Friday, July 29, 2005

The Iraqi nightmare: What to do, when to get out

Two must-reads:

At Slate (see here), Fred Kaplan offers a plan to get out of Iraq by 2007:

The withdrawal clock can't -- and shouldn't -- start ticking until after this December's election, when the Iraqis vote for a new government. (They voted in January for an interim government, which would draft a constitution. The constitution is supposed to be completed in August and ratified in October. This is another reason for Rumsfeld's agitation: Fundamental differences among Iraq's religious factions are threatening to push back the deadline, which would push back the next elections, which would delay—for who knows how long—the U.S. withdrawal.)

At that point, it may take another 18 months for the Iraqi security forces to be equipped and trained -- assuming that, this time, the new government cooperates. So, under this scenario, the United States can start pulling out of Iraq, as Gen. Casey projected, by the spring or summer of 2006 -- and be out entirely by mid-2007.

This schedule would fit well with Republican election plans -- and it's unlikely the Democrats would strenuously oppose the plan. (Do they want to bill themselves as the party in favor of prolonging the war?) It also has the virtue of being a good idea. If the Iraqi assembly hammers out a constitution, if the elections take place, if Sunnis take part and win a proportionate share of seats, then enough citizens may be sufficiently satisfied with the arrangement to undermine the insurgents' base of support and legitimacy -- which is the key to all successful insurgencies.

And if none of these things happen, it will be time to ask whether the American troops in Iraq are serving any purpose, whether it makes any difference if they're back here or over there -- and, if it makes no difference, to ask why they can't just come home.

In the Post (see here), David Ignatius argues that Iraq will survive, though there are signs that the country has already descended into civil war:

A useful rule about Iraq is that things are never as good as they seem in the up times, nor as bad as they seem in the down times. That said, things do look pretty darn bad right now, and U.S. officials need to ponder whether their strategy for stabilizing the country is really working.

Pessimists increasingly argue that Iraq may be going the way of Lebanon in the 1970s. I hope that isn't so, and that Iraq avoids civil war. But people should realize that even Lebanonization wouldn't be the end of the story. The Lebanese turned to sectarian militias when their army and police couldn't provide security. But through more than 15 years of civil war, Lebanon continued to have a president, a prime minister, a parliament and an army. The country was on ice, in effect, while the sectarian battles raged. The national identity survived, and it came roaring back this spring in the Cedar Revolution that drove out Syrian troops.

What happens in Iraq will depend on Iraqi decisions. One of those is whether the Iraqi people continue to want U.S. help in rebuilding their country. For now, America's job is to keep training an Iraqi army and keep supporting an Iraqi government -- even when those institutions sometimes seem to be illusions. Iraq is in torment, but the Lebanon example suggests that with patient help, its institutions can survive this nightmare.

I would only repeat what I have said here before: The U.S. must finish the job it started and must push forward with a more effective plan to build the new Iraq. However, I suspect that domestic political considerations leading up to 2006 will prompt Bush to withdraw a significant number of American troops (and to lessen America's presence substantially) before that job is done.

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10 Comments:

  • The Republicans want out by the '06 primary season. They own the mess in Iraq and if they want to maintain the majority in both houses of Congress, they'd better start getting troops out soon. I think they're gonna start pulling out by March '06 regardless of whether the Iraqis are trained or not. Somehow, when I think of the last U.S. troops leaving Baghdad, it'll look about the same as that last Huey on top of the embassy in Saigon.

    By Blogger Fixer, at 7:36 PM  

  • I respectfully disagree, fixer. The Kurds and Shiites are a much tougher lot than the South Vietnemese were, and I doubt any retreat will resemble Saigon in the level of chaos. The US fleed an incoming army in Vietnam- there is no army in Iraq, just a bunch of loosely affiliated suicide bombers. If anything, these radicals will let the US troops go in peace, and start planning their attacks to disrupt the Iraqi goverment.

    Remember, their end goal isn't an independent Iraq free of foreign influence. It is a Taliban-like regime, an Islamic theocracy. As I understand it, the Vietnam resistance was primarily anti-imperialist as opposed to being driven by ideology (communism). The Iraqi radicals, though against US imperialism, are much more driven by their ideology- hence their hatred for their own governments.

    By Blogger N. Lowe, at 9:34 PM  

  • If... If... If... Well, we are left with few options, thanks to the incompetence of our "leadership." Of course the recent impatience of Rummy, et al is due to the impending elections. The bar for success in Iraq has been lowered to the point that we are being told anything short of us leaving behind a muddy pool of our feces is success in Iraq, never mind the Global War on Terror -- er, the Global Struggle Against ... Oh, screw it, whatever...

    In my 48 years, as an American, as a military brat and as a career serviceman, I've never come close to feeling the way I do today about my government.

    I am ashamed.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:53 AM  

  • As I understand it, the Vietnam resistance was primarily anti-imperialist as opposed to being driven by ideology (communism).

    And our leadership isn't?

    Remember, their end goal isn't an independent Iraq free of foreign influence.

    Neither is ours. Ours is oil, and Iraq was supposed to be a place where the Chimps cronies could make big profits. If you think we went there to bring 'freedom and democracy' to Iraq, you've been watching too much Fox News [cough].

    By Blogger Fixer, at 4:47 AM  

  • Fixer, your responses do not address my topic, which dealt with the nature of the resistance movements, not the American government.

    By Blogger N. Lowe, at 4:12 PM  

  • I really think the old saw about "this is a war for oil" is simply a cliche. Frankly, if all Bush wanted was the oil, he could have lifted the sanctions from Saddam and the oil companies would have been glad to deal with him as the French did. I don't see why the "cronies" as Fixer calls them would make any more money now than they would dealing with Saddam. That's not to say oil wasn't an issue--obviously, the ME is a strategic region and we wouldn't be worrying about it too much if it wasn't for the oil. But I have never bought the idea that the war was simply to get the oil. If so, why not invade Saudi Arabia--they have a lot more oil?

    Plus, you are a bit inconsistent--you say that the war was driven by ideology, but that the goal was to make money for Bush's cronies? Which is it?

    Having said that, I think we are seeing what a stupid policy this was. We are going to get out before the election, I'm sure, and will be leaving a very tenusous situation in Iraq. It probably won't be like Viet Nam or Lebanon, but it certainly won't be the stable democracy that Bush talks about. And, even if it is some sort of democracy, it probably won't be a very liberal democracy. Here is the core problem or trying to impose democracy--our idea of what democracy is is a lot different than what a lot of the world thinks it is. Now you have a situation where the Shiites are trying to eliminate women's rights and essentially impose an Islamic-type government. That may be democracy, but is that what we want? But how do we now say that, no, you can't do it that way, you have to maintain rights for women. Iraq will probably muddle through but I doubt there will be a lot of gratitude for the US and I don't know if the results for the US will be much better than if Saddam was in power.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:39 AM  

  • Marc-

    I see your point about the likely undemocratic nature of any new Iraqi government, but I remain more optomistic. Any government will not look good just out of the gate. This is not Germany or Japan after WWII, but rather it is more like South Korea, Russia, even China as they transition to a true liberal democracy. Namely, there will be corruption, certain freedoms will be curtailed, and any government may not be truly representative, but the situation will be a marked imporovement over Saddam.

    They keys to me are a) can the government provide enough security for sufficient economic growth to take place? and b) Can the govennment retain enough legitimacy that dissidents will channel their gripes within the system rather than assaulted (in both senses of the word) it from the outside. Neither will occur without setbacks, and it may be a case of .0001 steps forward and .00009 steps back, none of which will be evident to the outside world, Western or Arab. But I believe it will be preferable to Saddam.

    I have liberal friends with realist sensibilities who argue that Saddam actually kept a lid on an area that is a powder keg, and that it would have been better to deal with Saddam than the ramshackle coaltion we deal with today. I understand the view, but I just think Saddam would not respond to appeals for improving life for his people, and given the nature of the Bathist regime that there would be no incentive for them to give up the control they had on Iraqi society. Men without morals who live in palaces do not respond to UN human rights commisions, nor do they have much need to reform the economic and political framework of their country.

    To my mind, the only solution to Iraq, unlike Iran and North Korea at this point, was reform through the barrel of a gun. I think Saddam had at least 15-20 more years in him, and that doesn't factor in who might succeed him. The real question is how we could have prepared the ground: gaining international support, building a humanitarian case, assembling an international team of political and economic advisors, etc. We blew it, but I still find the current scenario better than it was before.

    By Blogger N. Lowe, at 12:19 PM  

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