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Withdrawing from Iraq

The Democrats are pushing for a definite withdrawal from Iraq within 4-6 months. Rabee argues, in a carefully written piece, that this is fine and will not leave the situation any worse than it was before the war. In particular he argues the Iraqis will not permit al-Qa’ida to operate once the US leaves.

The ‘neocons’ however argue that withdrawing abruptly will produce a bloodbath – and that al-Qa’ida, which is currently operating with Sunni insurgents, will continue to do so making Iraq a base for terrorist operations against the West. Quoting Robert Kagan and William Kristal:

‘Some seem to believe that things are already as bad as they can get in Iraq. This is wilful self-deception. Were the US to withdraw from Iraq prematurely, the sectarian violence we are seeing today would seem minor compared with the bloodshed of a genuine civil war. There would be no decent interval, no moment when the Iraqi people peacefully separated themselves into their respective sectarian quarters. They would battle for control of cities and towns and resources across most of the country.

The result would be real, bloody ethnic cleansing of the kind that the US twice intervened in the Balkans to prevent, of the kind we failed to prevent in Rwanda and of the kind we are shamefully failing to prevent in Sudan. The difference in Iraq would be that this time the US would be more directly responsible for bringing about this humanitarian nightmare’.

Kagan and Kristal suggest instead boosting US forces in Iraq by 50,000. Such a strategy would do what previous strategies have not done: provide the number of US forces necessary to achieve even minimal political objectives in Iraq. Such an effort would begin by increasing US force levels in Iraq by at least 50,000 to clear and hold Baghdad, without shifting troops from other contested areas of Iraq.

I hope those supporting withdrawal have a clearer view of the future than I do and that they understand this is not the occasion for academic anti-American parlor games. I can’t see how one can assess that things would be no worse than before the war. For one thing there is now no authoritarian dictator in charge and there is widespread civil strife with a host of recently established grudges and hatreds. On the other hand increasing US forces in Iraq by 50,000 does not seem plausible – more of the same does not seem a viable option given the difficulties experienced so far.

6 comments to Withdrawing from Iraq

  • jack

    Brilliant, measured analysis, the best I have read so far. And to think he has been a guest blogger on your site all this time!

    He also makes an important point, Harry – that the Lebanese civil war is an excellent model for us to study in relation of what is likely to happen to Iraq once the US ignominously cuts and runs. This will happen sooner than you think. This is as I predicted Deaths in Iraq thread.

    Your claims, posted earlier, that without the Americans, Iraq will descend into a worse hell, are unsupported by any kind of evidence.

  • hc

    No kind of evidence? What about the massive civil conflict currently occurring in Iraq right now that involves all-out-warfare between two groups of Muslims? These people will stop killing each other and embrace their common national future when the Americans leave?

    I really hope Rabee is right and that things will settle into a civilised civil war!

  • Jack

    “Worse hell”. Get worse, degenerate. Can we have some rigour here?

    Rabbee argues that the situation will not be worse than before the war, i.e. the killings and suffering of ordinary Iraqis as a result of Saddam’s repression.

    You say that Saddam was so bad all the current murder and mayhem is worthwhile because it stopped an intolerable situation.

    But the war and its aftermath has killed more people and created a civil war.

    I would go so far as to venture a prediction that after the Americans leave (as they will, and soon, irrespective of what you and John Howard would prefer) things will improve and settle down as various factions come to some sort of modus vivendi.

    You are conflating the “now” with what will happen “after” Americans leave. You have not supplied any evidence for your claim.

  • derrida derider

    Sunni and Shia are in fact united on one single issue – they want the Americans out. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows that. Ironically, the only major group who want the Yanks to stay are the foreign jihadists – they need targets.

    True, if the foreign jihadists drove the Americans out of Iraq it would indeed embolden the terrorists. But there is nothing new about invaders being driven from a country by the locals, which is what is happening – the foreigners are very much bit players. While it is indeed mostly Iraqis who are dying, because they’re soft targets, according to the US military over 80% of all attacks by the insurgents are directed at US forces. There is a lot more popular resistance, as distinct from internecine strife,than our media is letting on.

    As I’ve said before I’d also have more sympathy for the “well maybe it was a mistake to go there but now that we’re there we have to stay” line if the people pushing this line were interested in pursuing accountability for the “mistake” (read: unprovoked war of aggression).

  • hc

    Jack this is getting a bit tedious. None of the points you make are pertinent to the argument. The war has created more deaths but that does not mean a US withdrawal will improve things. I am not ‘conflating’ anything whatever that means. There are reasons for supposing things will be a disaster if the US withdraw – witness the 80 muslims killed by other muslims in Iraq over the past day and the kidnapping of 100 in Bhagdad.

    Derrida you might be right in saying that from the viewpoint of truth and justice those who made mistakes in Iraq should be brought to account. But how is that relevant to the situation of those now living in this conflict now?

  • jack

    Conflating – mixing up various strands of argument through confusion.

    I don’t have to argue that “a US withdrawal will improve things”, although this is my belief.

    The original argument by you, taken from Kristol et al, was that things will get worse if the Americans leave.

    Here are my thoughts why you are wrong:

    1. The “evidence” you bring to bear is that muslims are killing other muslims, now. But this is not evidence, of itself, that if those killings continue as they do now, things will get worse. If things stay the same that means they will not get worse. On the other hand, the longer the US has remained in the country, the worse things have got. So if the US stays in Iraq, on available evidence things WILL get worse.

    2. Your argument that the killings are of “muslims by other muslims” is either a naive argument, or an argument in bad faith. You are well aware that this is a civil war between factions AMONG muslims. That is, one group of muslims vs another group of muslims. It would be fair to say that the two predominant groups of warring muslims are supported by external champions, such as Iranian Khomeinists backing Shia on the one side, and the Gulf states/Saudists via Syria, and the al Qaeda, on the Sunni side. It can be said that it’s a war by proxy between Shia and Sunni for ascendancy in the Middle East generally. The problem here with your argument – which ascribes, falsely, a homogeneity and therefore an irrationality to the warring sides – is that the conflict now requires an intervention by a rational and wise power that is not motivated by self-interest. A fair-minded umpire, if you like. This argument is grossly flawed precisely because the US is seen, correctly, by both warring muslim sides, as being after the control of oil in Iraq, and the revenues that flow from it, and a desire in breaking the OPEC cartel via control of Iraqi oil. In addition, there is nationalist resentment of the opportunity afforded by US appointed administrator in handing out Iraqi national assets to US companies such as Halliburton, Bechtel, Exxon Mobil, MCI, Time Warner and Boeing, among others.

    3. The US is seen as an irritant and a lot of the violence is specifically directed at those Iraqis who are cooperating with the invader. There is good reason to believe that if US leaves, that aspect of the bloodletting will cease (i.e. killing of recruits).

    4. You also imply that the only alternative to the US in ending the war is “an authoritarian dictator” but one isn’t available right now so it is either the US or nothing. That is patently false. There are numerous scenarios apart from strongman and US occupation.

    My argument why things will not only be “not worse/same” but better if the US leaves:

    1. Iran-Syria talks may resolve far more than US occupation. With the US gone, the options will open up.

    2. There is nothing like a bit of oil revenue to settle down the aggravation.

    3. The Lebanese civil conflict wound down as factions started wheeling and dealing. This is a fair indicator of what is likely to happen because of the similarity of the issues and circumstances of the breakdown of the civil society – an invasion by a foreign power.

    Conclusion. Eventually, with the US out of the picture, self-interest will re-assert itself and there will be an accommodation between warring factions. Or one side will win and things will wind down. As long as the US occupies Iraq this will not happen.