Sunday, July 17, 2005

The coalition of the (not-so-)willing (anymore)

Britain's defence secretary, John Reid, has announced that British forces will slowly be withdrawn from Iraq over the next 12 months. Britain's military presence in Iraq is quite overstated -- there are only 8,500 troops there, mostly in the more peaceful south -- but Britain has, of course, been America's chief partner in the Iraq War (and, really, Bush's chief source of legitimacy for what was, rightly or wrongly, an act of American unilateralism backed up by a measly coalition of small and in some cases tiny allies (nothing against Poland, but you know there's something wrong when it's one of your most important military supporters).

But what will a British withdrawal mean for the U.S.? What will it mean for the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of the occupation? Will the U.S. pull out sooner rather than later? Or will the U.S. at least scale back its military presence significantly? If so, what will happen to Iraq? Are Iraqi forces ready to take over the burdensome duties of securing peace and dealing with the insurgents? Will a decreased U.S. presence lead to chaos, anarchy, full-out civil war? Will Iran become an even bigger player in Iraq's domestic politics? Will the violence in Iraq spill out into its neighbours? Will Iraq become more or less of a training ground for international terrorism?

Ah, so much to think about. It's likely a no-win situation, at least in the short-term, but I do think the U.S. needs to stay there as long as is necessary to get the job done. It's Powell's old Pottery Barn rule:

Iraq's broken. Fix it.

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  • Not to make this a partisan issue, but I bet the Republicans are very nervous about this. If most of the US troops are still there in 2008 and the insurgency hasn't lessened, it's not going to be easy to run on a platform stressing foreign policy. (Of course, how this plays might depend on whether or not there is another terrorist attack in the US. If so, does this help the GOP because they look strong or hurt them on the grounds that Iraq didn't improve our security?) I always assumed that the troops would be mostly out by 2008 because the GOP would not want to run with troops still in Iraq, but it might be difficult to do. W isn't likely to pull the troops and let the situation go to hell because that is is legacy and, of course, he won't be running in 2008.

    One of the problems is that, no matter how strong the US or Iraqi forces are, it's going to be impossible to stop all insurgent attacks, given how easy they are to arrange and, given the number of terrorists that are using Iraq as a training ground. I can't see the violence subsiding for a long time although it may not devolve into a true civil war.

    I have read some arguments that the US should set a date to get out because it would (according to this argument) defuse part of the rationale for the insurgency. Of course,this depends on whether you think the insurgency is primarily nationalist--ie, they are fighting only to get the Americans out--or is more of a transnational attempt by Islamists to get control of Iraq.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:02 AM  

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