March 22, 2005

Living La Vida Cheapa: Declare Victory and Go Home

Matt Yglesias performs a public service by aptly reminding us--lest we forget ancient history--of the abdication of responsibility laden Clinton years:

Now since I do think the war policy has been grossly mistaken, there's nothing I would like better than such an admission. But even more than a "gotcha!" political moment, I would like to see a good forward-looking policy implemented. I was trying to suggest an alternative rhetorical strategy that I think will have more success. The troops should be brought home because insofar as it's possible to succeed in Iraq we are, in fact, succeeding. Whatever threat was posed by Saddam Hussein is gone. Elections have been held and future political and policy outcomes are in the hands of the Iraqi government. The insurgency is waning to some extent, and it's level of popular support is clearly limited to the Sunni Arab minority. The new government security forces are beginning to perform tolerably in some key areas. Therefore, it's time to start bringing our troops home.

How misguided of Yglesias to call for a major troop reduction at this juncture! I won't bore you with the reasons why a paring down of our forces to, say, fewer than 100,000 would be a gross error at this juncture. But very briefly, suffice it to say Matt is wrong that the insurgency is definitely limited to the Sunnis now (has he forgotten Moktada al Sadr?); he is wrong that new government security forces are ready for full-blown prime time without continued training and presence of U.S. forces for at least 12-18 months yet; he is wrong that Americans have no major role to play in transitioning Iraq towards sustainable political governance structures (it's not just "dumb luck" and new political elites that will shape the future, contra Matt's assurances thereto); and he is wrong to not even consider what impact a major drawdown of U.S. troops would have on insurgent morale (positive, in case you were wondering) just as they appear to finally be feeling the harsh impact of the cumulative months-long effects of a robust counter-insurgency campaign.

P.S. The war policy was "grossly mistaken." But we are "in fact, succeeding." 'Dem chips always fall the chimps way, don't they? What a lucky guy he is! "Dumb luck", doubtless.

Posted by Gregory at March 22, 2005 05:10 AM | TrackBack (4)

Lets not forget what the impact of having 100,000+ US troops in the ME has on all the little autocrats in the region. If they want to flex their military muscles, they know that heavy consequences are uncomfortably near to them. Whatever the relative talent of the US military is in "keeping the peace," few if anyone doubts their ability to destroy armies or cities. I doubt that Syria would even be thinking about withdrawing from Lebanon if the massive US presence in Iraq was not there.

Posted by: Tcobb at March 22, 2005 06:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

John Kerry lost the election. Why should we implement his policy ? I tell you what Matt ,you don't presume to make military policy and we won't presume to tell you how to run your blog.

Posted by: jcleese at March 22, 2005 08:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What about Matt's earlier point concerning the true nature of the status for US bases in Iraq? Does the administration want them? If a democratic Iraq doesn't want US bases will American forces leave completely? Is the US trying a self-interested straddle by attempting to secure treaty rights to bases before the Iraqi democratic government is fully seated?

Posted by: cynical joe at March 22, 2005 08:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whoa, ease up Mr. D. Maybe MY is going a bit overboard with the "dumb luck" comment, but it seems to me that the underlying sentiment is alright: at some point, there needs to be an actual definition of "success," right? I mean, don't we need an actual set of goals that we're trying to achieve, and then we can consider the Mission (actually) Accomplished, and get out? These can be goals that will take many more years to accomplish -- "definition of goals" isn't equivalent to "early withdrawal." But isn't the alternative (to no clearly defined goals) an indefinite military presence in that country?

It seems like that last option, "indefinite military presence," would hurt us in a couple ways: politically, and economically (which is ultimately political too).

So yeah, what do you say to the larger point of "goals?"

Posted by: not_me at March 22, 2005 12:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Troop strength in the greater ME is only one aspect of what is happening. Mr. Bush was clear that Syria leave Lebanon. Dr. Rice has been equally clear that Iran desist from the development of weapons grade uranium. As one carrier heads out of the Eastern Mediterranean two replace it. A significant rift has opened up between the Jordanian Sunnis and Iraqi Shiites, which is understandable if not overdue. Interestingly, 20-some Arab nations are presently meeting in summit talks. The Western leaning oil-producers, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, are not in attendance, neither is Iraq nor Jordan. Voters in Kirigystan are protesting recent elections (remember, Kirigystan is our northern outpost watching Iran. Iran is effectively surrounded, Afghanistan to the east, Iraq to the west, Kirigystan to the north and Kuwait to the south. Putin has reasserted central control over his provinces and has ingored any protections of property privately held in Russia. Can we secure his assistance in dealings with Iran or are we going to remove him from the most favored nations trading list? ) Auzzies are adding to their troop stength in southern Iraq. Turkey wants into the EU and sometime over the next 12 months member states of the EU must vote on a constitution. Speculation runs that the UK, France or Italy could sink efforts to adopt such. There's a lot going on in the region, the price and availability of oil, the future of the EU, Iranian nukes and Syrian withdrawal, which would leave Hamas isolated without Assad's support. Oh yeah, there's the Palestinian/Israeli issue. Shall we leave that for another post? Suffice it to say troop strength may be reduced over the next 12 months but we ain't leaving the region soon.

Posted by: Bill Bradbrooke at March 22, 2005 04:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Goals: 1. a Fully trained and competent Iraqi security force of at least 200,000 able to operate without US advisors or backup. Force must include elements from all major religious and ethnic groups.
2. Fewer than 30 insurgent attacks a month, vs 30 or more a day now (though down from over 50 a day a couple of months ago)
3. Fewer than 5 Iraqis killed a month by insurgents
4. New constitution adopted, and elections held under that constitution.
5. Electric power available at least 80% of the time, in every major Iraqi city. Total power 20% above pre-war level.
6. Total oil production and exports at least 20% above pre-war levels.

Posted by: liberalhawk at March 22, 2005 04:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"'Dem chips always fall the chimps way, don't they?"

As with the Medicare Prescription Bill? The Homeland Security Bill? The stated casus belli for the Iraqi invasion--WMD?

Granted, the chips often do go Bush's way. But far more important from a marketing perspective is the fact that when they don't, Bush has nonetheless been positioned as having been on the winning side all along.

Credit on that score, however, goes to Karl Rove and associates (including commentators who help reinforce the market perception), not Bush.

Posted by: Strange Doctrines at March 22, 2005 05:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What I don't understand is WHY Yglasias wants the troops pulled out of Iraq? What's his point?

Ok, 100,000 US troops leave Iraq - now we can quit spending money on nasty tanks and bullets (and soldiers, for that matter) and now we can use that money for the arts, the environment, or schools?

If we pull out now, will the French, Germans and Russians suddenly like us more?

I suspect that MY and his ilk would hate for the US to be "too successful" and certainly for that success to be associated with the use of military force as part of foreign policy and negotiations.

We spent a decade trying to talk Saddam out of being a bad dude and got nowhere. NOW, they're finally listening over in the ME and changes are finally starting to happen. Trusting to dumb luck and blind faith isn't enough. Ultimately the ME countries will own this change for good or bad; we have a responsibility to make sure that freedom and democracy take hold there for their good as well as our own.

Posted by: DC at March 22, 2005 05:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gotta say that as a critic of the war in Iraq, I nonetheless think Matt Yglesias has it horribly wrong! Most of the posters have hit the nail on the head. Basically the job is half done, and reducing trrop strength now would be a didaster for Iraq and the region.

Gotta finish what you start!

Posted by: Aran Brown at March 22, 2005 08:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Re: Gotta finish what you start!

Maybe. Two days ago, GD is crowing about U.S. success in Iraq, now he's back into cautious statements of the need for the crutch of continued American troop presence for years longer. Flip-flopping - it's not just for the White House anymore.

I fail to see the contradiction between "the war policy was grossly mistaken" - i.e., going in to stop nonexistent WMDs from getting to terrorist groups that weren't in the country - and the fact that US forces have, at great cost and sacrifice and two years plus time and energy, managed to almost lock things down to pre-war normality. Where's the gap in logic? that arrogance and blind consistency toward an ill-defined goal of Middle East democracy can actually be achieved by a nation with unlimited funds and manpower? Wow was MY off...

Liberalhawk has the right idea by proposing metrics of success, unfortunately, no one in the White House or Pentagon wish to share their actual metrics with us. I don't think anyone on the liberal side - well, at least the just-left of center - are dissing signs of success because of some need to feel justified over the inappropriate use of force. It's just when do you determine that endless billions of dollars a month and 40-50-60 dead Americans a month are really not worth this pisshole in the desert? How many more need to die before the neocons feel their agenda is complete?

Posted by: J. at March 22, 2005 08:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Example of success in current-day Iraq:

Army Ignored Broker on Arms Deal

yeah, we're doing great things...

Posted by: J. at March 22, 2005 08:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


How many more "brown people" need to die before the Leftists realize that the neocon agenda is incomplete?

What you're saying is that 40-50-60 Americans are somehow worth more than 10,000 Darfur blacks, or their equivalents elsewhere. I disagree.

Posted by: Mastiff at March 22, 2005 09:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've no interest in rehashing arguments over the war's origins or original aims, nor do I think withdrawing troops now would be wise.

But at some point we will need to withdraw them. The cost of this deployment and the strain it is imposing on the Army, Marines and National Guard are simply not sustainable over a multi-year timeframe. I'm glad of the positive developments we've seen since January 30, not only in Iraq but elsewhere. We still need to be conscious of the fact that American resources are not infinite, and that we have other commitments besides midwifing social and political change in one mid-sized Arab country.

Posted by: Zathras at March 22, 2005 09:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't really agree w/ MY here, but it's worth pointing out that US policy is to have the troop level down to 105K by the end of 2005.

Posted by: praktike at March 22, 2005 09:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Darned leftists interfering with Bush's plans to intervene in Darfur...

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 22, 2005 11:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Unfair Eric. Of course I think you know what he was trying to say, but you just can't resist a little dig. I kind of like that about you.

Posted by: Lance at March 23, 2005 05:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First of all, I would point out that the selfsame GOP that's now all for global interventionism was against any intervention in any of the places where Clinton "abdicated responsibility" at any time for any reason. So if Clinton was irresponsible (and interestingly he has reflected publicly that his chief regret from his two terms was the waiting game on Rwanda), he certainly had plenty of company on the American right. But I guess "everything's different after 9-11", or so quoth the GOP pollsters, so now interventionism is in on the right. And at least old Bill had the decency to say straight up that he why we went over. I'll leave off the partisan excoriation for now, but let's call all the spades spades, shall we?

We will almost certainly see US troops remain in Iraq, probably indefinitely. One of the key intentions of the invasion was almost certainly to relocate American bases out of Saudi Arabia into Iraq and thus defuse some of the Wahabbist tensions. Whether you're pro or con, I'd be curious to see what odds you give of US troops successfully staying in Iraq.

There are indeed encouraging signs of progress, but there's also still a lot of opportunities for instability left. And while the left may have wanted to essentially talk everything over before even thinking about invading, it's clear that the Bush administration has only now begun to realize what a big role diplomacy will take on. For Pete's sake, I don't see why we had to pay in money and lives for Team PNAC to figure out that soft power and hard power are not mutually exclusive. I still don't believe that had Cheney asked the intelligence agencies for a real risk assessment without stovepiping and pressure that they wouldn't have done a little homework, then said: "you've got a little time on this one, Mr. VP, and by the way, Ahmed Chalabi likes to finesse people, so watch out for him." Voile, a less rushed military buildup and more backroom work, less bloodshed, more transformation.

Posted by: Eric E at March 25, 2005 02:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What about little autocrats elsewhere in the world? Or little Islamists in Pakistan? Or big ones in China? Troop deployment giveth and it taketh away.

Posted by: Eric E at March 25, 2005 02:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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