Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The road home

This is the NY Times editorial urging US forces to withdraw from Iraq. There are some bold claims from a newspaper that initially supported the rationale for the war and which has to this time rejected calls for a pre-announced withdrawal. It is an honest statement that spells out the costs of the proposal and carefully qualifies the terms under which 'withdrawal' will occur.

'When Congress returns this week, extricating American troops from the war should be at the top of its agenda.

That conversation must be candid and focused. Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide.

Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.

The administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress, the United Nations and
America’s allies must try to mitigate those outcomes — and they may fail. But Americans must be equally honest about the fact that keeping troops in Iraq will only make things worse’. (my bold)

Recognising that the problems identified might occur - these are also the major claims of those who oppose withdrawal - does not lessen their impact and that final bold phrase is asserted not argued. The key question is ‘worse for who?’. I find it hard to believe that the intensity of the conflict inside Iraq and the scale of the killing will subside if the Americans just exit.

The editorial does identify well-known sunk costs – the US has:

‘...created a new front where the United States will have to continue to battle terrorist forces and enlist local allies who reject the idea of an Iraq hijacked by international terrorists. The military will need resources and bases to stanch this self- inflicted wound for the foreseeable future’.

Moreover, because of ‘terrorism and oil’ the editorial is not suggesting complete US disengagement from the region. Nor is suggesting anything other than a gradual reduction in troop numbers over a period of more than 6 months:

‘...the United States will have to continue to battle terrorist forces and enlist local allies who reject the idea of an Iraq hijacked by international terrorists...

The United States could strike an agreement with the Kurds to create ... bases in northeastern Iraq. Or, the Pentagon could use its bases in countries like Kuwait and Qatar, and its large naval presence in the Persian Gulf, as staging points.

There are arguments for, and against, both options. Leaving troops in Iraq might make it too easy — and too tempting — to get drawn back into the civil war and confirm suspicions that Washington’s real goal was to secure permanent bases in Iraq. Mounting attacks from other countries could endanger those nations’ governments.

The White House should make this choice after consultation with Congress and the other countries in the region, whose opinions the Bush administration has essentially ignored. The bottom line: the Pentagon needs enough force to stage effective raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq, but not enough to resume large-scale combat’.

The proposal sounds like: let the insurrection proceed and back the side that you want to win with macro -moves such as raids and air support. This will reduce US casualties but leave Iraqis at the mercy of terrorists who the editorial claims the US introduced into Iraq.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister spelt out his view of the specific effects of withdrawal today. They accord with the NY-Times views as expressed above but he sees them, as I do, as reasons for not withdrawing rather than withdrawing. The views favouring withdrawal will certainly provide comfort for the terrorists and their inadvertent allies in the western media. This doesn't mean they are unsound views but it it does mean that you want to recognise this and to be very sure of yourself when such assertions are made.


conrad said...

And your alternative is?

It seems to me that to stay forever (or close enough) is the only alternative. However, this cannot possible work, because American troops can really only last as long as (a) foreign governments are willing to subsidize the American government printing press; (b) Americans are willing to borrow money from such great regimes as Saudia Arabia, China etc.; or (c) the American public gets fed up with it.

I find it very difficult to imagine that any of these things would last long enough to make any real difference.

hc said...

Don't announce a withdrawal now.

I like this editorial because it sets out the likely facts. It doesn't engage in wishful thinking about consequences and is honest about the bleak future it sees for the people of Iraq.

I agree and think that the strategic costs of the US losing to terrorists who are attempting to achieve their ends by killing innocents are also large.