There is nothing like visible, extreme events to trigger off strong views. The past few murderous days in Iraq have John Quiggin arguing that, although a pullout of US troops from Iraq would be a disaster, there is no better option than to set an immediate timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq sometime next year.
This is a more than a knee-jerk reaction however since it is also the current policy of the Australian Labor Party. But I just do not understand such views.
In his recent post, JQ is responding to, and rejecting, Lawrence Kaplan’s claim, in NRO, that there is a case for staying in Iraq and for abandining the current implicit drift in US policy that supports cutting-and-running. JQ argues, instead, that as the US will not commit troops necessary to make Kaplan’s proposal work, the best option is to preannounce a withdrawal. But, if one believes withdrawal will be a disaster for Iraq, better policies are for current troop deployment numbers to remain or, at least, to express a verbal commitment to maintain the commitment as PM Howard has done, prior to any eventual reduction. How can pre-announcing a cut-and-run policy improve the situation in Iraq when much of the current conflict reflects sectarian concerns within Iraq between Sunni and Shia? Will these violent concerns diminish if the US and its allies withdraw?
Kaplan is saying that the US is withdrawing from Iraq with US reconstruction aid already running out, infrastructure disintegrating , insurgency raging and with religious factions fighting in what some alarmists claim is approaching a state of civil war. Recent concerns in this regard follow the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra. This bombing and subsequent attacks on 27 mosques in Bhagdad, are an attempt to drive a civil war, although it is doubtful these events, in themselves will do so. More likely there will be limited reprisals, demonstrations withe people of Iraq returning to their miserable, difficult lives.
According to Kaplan, the US looks to many Iraqis ‘like an honest broker’ preventing the country’s disintegration. The US presence has become a buffer between Iraq’s two major religious sects and between relative order and mayhem. Where the US does not operate in Iraq it seems nothing works. Competing local sects control government ministries as fiefdoms, where connections count for everything and ability for nothing. And, just as the ministries ignore direction from above, local fims ignore ministries. While the Iraqi military are performing better – they no longer ‘melt away’ – their ability can be questioned as they are dominated by sectarianism. The Iraqi police operate as brutal militias and oppress Sunnis. In some areas previously anti-American Sunni’s are turning to the US for protection. If the US withdraws Iraq could become an even more devastated horror show. On sectarianism in the military and the police and the codoning of militia activity see the New York Times here. Quote ‘The militias pose a double threat to the future of Iraq: they exist both as marauding gangs, as the violence on Wednesday showed, and as sanctioned members of the Iraqi Army and the police’.
The need is to isolate the population from the insurgents by providing them with security. This is the only way to win this type of asymmetrical war. But the US administration intends to draw down troop levels to 100,000 by the end of this year, with the pullback already well underway as US forces surrender countryside and head for their major bases. Implicitly the US seem to be accepting defeat. Kaplan (and following him, JQ) cite a single military officer as saying that 180,000 troops, more than double the number under intended policy, are needed. I am unsure how much weight should be placed on this single officer’s assessment but the clear implication of Kaplan’s argument is that the current intended number of troops is too low and that the US should stay the course and at least maintain troop numbers until the situation stabilizes.
An effective counterinsurgency strategy requires times and patience but the US seems close to having exhausted its resolve. Global pressures to induce them to leave will further weaken it. The need now is to support the people of Iraq by not leaving the country in a state bordering on civil war but, instead, to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by US bombing, secure major roads and seek a non-sectarian, effective civil administration, police and army. A major initiative should be to provide public sector employment for unemployed Iraqi male youth. Another essential initiative iis to replace the current government with a non-sectarian alternative.
The initial case for going into Iraq is an irrelevant ‘sunk cost’. Moreover, the bitterness many feel towards the Coalition’s intention to go into Iraq is clouding judgements. That the invasion itself may have been a military disaster does not deter from the fact that the current difficult – though not impossible – situation must be addressed.
One part of the current problem is the role of Iran and this is something that can be addressed, if necessary by military action. Indeed 31% of Americans now regard Iran as the US’s most significant enemy . In-so-far as Iran is funding the Shia uprising in Iraq and threatening to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, these perceptions of the US public are accurate.