WITHDRAW FROM IRAQ? RECOMMENDED READING AND COMMENTARY:
Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye set off a blogospheric dialogue on the prospect of withdrawing from Iraq – all thoughtful and considered arguments from the participants:
Additional Related Links:
“Iraqi Guerillas Make Key Demands of CIA at Cairo Conference” by Juan Cole at Informed Comment
My best forecast is that the United States will make a partial withdrawal from Iraq because the U.S military absolutely requires it at the current level of force structure, regardless of the situation in the Sunni Triangle. We’ll probably do a mix of deal-cutting, unleashing of the loyalist paramilitaries and reducing to a heavy-duty ” sledgehammer” force to hang in the background and support our Iraqi allies.
The post-Cold War demobilization that occurred during the Clinton and first Bush administration set a force level that was inadequate for the United States to carry out any of its presumed global responsibilities other than short-term MOOTW operations and bombing the hell out of some rogue state by air. Never mind fighting 2.5 or 1.5 wars at once, we’re having grevious personnel rotation trouble with just one.
The mismatch of potential missions with the size of American ground forces is not accidental either but a deliberate policy of politicians from both parties who saw a pot of money in 1990 to use for other things but did not care to admit that slashing the Army from 18 to 12 active-duty divisions also meant changing our strategic expectations for using the Army. A policy of unreality cheerfully continued by the Bush administration for reasons both good ( force the Pentagon to transform) and bad ( it costs money without paying political dividends).
We forget that with an economy 25 % smaller in terms of GDP, the United States once easily afforded parking 300,000 troops in West Germany alone, a mere 15 years ago. So our current dilemma is a matter more of political choice than wallet but the problem cannot be fixed except over a period of several years, so we are left pretty much with employing the paramilitaries alongside an American counterinsurgency effort or giving up.
The loyalist paramilitaries are chomping at the bit, arguing that fire can only be fought with a fire that Washington does not have the stomach to do itself. They’re probably correct – the insurgency can be defeated militarily ( or significantly degraded) but not without getting your hands dirty by slaughtering (or at least jailing) Sunni clansmen en masse until the insurgent networks collapse. It’s a pragmatically ruthless tactic with a record of success in strangling guerilla armies that goes back to the Boer War, but it requires a Lord Kitchener type leader to carry it out and is exceedingly difficult to do and still look like you are the guy wearing a ” white hat”. (Though, perhaps if Zarqawi , whose Qaida Iraq group Juan Cole reports as being ” fabulously wealthy”, assists us by ramping up his own level of ghoulish atrocities, it isn’t impossible).
President Bush, for good or ill, is no Lord Kitchener and even winning on the battlefield this way becomes meaningless unless America also wins in the “moral” and “political” spheres in Iraq. Indeed, the Boer war was won by Great Britain militarily, British ” paramountcy” in the Cape was preserved by bringing the Afrikaaner states into the empire, but the political costs were very high. Arguably, the Boer War weakened Britain’s hold over ” the white dominions” and left the British Empire less willing or able to face up to looming strategic challenges, economic or military.
An outcome the United States cannot afford.