for example -- better luck than we'd have with Kurds, but not really worth doing.

If I'm right about this, then the 'progress' you hope to make is an illusion. All we're doing is ensuring the the civil war that follows our departure will include, on all sides, people with better training. And, as I've said, I think that if the plan "succeeds," civil war will only be averted by accession to power of a Sunni general.

And in the meantime, all the negatives of US occupation (pick another word if you don't like that one) continue, and they are not at all limited to the casualties of US soldiers.

I understand the wish to fix what we've broken, but sometimes it just doesn't work that way. Only the Iraqis can make the choices that have to be made; we have no business favoring one faction over another, whether their internal struggle is violent or not.

I wonder how public opinion might differ on whether we ought to leave or stay between (a) Iraqis living/working in the Green Zone; and (b) Iraqis living in the rest of Iraq.

I'd guess that (1) the contrast would be striking and (2) the views of folks in group (a) are very substantially overrepresented in US military/political/media thinking.

I have a few ideas for a next step. I'm not saying that my ideas are perfect--I don't even know that they'd work and I suspect that we'll have ponies for all before they're carried out, but maybe they'll stimulate some discussion so here goes:

1. GWB goes to the UN on bended knees and begs for help in cleaning up the mess he made. No excuses, no whining about how the UN should have helped in the first place. Full up responsibility and pleas for help. If he can get Tony Blair to join him, so much the better, but no trying to dump the blame on him either: Bush led, Blair followed.
2. If the begging works, the US turns control of its troops over to the UN as part of a multi-national peacekeeping force paid for by the US. US troops should probably be kept away from civilians as far as is possible because their reputation is dirt right now, but they will probably be needed as support.
3. The purpose of the new force is to protect the people of Iraq. That means being accessible. It should be possible for a civilian in trouble to run to a peacekeeper and expect to be protected, not shot at.
4. The US needs to pay whatever it takes to rebuild the schools, hospitals, roads, etc it destroyed.
5. It might be a good idea for Islamic and Arabic countries to have a role in the peacekeeping operations, but maybe not: I'm not sure about the subtleties of intra-Islamic or intra-Middle Eastern politics and giving the wrong group access could be a disaster. Hopefully, someone with more knowledge in this area could work on this problem.
6. The government elected by the people of Iraq is the Iraqi government. No matter how little we in the US or in the western world approve of it. Anyone who wants a say in who the Iraqi government will be can move to Iraq and apply for citizenship. No one else's opinions should matter.
7. If US or UN troops committ crimes or are responsible for accidents they must be held accountable.

Basically, I think the problem with the current situation is that the US has no credibility as peacekeepers or liberators. They are occupiers. The above suggestions are geared towards changing that impression/reality and improving living conditions in Iraq. My idea is that happy people whose needs are being met don't generally join insurrections and that the exceptions can be dealt with by the legal system a la McVeigh/Nichols et al. Any thoughts on whether it might work?

Ponies for all indeed

I am reminded of the classic situation in Catch 22 where Colonel Cathcart is trying to please both Generals Dreedle and Peckham but can't because they hate each other. Any overture he makes towards one alleanates the other. This is like the Sunni and the Shia. I don't see how this circle will be squared.

It reflects the fundamental misperception that Saddam created Iraq whereas in reality Iraq created Saddam

Dianne: Any thoughts on whether it might work?

At this point? Honestly, I don't think anything will work. I think even November 2004 was probably too late to fix it, but that was certainly the last chance.

Your ideas are great, but I'm afraid I'm murmuring "Yes, and a pony". It's a series of fantasies about what it would be nice if it could happen, but it can't. (Step 1 is beautiful. But when you have to begin with an impossibility, the rest isn't going to go anywhere.)

Sigh. You're right, Jes. But I can't think of any solution that can be effected by the US alone or with only Britain as its ally at this point: neither country has any credibility any more. Maybe pulling out, hideous as it would be, would be the best solution: Get the damage over with so the healing can start. VietNam is better off now than when the US was occupying it, maybe Iraq will be in a better condition in 30 years as well. On the other hand, the Viet Minh were probably more reasonable than any of the groups vying for power in Iraq so maybe not.

Very good post; very good comments. I have little to contribute except to say that I watch Sistani. I believe Sistani is as good as it gets in the ME, is more interested in the well-being of all the Iraqi people than almost any other Iraqi, and rarely if ever lies. If and when Sistani wants the US to leave, we will leave. Therefore, etc.

I know Sistani early in the occupation wanted us gone, and it is possible that in 2003-04, with Americans gone or leaving, in desperation something might have been worked out. Now I think the official position is presence, not occupation. I would analyze that to see what it might mean.

A premature withdrawal and a lost war would be a disaster for everyone. I think too many liberals or Democrats underestimate the costs and consequences of withdrawal.

I do not know how to win this war.

You're right -- every option sucks, but Option 1 seems to offer the best chance of minimizing future casualties (both US and Iraqi), so it gets my vote.

Andrew -
You provide a much needed discussion. I thought it was well-reasoned and find myself on the same page with you. (Thanks for sticking your neck out. You're very brave!)

I try to read a variety of Iraqi and military blogs to get a sense for what people outside the media, administration or left/right blogs focus on. (We're in a bit of a bubble here, ourselves, I think) You can cherry pick these sources, too, but on the whole there still is some hope being professed out there.

As to the nuts and bolts of our situation, a couple of sites I thought enlightening:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0627/p01s03-woiq.html”>Iraqis say US exit plan should await security

http://www.brookings.edu/fp/saban/iraq/index.pdf”>Brookings Institute “Tracking Variables of Reconstruction and Security in Post-Saddam Iraq.”
I believe this is what is meant by “progress.” It looks pretty bleak, but there are some trends that show improvement. In checking out the last few polls, it's always fascinating to me to see the sharp division in opinion between Sunni and all other groups.

The UN? Here's what Annan said recently,

"We had divisions before the war and governments held their views with conviction, but I think now that the war is over, we should focus on stabilizing and building a peaceful and prosperous Iraq," the secretary general said.
Annan also said that in his report to the council on Iraq on July 22, he will not include a recommendation that the council consider a resolution to internationalize operations in Iraq under the United Nations.

Betty Crocker: You're right -- every option sucks, but Option 1 seems to offer the best chance of minimizing future casualties (both US and Iraqi), so it gets my vote.

Option 1 also has the advantage of being in the realm of the possible.

It isn't going to happen, unless Bush for some reason decides it would be electorally advantageous, but Option 1 (withdrawing all US troops) is under US control and could happen, whereas Option 2 is a fantasy and Option 3 is a nightmare.

its a lot easier to make fish soup from an aquarium than an aquarium from fish soup

honestly, I think the coalition should just bail and let the factions work it out - it won't be pretty but a war of exhaustion seems inevitable.

Coupla things to keep in mind:

  • There is no single "insurgency" that we can deal with. There are at least a couple of dozen groups here, including hard-core Ba'athists, religious nutcases of various flavors, and common criminals. All of them have different aims.

  • If we leave, Iran will almost certainly move in to "prevent anarchy". Not good.

  • The rest of the world is getting a real kick out of watching us turn slowly in the breeze. I wouldn't expect any help from the international community.

We have well and truly grabbed the tar baby on this one.

lightning: The rest of the world is getting a real kick out of watching us turn slowly in the breeze. I wouldn't expect any help from the international community.

As a tiny but I hope not unrepresentative part of "the rest of the world", that's not so. (And I'd think that even if UK troops were not in Iraq.)

I'm not getting any kick at all out of the mess the US has made of Iraq. I don't know anyone who is. What has happened in Iraq fills me with despair and horror such that I don't have words for it.

That has nothing to do with the fact that the international community won't help any more than they already are: I think the UK should withdraw from Iraq, because so long as the UK is there as part of the US occupation, it's doing no good and is likely doing direct harm. A realistic look at the situation says that so long as the Bush administration is running things, there is no point in lending help: why pour lives, materiel, and money down a drain that exists possibly because Bush would find withdrawal from Iraq an electoral liability, possibly because some members of his administration still have PNAC ambitions, and possibly because the corporations who are the real Bush base find it profitable for the US to be in occupation. It is not the responsibility of the rest of the world to help the right wing of the Republican party look like a winning party to the American electorate; nor to assist neocons with PNAC; nor to help US corporations make a profit.

But that doesn't mean we're getting a kick out of it.


why is preventing anarchy bad ?

Leaving aside hurt ego's do you have an actual reason you would like to suggest for staying

Staying simply to make the previous deaths mean something is a recipe for never leaving. We all create our own meaning for our lives, it is not something provided for us by others.

Andrew, thank you so much for this. There are no attractive choices, and haven't been for years, but it makes a huge difference not to be told that it dishonors the fallen even to consider any choice but more of the same.

While I disagree with Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb about the time it should take to withdraw ("We can be out in two years," he said on This Week with Geo. Stephanopoulos this past Sunday), I like the way he goes at the heart of the difference between a real policy and the administration's drift:

America is fighting the wrong war in Iraq. But while we entered this war recklessly, we must leave carefully. This can only be achieved when the administration clearly states that the United States has no long-term plan to occupy Iraq. The Middle East nations in the region must then be engaged, along with our global allies, in finding the solution for the future of Iraq.

I'm for a Democratic-controlled Congress making the administration state that there will be no permanent occupation or bases, and if they won't: on to 2008.

Renunciation of bases is the absolute minimum first step if we expect to be able to have any ability to manage the end of the occupation.

The posts on what to do in Iraq, written here and elsewhere, have certain elements in common. First, they divide our choices into three options: withdraw, escalate and stay the course. Second, they tend to assume away any domestic political difficulty in following either of the first two options. Nevertheless, we can try to squeeze some fresh juice out of Andrew's contribution.


1. Except for Victor Hansen and Ralph Peters, no one seriously considers the Iraq war to be vital to national security. Bills on bringing back the draft have gone down to crushing defeat. Widely publicized articles about increasing difficulties in recruitment have largely had little legislative response. So if we want to escalate, it's with the army that we have. Given that it's a volunteer army, i have my doubts that we can radically ramp up deployments to Iraq without even more serious adverse consequences on recruitment and retention.

2. Staying the course is the only option available to the current administration. Withdrawal would equal defeat. (witness the struggles that the israelis had in leaving lebanon just recently.) but staying the course should mean that we are getting somewhere we want to go.

I see little evidence that the trained military and police forces are loyal to the central govt of Iraq. The Kurdish forces are quietly committing / supporting ethnic cleansing and are waiting for the departure of US forces to form their own state. (If I were a Kurdish politician, I'd bet that the US will not let Turkey, a member of NATO, invade a newly-declared Kurdistan. I might be wrong, but it's likely a chance worth taking.) Shia forces, even the regularly-constituted ones (not the militias or death squads), appear to be unlikely to swear loyalty to a Sunni leader.

random historical analogy: France was only briefly occupied by the Germans, so there was only a limited number of collaborators. yet family stories as well as published history indicates that there was a pretty vicious accounting (reglement de contes) once France was liberated. Many Shia religious leaders, like Sadr, consider Saddam's rule to have been a period of occupation, and are still waiting for the chance to fully settle accounts.

3. what might work? The only possible chance for peace is a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Commission, lead by a broad coalition of Iraqi religious leaders. But only the iraqis can decide whether to follow that path.

I'm not getting any kick at all out of the mess the US has made of Iraq.

Nobody is. I'm sure everybody has the deepest sympathy for the Iraqi people.

But I've heard a lot of crowing about the US sticking its foot into a hole.

"Except for Victor Hansen and Ralph Peters, no one seriously considers the Iraq war to be vital to national security."

I consider the ME in general, and the free flow of oil in particular, vital to US national security. Even if the US imported no ME oil, or imported no oil at all, I would consider those things vital interests.

I do not think those interests can be easily protected while Iraq is in anarchy or civil war. I do not think the countries surrounding Iraq will develop politically or economically as quickly with an unstable Iraq.

why is preventing anarchy bad ?
Nothing wrong with "preventing anarchy". We don't need another Afghanistan or Somalia. But there's no way the US will let Iran take over.

Since the Carter administration, nobody in the US government has been able to think rationally about Iran.

Oh, while I'm asking for ponies, I have another suggestion for how the US might make a miniscule improvement of its reputation in Iraq: dump this silly claim of "immunity" and prosecute any soldier--or contractor or civilian official associated with the government-- who is accused with credible evidence of a war crime or allow the ICC to do the same. Without such accountability, the Iraqi people might reasonably continue to assume that the whole US military is made up of Steven Greens. (Disclaimer: Of course, it isn't. But until the military is willing to clearly show that it will not tolerate and protect rapists and murderers within its ranks, all soldiers will be suspect.)

There is no glee about the US Iraq mess in Europe. Everybody suffers. Most Europeans are appalled about the atrocities the Bush administration committed and the mess they created. The sooner it ends, the better for everbody. Most would be willing to help.

The world, however, is still waiting for a decent admission of guilt and the punishment of the responsible actors. Bush and co. are still unwilling to listen, unwilling to learn and unwilling to cooperate. Everybody has seen how Bush mistreated loyal Tony Blair and sensible UN actors. Firstly, the US must admit its guilt and accept to step back. The US presence does not help and US politics colour every effort to the detriment of a solution (eg Maliki photo op).

Secondly, the US must fund a decent reconstruction package (pottery barn rule) under UN supervision and managed by neutral, non-corrupt countries (Sweden, Switzerland, ...). More bang for the buck.

Thirdly, the US, Europe and Russia as well as all the neighbouring countries should work out an accepted plan with the major Iraqi players. Is the world willing to accept a split up or not? Currently, it seems that violence is deciding this question. It should not.

Fourthly, given this plan, a UN intervention force mainly staffed by enlightened Arab nations such as Tunisia and Morocco should ensure a managed takeover to full sovereignty (5-10 years).

Given that an unbelievable 30% (Fox viewers?) of polled Americans still approve of the Iraq job of the Bush administration and the current inability to reflect among Republicans, my ideas may sound far fetched, but one can dream about a better world.

"There is no glee about the US Iraq mess in Europe. Everybody suffers. Most Europeans are appalled about the atrocities the Bush administration committed and the mess they created. The sooner it ends, the better for everbody. Most would be willing to help."

I don't believe the last sentence is true for any particularly material level of 'help'. If the US were to totally withdraw tomorrow would the UN help Iraq to any useful extent? Why would anyone thinks so?

I don't think pulling out and leaving the Iraqi civilian population to their own devices is a morally acceptable position. Incidentally this is what the Bush admin is planning for the mid-term future.

Its hard not to fly speck the post when it incorporates so many false assumptions.

We're generally in agreement that the situation isn't good.

This is definitely not the Republican position -- the debate cannot start given the energy devoted by the Bush administration to pretend that this is not so. It is like today's announcement about the wonderful deficit number -- an act of sick and dishonest political theater (overestimate the deficit, celebrate the alleged "success" of a lower number that is by any measure objectively horrible, and then harp on those Dems who just only say negative things, while continuing to do nothing to reduce the deficit since its allegedly not a problem! Republican policy concerning Iraq is no different.)

the Iraqis don't want us to leave yet, if we do leave now we may be condemning the country to chaos,

Uh, most Iraqis want us to leave soon, and the country has already descended into abject chaos while we are present. Our presence no longer serves much function -- particularly since there is little being done to address the security problems.

Without question, once we leave, the civil war will intensify. This is probably a truism no matter when we leave. There is not going to be a time when the country "stabilizes" -- we are probably way past any opportunity for that to happen.

Any decision to stay has to address the reality of the civil war and what we intend to do about it. Your third choice assumes that you can develop forces loyal to "the Iraqi government" as opposed to factions in the civil war. That is hopelessly naive, and is a formula to waste thousands of more American lives (whether killed or maimed). It is a plan of failure that simply avoids losing face in the short run -- but makes it inevitable in the long run.

If we are going to continue our military presence, we have to take active steps to stop the civil war -- we are the only force capable of possibly doing that. The essential ingredient in that struggle (obvious since 2003 -- I remember writing posts about the insantiy of allowing armed militas to fill the power vacuum) is to disarm the militias. That would provoke horrible conflict, but it is the only way out of the hole. So long as that is not done, our continued presence is meaningless, and civil war is inevitable (it may be anyway).

Bottom line -- we are just wasting lives and treasure to maintain the illusion that we will not suffer all of the bad things you fear will happen (loss of face, embolden terrorists, etc.). Guess what -- it has already happened. Your position is just advocating treading water, and hoping tomorrow is a better day.

Furthermore, there is no chance of the Republicans doing anything rational concerning this war -- the record of criminal incompetence and deceit makes it impossible to think anything better will happen. Politics necessitates that the only option available to make things better is to get us out of there, even though in the perfect world it is not the most desireable choice. Its the only workable one.

@Sebastian: I think a coordinated international plan would come up with quite a large fund as the help for the Balkan countries and Afghanistan has shown. The critical resource is not capital but good management and oversight.

The dilemma is that while the US should contribute the largest amount, it should have the least to do with its spending. The world wants to help the Iraqis not Bush. Neither the Bush administration nor Congress will have the guts to do the right thing. So, civil war it is until another dictator emerges or the country splits.

@novakant: Iraqis are not children. Iraq has managed to live (however badly) without US guidance before. While the US carries a responsibility for the mess it created, it is probably futile to impose Western institutions and lifestyles. Otherwise, you have a responsibility to intervene in plenty of other messed-up states.

Workable for whom?

I despise the Bush admin because of Iraq and share the doubts that they'll change, but I have to say that I'm not too impressed with the Democrats either, to put it mildly. Not many seem to feel much of an obligation to get things right anymore, Iraqi civilians and the circumstances under which they have to live appear to be a negligible nusiance in the domestic US debate - it might be the attention span deficit, Afghanistan is all but forgotten already, ruled by warlords and merrily growing poppies for us to powder our noses.

The US should spend more money on Iraq and Afghanistan, send more troops; that alone won't make it right, not by far, but it's the necessary condition. That's what the Dems should be arguing, instead they're playing the old isolationist card. Stabilizing these countries is not a waste of treasure and lives, it's the right thing, both morally and strategically.

This is definitely not the Republican position

This does not invalidate the fact a majority of Americans believe things are not going well in Iraq. In general, then, we as a society are in agreement on that point.

most Iraqis want us to leave soon

Cite, please? The Iraqi government is on record as stating it does not wish us to leave yet. What is your evidence that a majority of the Iraqi people want us out? This is about six months old now, but I couldn't find a more recent cite. It shows 45% of Iraqis wanting us to leave immediately or soon back in November. It's certainly possible that number has moved into the majority in the intevening months, but that then raises another question: who do we listen to, the polls or the elected government of Iraq?

the country has already descended into abject chaos

This is true for portions of Iraq. It is not the case throughout Iraq; in fact, most of Iraq is reasonably calm. The appearance of chaos comes from much of the violence occurring in the capital, and the fact that car bombs are much more newsworthy than quiet provinces. This is not to dismiss the fact that where the situation is bad, it is very bad indeed, but it is an important factor when we consider how much worse it could get.

I haven't really said much on this thread, because it seemed to call for a longish response, and I haven't been able to give one before. However:

I think that the 'stay the course' option relies on some critical assumptions that other people have identified. One is that what the Iraqi army needs is primarily training -- something we can provide -- rather than loyalty to the central government -- something we can't provide. If we are essentially training the future combatants in a civil war, that's not obviously a good thing. I suspect that that's what we're doing.

Another, of course, is that our continued presence (and: our presence in the kinds of numbers, and with the kind of footprint, that 'staying the course' involves) helps more than it harms. I really don't know about that one.

On balance, I think I still favor the 'drawdown option', in which we greatly reduce the number of troops and also radically curtail their mission, for the reasons I described about a year ago. But, as I said then: "we had many, many better options available to us earlier. That we squandered them, and that our soldiers and the Iraqi people will pay the price, is something for which I will never forgive George W. Bush and his administration. The sheer irresponsibility with which we conducted this war is, in my view, criminal."

AO: We're generally in agreement that the situation isn't good.

dmbeaster: This is definitely not the Republican position -- the debate cannot start given the energy devoted by the Bush administration to pretend that this is not so.

Precisely. I fear that Andrew is wildly underestimating the capacity for denial on the right:

"Iraq is better off."

--Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard, 7/7/06

The official line from the administration right now is that everything in Iraq (and Afghanistan) is going just fine, thank you very much, and don't you worry your pretty little heads about it. And this is duly being parroted by the literally hundreds of Fred Barnes's out there on talk radio and cable tv. And I think it's pretty clear at this point that there is absolutely nothing that could happen in Iraq that will shake this faith.

Until that changes, I'm afraid all this "What are we going to do about Iraq?" is an exercise in futility--an intellectual exercise, and nothing more. Which I guess is just my way of agreeing with Jesurgislac: "we" cannot and will not do a blessed thing about Iraq until January 2009 at the earliest.

Sebastian: If the US were to totally withdraw tomorrow would the UN help Iraq to any useful extent?

The main reason why the UN might not would be the attitude of the US. If the Bush administration decided to pull out all US troops tomorrow, they would doubtless declare victory when they did pull out, regardless of the actual situation. Just as the Bush administration forgot about Afghanistan as soon as possible, so they would forget about Iraq as soon as possible: with the compliant media they have come to trake for granted, and no more US soldiers getting killed in Iraq, I don't doubt that the US would then use its veto on the Security Council to stall any useful plans the UN might make to help Iraq - it wouldn't do to have a UN-led mission succeed where the US had failed - and I don't doubt that the US would refuse to fund any helpful projects for Iraq, probably claiming that the "Oil for Food" scandal had proved that the UN couldn't be trusted with major funds. (The American corporate involvement in the "Oil for Food" scandal is one of the many issues I don't doubt the Bush administration would prefer never, ever to be investigated.)

So, no, you're right, Sebastian: if the US pulled out tomorrow, there's no reason to suppose the UN could help: the US wouldn't permit it.

In general, then, we as a society are in agreement on that point.

I didn't see this before I posted, but I have to say I don't see its relevance. "We as a society" are virtually irrelevant to this discussion. Not entirely irrelevant, mind you--I fully expect Rove to seize on public dissatisfaction with the war and try to use it to Bush's advantage. This may come in the form of more "stab in the back" insinuations ("we'd be winning over there if it weren't for the Democrats / the media / Cindy Sheehan / George Clooney / [random boogeyman]"). It may even mean some kind of symbolic, ultimately meaningless "drawdown" of troops just before the midterm elections--maybe we'll see 20,000 or so troops come home in September, complete with ticker tape parades and Mission Accomplished banners.

But beyond that, "we as a society" don't amount to a hill of beans. Were we fortunate enough to have an actually functioning two-party system, things might be different. But that would mean having the Democrats act like an actual opposition party, and everybody knows we can't have that.

But beyond that, "we as a society" don't amount to a hill of beans.

Maybe not; but this is our hill...and those are our beans.

More seriously, it's difficult for me to think that way. Since I'm directly involved in the Army's efforts to forge a coherent exit strategy from Iraq, I tend to see the question as a problem to be solved. It may initially be an intellectual exercise, but isn't that the first step towards making change: determining what change needs to be made? Maybe we'll fail. It's happened before, and it will happen again. But I think it's a safe bet that if we don't do anything, we will undoubtedly fail. Saying we've got to wait until 2009 is implicitly condemning a lot of people to die. Even if I fail, I'd like to at least know that I tried.</idealism>

@Andrew Olmsted: most Iraqis want us to leave soon. Cite, please?

WPO Poll: Iraqi Public Wants Timetable for US Withdrawal: "The poll was conducted for WorldPublicOpinion.org by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and was fielded by KA Research Limited/D3 Systems, Inc. Polling was conducted January 2-5 [2006] with a nationwide sample of 1,150, which included an oversample of 150 Arab Sunnis:"

"Asked what they would like the newly elected Iraqi government to ask the US-led forces to do, 70% of Iraqis favor setting a timeline for the withdrawal of US forces. This number divides evenly between 35% who favor a short time frame of “within six months” and 35% who favor a gradual reduction over two years. Just 29% say it should “only reduce US-led forces as the security situation improves in Iraq.”

Incidentally, six months, two years or gradually were the only options presented. Haditha, the rape and other US actions will not have improved ratings.

Iraq is a political problem. Solving the military question via an exit or drawdown strategy does only work if there is a political solution in place (sort of Clausewitz in reverse).

Idealism's good, Andrew. Mine's been beaten out of me for the foreseeable future, but that's not a fate I would wish on anyone else. I don't mean to denigrate the work that you're doing or the questions that you're asking.

But ultimately, reality has a way of rearing its ugly head. To me, the reality is that George Bush has no intention of leaving Iraq whatsoever. Put the rhetoric about "standing down while they stand up" aside, and look at the actions of the administration. There is nothing that suggests an interest in leaving Iraq. Nothing. On the contrary, there's a great deal that suggests that the intention is for the US military to remain there as a significant presence indefinitely.

Saying, as Jes has, that nothing can be done about Iraq until 1/09 isn't just throwing up one's hands in disgust. It's not capitulating to a corrosive cynicism. It's recognizing the facts.

Andrew: Saying we've got to wait until 2009 is implicitly condemning a lot of people to die.

Of course. And I would prefer those people to live. But, facts are facts. Bush is in power till January 2009. The last chance the US had to change anything in Iraq for the better was November 2004: that chance is gone. Assuming that the electoral problems are fixed and a competent President with the will to fix the problems of his predecessor is elected, then there's the possibility of change for the better.

Andrew - I would be interested in your thoughts of the Iraqi military's current or future (within the next two years) capability of repelling an invasion from Iran without US help. We keep hearing the (supposed) administration position that we'll leave once the Iraqis can handle the security situation. Is that the internal security situation or the external one?

And if its the internal one, assuming it can be accomplished, are we really going to leave the country without the necessary means to defend itself from (admittedly hypothetical) foreign invaders?

Iraq is a political problem. Solving the military question via an exit or drawdown strategy does only work if there is a political solution in place


That's true, but there is a political solution in place: the existing government. If they have a force capable of maintaining order, then they can enforce that political solution.

That still leaves open the question of whether or not the forces we're training will be loyal to the central government, however, and that's not a question I'm able to answer.

Uncle Kvetch,

I think I understand your point. I'm not as convinced that we don't intend to fully turn over Iraq to the Iraqis, however.


That's a good question. Unfortunately, the focus of our training has been on training the security forces for internal security, because that's the current threat. I'm not sure what the plan is for preparing the Iraqi army to face external threats. Or, indeed, if there is one. It seems to me that our forces in Kuwait and the relationship between the U.S. and Iraqi governments ought to provide a reasonable deterrent value against foreign invasion, however. And given the level of training of most militaries in that part of the world, all the Iraqi army would need is some heavy equipment and they ought to be able to defend themselves adequately. Remember, Iraq held off Iran for eight years during their war, despite the Iranian advantage in manpower. As long as Iraq had some armor and heavy weapons, I think they could do the same again.

Andrew: the existing government. If they have a force capable of maintaining order, then they can enforce that political solution.

Not if the government of the US chooses to oppose them. The US occupation stays until the US government chooses to withdraw it.


OK, but the administration has claimed that it will leave if the Iraqi government asks it to. I say we give them enough security forces to feel comfortable asking the question and put the administration on the hot seat.

See, it's pretty simple: if everybody to the left of Bush keeps screaming "bring the troops back home" until 1/09 there won't be any options on the table to change things in Iraq. If the Dems win, they'll have to stick to their word and pull out the troops. If they pull out, the US won't have any control over what is going on in Iraq and a UN force is simply illusory, because nobody would want to send troops - and even if, they're only good for peacekeeping not for fighting in civil wars.
In the expectation that the situation will not get better anytime soon there, this strategy entails leaving the Iraqis to their own devices at the hands of warring factions waging a civil war over oil and other things. It's not like the US hasn't done something similar there before, but it'd be unforgivable to do it again.

So that's why the Dems should stop peddling their self-centered isolationism and start criticizing Bush now and over and over again for being incompetent and not giving a dreck about Iraq. And that's why the Dems should go on the offensive now with a feasible plan on how to fix Iraq, not on how to get the troops home. Else, they should be so honest to admit, that they don't really care about the Iraqis either.

Andrew: OK, but the administration has claimed that it will leave if the Iraqi government asks it to.

Yes, but there are two clear points against that. One, the Bush administration lies like it breathes. Two, given that the Iraqi government knows that it cannot make the US occupation leave, no sane government would put its existence on the line by telling the US occupation to go when they know (as we know) that the US occupation won't go until the Bush administration decides to go. (Bush also claimed he wanted a free democracy in Iraq: but the elections that the Iraqis wanted in 2003, that could certainly have taken place by January 2004, were delayed until after Bush's second inauguration.)

Whether or not you believe the Bush administration's promises is pretty much irrelevant in this situation: the question is whether the Iraqi government believes the Bush administration's promises enough to put their lives on the line by telling the Bush administration to withdraw the US occupation, when all their experience is that the Bush administration reneges.

novakant: And that's why the Dems should go on the offensive now with a feasible plan on how to fix Iraq, not on how to get the troops home.

Given that no Democrat has the slightest ability to do anything to "fix Iraq" now, and cannot have January next year (and that assumes that the November elections give the Democratic party an overwhelming majority in Congress: which seems improbable to me) why are you demanding that Democratic politicians come up with some way to "fix Iraq" rather than demanding this of Republican politicians? The situation in Iraq is so unstable that any plan proposed in July will likely be untenable in January: why should Democratic politicians propose plans that cannot be put into practice, that will be ignored and attacked and used to vilify the politician who proposes them (see Charles Bird on "loser-defeatist"), and that will be out of date by the time any Democratic politician can do anything about any of them?

This mess in Iraq is Bush's mess. He made it, and he made no attempt to fix it. And nothing can be done about it until Bush is gone.

Remember, Iraq held off Iran for eight years during their war, despite the Iranian advantage in manpower.

Well, I'm no expert in the Iran/Iraq war, seeing as how I was barely old enough to drive a car when it ended, but it took place before 12 years of sanctions on, and two US invasions of, Iraq. Back then Iran may have had a manpower advantage but it was countered by Iraq's firepower advantage. Today, I find it hard to believe that Iran doesn't have the advantage in both, with the US presence the only countervailing factor.

As long as Iraq had some armor and heavy weapons, I think they could do the same again.

But that's just it, I'm don't think they do, and I don't think there is a plan to give them any (in fact the plan may be exactly the opposite, forcing them to keep us around as protection against Iran).


The Iraqi government seems remarkably confident. They're already going to the UN to demand that U.S. soldiers be subject to Iraqi law. I fail to see why they would be timid about asking the U.S. to get out. I see this as a win-win: if they tell us to leave and we don't, then Bush is exposed as a liar. If we leave, then we're out.

So that's why the Dems should stop peddling their self-centered isolationism and start criticizing Bush now and over and over again for being incompetent and not giving a dreck about Iraq.

But by doing that, they are criticizing a wartime president and it will be spun (or has been spun) that they are treasonous. The reason why the Dems are now all about slef centered isolationism (which use to be a Republican domain for the most part) is that is the only place they can stand without getting beat about the head and shoulders with the treason stick.

I haven't said so before, but great stuff and welcome aboard. Don't mean to pile on, but

The Iraqi government seems remarkably confident. They're already going to the UN to demand that U.S. soldiers be subject to Iraqi law.

Is this confidence or being scared that failure to demand this would have them be the first up against the wall when the Americans leave? I'm sure everyone in Iraq knows it was a 14 year girl who was raped and murdered, so self preservation rather than confidence seems to be the motivating factor here.

you don't get my point Jes:

As things stand it would be immoral to leave the Iraqi population to the mercy of the manifold warring factions and it would be immoral to leave them without the necessary infrastructure (electricity, running water, hospitals etc.); the only force that even stands a chance in providing the security and stability necessary to achieve a better life for Iraqis are for better or worse US troops and money and we need much more of both now.

Simply blaming the situation on Bush or pandering to isolationist sentiment is not going to help one Iraqi improve his lot. It's a cynical attitude not to even contemplate a way forward to Iraq.

I strongly opposed the war, because, amongst other things, I feared that something quite alike to the current situation would develop in Iraq and I was not alone with that feeling. Now the Dem isolationists are telling us, that once the US troops are gone, everything will pan out nicely somehow. This also is cynical or very, very naive.

As for the strategic angle, if we point out that Bush is not sticking to his words, if we present a plan that asks for more troops and money - I don't think even Carl Rove could spin this as defeatism. And more generally parties are supposed to get voted into office for the plans they develop, even when not in power.

Nonetheless, if that's the case, wouldn't self-preservation also suggest they would need to ask America to leave if public sentiment were strongly in favor of that?

I imagine they are balanced on the razor's edge. They can't dis the American's too much, but they have to show some independence. I think it would be pretty optimistic to imagine an absence of these kinds of political calculations. And when we do leave, I imagine many of the faces of the Iraqi government are going to be rather ruthlessly murdered, which is going to further diminish respect for American foreign policy. Westerners in general and Americans in particular have a hard time imagining the kinds of options and weighting of choices that exist in a situation that is as bad as Iraq and I would be cautious in drawing any straight lines from what Iraqi government officials say and what this suggests about public opinion.

I don't have a lot of time to devote to commenting this week, but I would feel remiss if I didn't give you kudos for one of the best entrances by a new front-page poster on ObWi. I can tell that I will probably spend a lot of time disagreeing with you, but will be grateful to have someone honest and intelligent with whom to do so.

Let me echo Catsy's welcome. I regret not having done that before jumping in with two feet on a couple of threads.

I can't claim to be a real military expert, but I do not think the U.N. (or anyone else) will be able to bail out the U.S. in Iraq.

1) While undoubtedly some groups simply want the U.S. out, I doubt that the vast majority will lay down their arms if the U.N. replaces them. There are too many incompatible objectives; deprived of a common enemy they will fight each other. Given the degree of regional polarization, some foreign troops (Sunni/Shi'a) might spur more resistance.

2) Whatever replacing force will need roughly the same number of troops (or even more) as we presently have. The 400k figure attributed to Shinseki seems more plausible. Even more might be needed, as not all of the prospective donor armies are trained to U.S. levels.

Finding even the present 150k troops seems very difficult. Few countries have that kind of surplus. It's been difficult getting substantial commitments for Afghanistan, and that is smaller, more manageable, and much less controversial than Iraq. The U.N. would likely end up with a mishmash of various armies to get the required numbers.

3) Command and control will be a big problem. Integrating different nationalities, doctrines and hardware is a very difficult task. The scale of operations is enormous, and guerilla warfare requires careful coordination. Our own experience has shown that this is not a job for amateurs.

NATO has had a multi-decade commitment and years of practice dedicated to smooth integration, and it still has trouble. The U.N. does not have the institutional structure or experience required to command such an operation. Developing that kind of structure takes years. Most U.N. *peacemaking* (as opposed to peacekeeping) operations in recent memory have had a lead nation taking operational control. There are very few candidates for an operation this scale. Trying this with a mixed bag of troops is much harder.

4) Logistics. To the best of my knowledge, only the U.S. has the ability to deploy and support 200k troops in a hostile environment like Iraq. The U.S. has unusually heavy logistics requirements, but it also has incredibly superior logistics capability. Most nations won’t have the option of using airlift prolifically to avoid vulnerable convoys. NATO/EU forces are the next most mobile, and their logistics capability is still in an early development stage. There are very few countries in the world that have a substantial capability to deploy troops overseas. The Afghanistan mission is a strain for many of the contributing nations, and they have to borrow and lease transport to make it work. Iraq will be much harder; doing both is going to be very difficult.

5) History and politics. I do not believe that the Bush administration has much foreign credibility at this point. So a plea to the U.N. will fall on very skeptical ears. This administration has difficulty admitting mistakes or mending bridges, and a lot will be needed to make this work. A change of administrations might help, but that's not going to happen soon enough to make a difference.

We had trouble finding troops to come in under our command when things were much more promising. A likely precondition for aid is a change in command, so it's unlikely the U.S. will be the lead force. Our domestic politics will prevent us from putting large numbers of U.S. troops under foreign command, so anyone taking the job will have to do without much U.S. support, making things much harder.

It's pretty clear that Iraq has the potential to be a meat grinder, and will require a long term commitment. It will be difficult to convince someone else to risk it. Most paths lead to failure, which makes it very politically risky, especially in a democratic nation. The European democracies are showing fatigue at their current level of support, and were hesitant even when things looked much rosier. The Arab nations have a regional interest in a good outcome, but having a Sunni army overseeing a Shi'a area or vice versa would be perilous. And I suspect that those national interests will make them suspect in the minds of the Iraqis. Russia can't even manage Chechnya. China's strength is difficult to estimate, but they have little experience in long distance power projection. Who’s left?

6) Time is of the essence. The longer things go on like they are, the more sectarian grudges will accumulate, and the more fractured Iraqi society will be. Some of the prior points can be fixed given sufficient time, but that is in very short supply right now.

In short, I think it’s an open question whether the U.S. can ‘fix’ Iraq. But I simply don’t see any other nation or combination of nations in a position to replace us in the near future.

The first thing I want to say is that you talk like the ultimate outcome in Iraq is something we have some control over. It's more than likely that that is not true.

I also think that discussing Iraq in terms of a "visceral" US distaste for leaving "short of victory" is, more or less, crazy talk. What the hell does "victory" look like? Our agenda in Iraq at this point is *political*, not military. That needs to be our focus. If that isn't glorious enough for some folks, they'll just have to get over it.

If we actually want to secure the country and create the conditions for normal civil life to emerge, IMO your estimate of a year is absurdly low. I make it at 10 or more. If we think we'll get it done in less time we're out of our minds. I also think it will take many more American troops in country than are there now to make it happen. I think we'd be looking at over a quarter million folks for quite a while.

Were we to actually gather up the gumption to commit to the above, there is still no guarantee that we'll succeed. By "succeed", I mean leave behind an Iraq that is stable.

The long and the short of this is the following: invading Iraq in '03 was idiotic, and predictably so. More than "predictably", it was in fact predicted. It was a huge and stupid mistake. Don't believe me, just look at what's going on. We now have a huge mess on our hands. We either make the best of it and clean up after ourselves, or we leave it other folks to sort out.

If we stay it will cost us hundreds or thousands more American lives, some order-of-magnitude-multiple of that in Iraqi lives, and billions upon billions more dollars. That is the reality. We either pony up, or shut up and get the hell out.

Thanks -

Welcone Andrew! Wow! I have done little but read ObiWi posts the last couple of days.


"Riverbend reports from Baghdad. Lost a close friend:"was checking my email today and I saw three unopened emails from him in my inbox. For one wild, heart-stopping moment I thought he was alive. T. was alive and it was all some horrific mistake! I let myself ride the wave of giddy disbelief for a few precious seconds before I came crashing down as my eyes caught the date on the emails- he had sent them the night before he was killed. One email was a collection of jokes, the other was an assortment of cat pictures, and the third was a poem in Arabic about Iraq under American occupation. He had highlighted a few lines describing the beauty of Baghdad in spite of the war…"

Those who consider Riverbend ungrateful for all the goodness America has brought her can skip it. Contain much bitterness and rage, and assertions that cannot be supported by reliable sources like the US military, bless their peace-loving and generous hearts. She just hates us for our freedoms, I guess.

novakant: As things stand it would be immoral to leave the Iraqi population to the mercy of the manifold warring factions

Agreed. It was immoral to create this situation, it is immoral to maintain this situation, it is immoral to leave this situation. Begin by doing an immoral thing, you cannot fix it by continuing to do the immoral thing. It's possible that a brand new administration with no inheritance from the Bush administration could have changed this situation around, and it's even possible that November 2004 was not too late to do so. That time's gone. The Bush administration can't do it - they've had three and half years to show that all they can do in Iraq is make things worse and worse.

and it would be immoral to leave them without the necessary infrastructure (electricity, running water, hospitals etc.);

Oh, god, yes, of course it would. But again - the Bush administration claimed they were going to do this over three years ago, and they didn't, and they're never going to. If the US stays in, the earliest any serious reconstruction will start is January 2009. You think it's moral to leave Iraqis without infrastructure for two years more? I don't.

the only force that even stands a chance in providing the security and stability necessary to achieve a better life for Iraqis are for better or worse US troops and money and we need much more of both now.

The US troops don't stand a chance. True, if they had intelligent, competent, honest leadership in the administration, and if there hadn't been this consistent series of atrocities against Iraqi civilians which went unpunished for years - which are still largely unpunished - they could in theory have been the honest brokers who could have stopped the warring factions. But that didn't happen. If in November 2004 there had been a complete change of leadership, maybe it could have been turned around: but that didn't happen. Now Iraq is engaged in a civil war, and there's really not a bleeding thing that the Bush administration will do about it, or that US soldiers under the present administration can. The US occupation is directly responsible for large numbers of Iraqis being killed: if the US leaves, at least they won't be killing more Iraqis.

More money for the reconstruction in Iraq will go to US corporations who were given no-bid contracts to do reconstruction and who have not done it. The money will be used, as it has been used so far, to pay the salaries of American workers in Iraq, to pay for their bases, and of course to provide substantial profits for the shareholders. There has been no money so far to pay for electricity, water, or other basic infrastructure. There is no reason to suppose that under the Bush administration, any more money - and they have had three years and I've stopped counting how many billion dollars - will do anything more useful.

Saying that nothing will or can happen now until January 2009 is just recognizing the facts. If in November 2008 it just turns out that the new administration is going to be a clear successor to the old administration, same old faces aside from Bush himself, well, there will be nothing that can happen until January 2013.

The Iraqi Invasion

Good News from...well, Zeyad's family has managed to join him in Jordan. Zeyad estimates 1/2 million Iraqis (at least) are resident in a Jordan of population 6 million.

Americans were passing out candy at the border.

Jes, I actually agree with many parts of your assessment, if not your conclusions, what I don't understand is why the Dems don't point this out more often. The bad guys are winning, Iraqis are suffering and taxpayer's money is being wasted. I find it really annoying that the majority of the US center/left is preoccupied with overtaking the GOP on patriotism while they could be asking the president hard questions on Iraq and present something constructive of their own. And the American public seems to be fed enough with the situation that they might even listen to some reason by now, even if they don't agree. The problem seems to me that there really isn't that much difference between the protagonists of both parties, they are both willing to sacrifice may things for a little slice of power.

Jes, I actually agree with many parts of your assessment, if not your conclusions, what I don't understand is why the Dems don't point this out more often.

Nor do I. To a certain extent, I comprehend that the Democrats are dealing with a right-wing media which toadies to Bush, accepts the Republican party line as factual no matter how inaccurate, and routinely repeats slanders against Democrats. No senior Democrat except for Dean seems to think of making use of the Internet, whereas the Republicans seem to have got on to it.

But I think the real problem with the Democratic Party is the same problem the Conservative Party have now in the UK: they are fumbling because they don't know how to present themselves as an effective opposition party. The Conservatives are fumbling because their grassroots membership tends towards the elderly and is generally out of touch with mainstream thinking (Portillo would have been a better party leader than any they've had for years, but there was no way the grassroots Tory membership would have voted for an out bisexual); because a lot of their more popular ideas have been taken over by Labour as Labour drifts rightward; because all they have left is the wildly unpopular right-wing ideas which no one except the grassroots Tory members like.

None of this applies to the Democratic party, but they behave as if it did. Odd.

Every time I copied something to respond to it I found Jaywalker had said more or less what I wanted to say.

No glee, most are shocked I think. People would like to support the rebuilding of the Iraqi society but you cannot do that through support of the US. There has been to much abuse, fraud, pursuit of self interest without accountability (except for a few lower ranked soldiers who couldn't escape the blame).

Schemes were troops/police/judges were trained outside of Iraq could probabely be funded and manned by other countries. And you do need to rebuild those.

If I read you correctly Andrew, you still think that equipment matters more than lives in an allready devastated country though: (or abandon millions of dollars worth of equipment. Given how much the war has already cost, abandoning the equipment seems fiscally unwise, and it would also provide a major propaganda coup to our enemies, so that's not a good answer).


I don't think it matters more than lives, but I don't think we can just write it off easily, either. If we just cut and run from Iraq to the degree we're leaving most of our equipment behind, that strikes me as a good way to lose more lives down the road because it would encourage our enemies.

The more I read, the more I think we need to get the Iraqi government to ask us to leave, declare victory, and get out.

Andrew: The more I read, the more I think we need to get the Iraqi government to ask us to leave, declare victory, and get out.

Lie, in other words.

Well, if a lie is the only way you think the US will get out, it'll save more lives in the long run.

That was a play on Senator George Aiken's famous advice to LBJ about Vietnam, actually.

I think Andrew may be right. At this point, the only practical way for anything useful to happen may be for the US to declare victory and run away (to give an even more cynical paraphrase of Aiken's advice.) At this point I'm not sure the US could do anything helpful for Iraq even if it wanted to and I'm absolutely certain that it doesn't want to. What does the average American think of Iraqis? That they're a bunch of ingrates who don't appreciate how we "saved" them.

Andrew: if it saves lives it should be done. The troops are on the whole not to blame for the chaos their leadership caused and should be withdrawn as save as possible.
If speedy works better though, I'd say they just destroy their equipment (no use to arm the militia) and be fast. Especially if being fast saves more Iraqi lives because though I feel the American troops need protection I feel even more strongly that the Iraqi civilians need protection - so many blood, killing, destrucion has been brought upon them by the US.

Andrew, you go into a lot of detail about how difficult a withdrawal in contact is, and then you toss off this sentence: "unless the enemy were to decide to simply allow the American forces to leave Iraq, a pullout would not be a simple operation."

My question is: why on earth wouldn't the enemy simply allow the US to withdraw? They do, after all, want them out. The muj did not fight hard to stop the Soviets leaving Afghanistan in 1989 - the withdrawal went fairly smoothly, with the muj concentrating on fighting the Najibullah regime around Kabul rather than ambushing the retreating Soviet army. The US has successfully retreated from places like Fallujah before, and was allowed to do so. Why shouldn't a retreat from the whole country succeed?


My concern is that in saving some lives now, we could cost more in the future by leaving all that equipment behind. I'm not 100% set against it, but it strikes me as being the less-preferred solution.


It might. I am not privy to the thought processes of our enemy. They may decide to simply allow us to withdraw unmolested. However, if I were in charge of the enemy, I wouldn't do so. Looking at this from the enemy's perspective, every casualty I can inflict, every explosion I can detonate along the withdrawal path, the better I can reinforce the impression the U.S. is pulling out because it's beaten. It's a marvelous recruiting tool.

While it's possible that a U.S. withdrawal will not be contested, it's unwise to plan for it to be that easy.

Andrew: hence the "destroy the equipment" in my comment. I agree that it would not be wise to leave it as a bonus for whomever finds it first.

Bleh. Maybe the pull out now crowd is right after all.

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