March 31, 2005

Yglesias' Iraq Policy Prescriptions: Short-Sighted and Wrong

Time to talk turkey with the estimable Matt Y re: troop levels in Iraq. He writes:

Ah okay. I don't have a really specific view about the appropriate short-term troop level. What I would say is this. It's vital to establish a commitment to long-term withdrawal, which would have the following elements: No permanent bases, a target date for zeroing out the American deployment, and a set of feasible benchmarks for interim withdrawals. This commitment should be combined with a non-trivial short-term withdrawal as a token of good faith and bona fide commitment to the plan.

As I've written to Matt, I think telegraphing an exit date is a terrible idea. It provides succor to insurgents (and neighbors in the region, shall we say, not favorably disposed to our interests) to simply wait us out. As soon as, say, Don Rumsfeld stands up at a podium and says: all American forces will be out of Iraq by year end 2007, for instance, the insurgency will immediately re-calibrate its strategy by going more into hiding, keeping their powder dry, and generally living to fight another day. Syria and Iran too may be tempted, by such a display of Clintonian non-resolve, to reappraise their strategies too. And Jihadists worldwide will spin an announced American exit date as a victory for the insurgency. Indeed, in many quarters, it would prove a propaganda coup for the jihadists and Baathist restorationists.

In an E-mail, Matt wrote back to me:

Well, on the undesirability of telegraphing an exit, I'm inclined to agree. The risk, obviously, is that you signal to the enemy that if he just lays low for X more months to make himself hard to kill, he'll be able to resurface nicely in X+1 months and then you've got all kinds of trouble. It's not a good thing to be doing. But, for the reasons I laid out, I think it's the only way to gain the Sunni participation in the political process that's absolutely vital to getting the Iraqi ship on course. [emphasis added]

Matt displays real short-sightedness here. Has it never occurred to him that today's disgruntled Sunnis, pissed off at the American occupation, might become tomorrow America-aficianados? Once the Shi'a begin to engage in displays of crude majoritarianism, once the Kurds heighten their efforts to carve out a highly autonomous republic and discriminate against Arab Sunnis in their midst (reverse Arabization!)--many Sunnis may very well want American troops to stick around to protect their interests. This doesn't seem to have occurred to Matt; but it's quite possible indeed and not far-fetched fare by any measure. In addition, of course, all the vying ethnic/religious factions need adult supervision right now. The risk of civil war, as some who know much more about foreign policy than Matt or I believe (see Les Gelb, for instance), remains quite a strong risk factor going forward (though overstated in my view, as I've argued contra Matt in the past). This is why, even now during a feverish (if diminishing) counter-insurgency aimed mostly at Sunnis, some Sunnis are saying: 'hey, let the Americans stay in their bases--just get them out of their towns.' Translation: they're not dumb. They realize what havoc and instability could be unleashed if a precipitous American withdrawal were to take place. They realize the specter of Shi'a revanchism could have them grateful indeed to have U.S. G.I.s in their midst. Indeed, and as is clear from the linked New York Times article, there is some rollback in the Sunni "Americans Out!" position of late:

There are indications that Mr. Dari may be softening his line. In February, the Muslim Scholars Association issued a number of conditions that would have to be met before it would endorse the writing of a constitution and the next round of elections, notably the American withdrawal and the release of all detainees from American military prisons.

On Monday, he hinted that he would be content with a timetable for American withdrawal. Some other hard-line Sunni leaders have made similar gestures.

"We do not insist that the Americans withdraw at once, as long as they stay in their bases and cease to marginalize our political life," said Ali al-Mashadani, a cleric at Ibn Taymiyya mosque in Baghdad. Some political leaders even say the Sunnis, after much bickering, are starting to show signs of a common interest.

Look for such trends to gain strength as the insurgency wanes, and Sunnis begin to espy the real threat in their midst (angry as hell Shi'a repressed for hundreds and hundreds of years).

Back to Matt:

Now to be clear, I don't want to see a precipitous, panicky, running away here [ed. note: Surtout pas!]. That means, to me, that you need to go about setting the long-term date the right way. I would suggest something like this. Condoleezza Rice and her staff make a guess about when a zero troop level situation will be viable. Call that Date X. Then add some months onto Date X and call that the Optimistic Target. Then add some more months to the Optimistic Target and call that the Final Target.

Heh. Guess Matt missed the policy-making classes at Dalton and Harvard. After you have committed the blood and treasure of a nation to the tune of 1,500 personnel and hundreds of billions of dollars; you don't just "make a guess" about a troop withdrawal date. That just ain't how the game is played bro. Not. Serious.

Matt:

There are Iraqis who are nervous about our intentions on both sides. Some worry that we'll never leave and Iraq will become some kind of West Bank writ large. Others worry that we'll abandon our Iraqi allies too soon, they'll be overrun, and meet the fate of the South Lebanon Army or some such thing. You need a date designed to alleviate both of those fears. One far enough in the past as to give confidence that it isn't merely an effort to weasel away, but one firm enough as to give confidence that the need to battle the insurgency isn't merely an excuse for indefinite occupation. One can add that even after the Target is reached, the Iraqi government will continue to have (if it wants) serious financial and diplomatic support from the United States as well as support from the U.S. intelligence community and low-footprit assets that can be kept in the air, in the sea, or in outer space and that will give Iraq's security forces a clear qualitative edge over whomever they may be fighting. A short-term withdrawal is important largely for somewhat symbolic purposes -- to make it clear that as Iraqi troops are trained, American troops will be sent home, and that the whole process is on the up-and-up.

"(T)he whole process is on the up-and-up." Like Duncan 'Don't Know A Damn Thing About Lebanon' Black, alas, Matt seems overly hyped that the U.S. intends to keep permanent bases in Mesopotamia. Look, I don't think that's going to happen (I'll address that in a future post), though I do think we will have at least some bases in Iraq for probably up to a decade yet. And I agree that many in Iraq, in a nation given to conspiracy theories, are concerned Americans have neo-imperialistic designs on their nation. But the elections helped assuage much of these concerns. Further, I think it's more important to keep appropriate troop levels in country in the short-term rather than engage in "symbolic" withdrawals simply for dubious P.R. type purposes. The real 'up-and-up', the best message to the Iraqi people over the long-term, is to not do this half-assed. This means ensuring that Iraq remains a unitary, viable polity. This means U.S. forces in theater in sufficient number to help ensure this result until an adequately-sized, trained and equipped Iraqi army has proven willing to stand, fight and die for the New Iraq. This means continuing to prosecute a robust counter-insurgency campaign in the months ahead. Pulling 20,000 troops out now (keeping in mind we already have a planned reduction from 145,500 to 138,000; during the elections we had beefed up to the higher figure by not rotating some units out) is most assuredly not the right way to go at this juncture to achieve said goals. We're simply not there yet. Yes, things in Iraq are improving. A lot, even. But that doesn't automatically translate to conditions allowing for even modest troop withdrawals below the 138,000 pre-elections floor. Indeed, this article points to potential increases in forces at sensitive junctures in coming months:

The assessment of US troops requirements in Iraq must take into account potential surges in violence around key dates in Iraq's political transition over the next year, according to Lt-Gen Smith.

He suggested US forces levels may be temporarily boosted during sensitive election periods.

Under the current timetable, the Iraqi national assembly is to draft a new constitution by August 15 and have a referendum on it by October 15. If the referendum is passed elections for a permanent government would be held in December.

"Once we get through this timeframe and all that stuff, there is an opportunity to ramp down and shape our forces so that we could have a smaller force size this time next year," he said.

Lt-Gen Smith acknowledged that those dates could be delayed if the Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni communities fail to resolve their differences, but he said there will be pressure to stick to the timetable.

The timetable referred to here, of course, is not a troop withdrawal timetable (as Yglesias calls for) but a timetable for sticking to the draft constitution deadline, the referendum on said document, the elections for a permanent government. Each of these events will doubtless be an occasion for insurgent trouble-making roughly on par with their efforts during the January 30th elections. These are critical milestones and we can only assume that the insurgents will try to derail the process at every turn. I ask you, is this the time to scale back to 110,000 troops, say? Of course not. Such re-appraisals, as the Lt. General points out, could only occur around "this time next year"--once we've got a constitution in place and a permanent government elected. Put differently, we have to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqis as they cobble together their political governance structures and constitutional arrangements. This is critical--and we'd be sending the wrong signal to draw-down before these events move successfully ahead. It's the Kerry/Kennedy/Yglesias message, really, that we don't care too much, all told, about whether Iraq is successfully democratized.

Matt:

The problem with the Djerejian/Bush strategy is encompassed by the statement "if conditions allow (ie, Sunni participation in nascent political governance structures moving in right direction; insurgency continuing to weaken) only then would there perhaps be major draw-downs in '06." What's wrong with this? Well, what's wrong with it is that if you make Sunni participation in nascent governance structures (which is necessary for the insurgency to really weaken) a condition for moving toward withdrawal, you're not going to get Sunni participation in nascent governance structures, and therefore you're never going to withdraw. Right now we're trapped in a vicious circle. Sunni participation is a condition for withdrawal, but withdrawal is a condition for Sunni participation. Somebody needs to make the first move here and get us out of the trap. In an interview yesterday with The New York Times, Sheik Harith al-Dari "made clear that he would continue to view the armed resistance as legitimate until the American military offered a clear timetable for its withdrawal - a condition very unlikely to be met." This view is rather typical of moderate Sunni Arab views in Iraq. There are, to be sure, extremists (espcially foreigners) in the country who just want to wage war against Americans and Shiites. And there are also nice cuddly moderates like Pachachi. But the al-Dari types are the key constituency. They will support a battle against an American occupation, but not a battle against a new, independent, Iraqi order. If there the insurgency is to be beaten, we need Sunni participation. If we want Sunni participation, we need al-Dari and his ilk. And if we want them, we need a plan for withdrawal as part of an intercommunal compromise.

As I said, al-Dari and ilk are, almost weekly, weakening their anti-American resolve and pronunciamentos. First, of course, they are increasingly laying down their arms after the twin blows of Fallujah and the elections. Next they clamored for all U.S. troops out. Then many of them wanted just a timetable for U.S. troops to exit. Now they maybe say they want a timetable still, but really are looking for U.S. troops to retrench to their bases (so as to, er, be around the corner in case the Shi'a come calling). Bottom line: Matt overstates the Catch-22 that Shi'a political participation can't occur with U.S. forces there. It can, and will. Not least because more and more Sunni will want the U.S. to stay.

P.S. And what would happen if we made a short-term "symbolic" withdrawal, just to look on the "up-and-up" with Sunnis who don't dig us right now, and a renewed insurgency takes root among Sadr's followers in the slums of Baghdad or Najaf? High and dry, again, a la troop-lite '03 days...and there are other contingencies a plenty too, of course. Flash points like Kirkuk. Turkish adventurism. Syrian obstinacy. Iranian troublemaking. No, this is a long struggle that will likely last through Bush's entire second term if we mean to do it right. That's not to say we won't be able to get down to 100,000 by mid-06 or so. But not for certain. Not telegraphed. And no immediate "symbolic" withdrawal just for kicks so as to risk the constitution drafting, referendum, and permanent government milestones. It's simply not smart policy for all the reasons sketched above.

Posted by Gregory at March 31, 2005 02:37 AM | TrackBack (7)
Comments

Couple of gut reactions:

First, does date X have to be an actual date? I read Matt's piece, perhaps incorrectly, that his point was to lay out high level criteria for withdrawal. I didn't read that he wanted a statement like "American troops will be out by June 8th, 2007" which would engender the type of reaction you fear.

The greater point, though, is one of tone and presentation, something this President and administration just don't really get unless they're bullshitting about the culture of life to their Christian conservative base here at home. If the goal is to leave, say so. Sell it, make it seem like a real policy. Talk about the day when Iraq is safe and has a standing army to keep out their neighbors. If our goal is to be supplemental with to the Iraqi internal security (where supplemental is essentially the majority in 2005), say so.

Your point is to be firm and stand fast to the goal. That's admirable. How about being firm AND forthright? Your arguments aren't very convincing on this regard. The realist desire to believe in the uber-rationality of actors is nice and all, but doesn't really do anything to convince otherwise suspicious people that our intentions are as noble as you profess.

Again, just gut reactions, but they are what they are. I don't really agree with Matt about short term symbolic withdrawals, but I also see that there is a position between the two of you where the rhetoric could match the intentions you attribute to the Administration...

Posted by: just me at March 31, 2005 04:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think you could make the same points without the personal shots (Harvard, Dalton, etc.). But maybe that's just me; YMMV.

I do lean toward the "no timetable" side here at this point, and you make a strong argument once the sneers are stripped out. Site is down so I can't respond fully, however.

Posted by: praktike at March 31, 2005 04:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

er, Matt's got thick skin and these are affectionate jabs. he well knows i respect him. p.s. what's YMMV?

Posted by: greg at March 31, 2005 04:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ah, good. He seemed a bit frustrated w/ the dialogue and I doubted this would help. Glad to know it's just a little intra-elite ribbing.

ymmv = "your mileage may vary", and indeed it does.

Posted by: praktike at March 31, 2005 04:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, great post, but two things worth considering here:

1. Leaders like al-Dhari are likely going to need something to show in exchange for political participation. I think al-Dhari himself might well be sincere about joining government, but he knows full well that he and the AMS would have to represent the full range of Sunnis, including the large number of al-Anbar tribesmen who probably have no interest in joining any new government. (Anbar tribes like the Albuaisa, Jumaila, etc., may not be *leading* the insurgency, but they're certainly making up the vast majority of the active, i.e. rocket-firing, rank and file, so their opinion is obviously pretty crucial.)

Unless al-Dhari can position himself as "the man who kicked the U.S. out," he will have no legitimacy among the Sunnis. He does not command the religious authority that, say, 'Ali Sistani does. The prestige of the AMS extends only so far, and al-Dhari and others are very much hostage to their anti-U.S. "constituency".

2. The request that U.S. forces "stay in their bases" will obviously be completely unacceptable. Right now American troops are already running bare-bones patrols as it is—zooming by in their armored Humvees, etc. They can barely control the crime rate. They can't break up the small gangs and amateur militias that are wreaking havoc everywhere. (You've said elsewhere that you have experience in Yugoslavia—surely you know how deadly a gang of just 20 men with small arms can be.) They can't protect local Iraqis. Staying in their bases would make the problem much, much worse. (See how the British are "handling" Basra for a good example.) Insurgents would start to find large safe havens again. You're right, the Sunnis aren't dumb. They know full well who would benefit most from this sort of mini-withdrawal.

For the most part, I agree that there are a lot of dangers in setting a withdrawal date. The major bone of contention seems to be that no one knows what the Sunni "mood on the street" really is.

Ah, hell, I'll add a third point:

3. Why would the insurgents "keep their powder dry" for two years if, say, that's when we telegraphed our exit date? Laying low means letting us rebuild the country, train Iraqi forces, strengthen the central government and let it gain popular support, buck up the security ministries so that they're not coup-prone, etc. etc. The insurgency is only strong insofar as it can maintain a low, constant level of violence, i.e. exactly what it's doing right now. We hear this "laying low" argument bandied about a lot, but it seems pretty implausible.

Posted by: Brad Plumer at March 31, 2005 06:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Again, I find it worth noting that whenever anyone is critical of the Iraq invasion as being reckless and ill planned policy, Greg points out just how well the invasion has worked out - how much better off are the Iraqi people, how there is much much cause for optimism.

Now, when someone suggests a timetable for withdrawing US troops Greg points out the dangers of the insurgency, the dangers of civil war, etc Suddenely, maybe, Iraq is not going so well.

Of course Greg is a lawyer and a republican so this sort of double speak should be expected.

Still, I find it to be indicative of compromised principles.

Posted by: avedis at March 31, 2005 12:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You know, there's probably a middle ground on the withdrawal thing. We could, for example, pick some areas of southeastern Mesopotamia where the violence has been reduced to a level that requires mainly police work. We could then make a big show of withdrawing troops from that area and turning it over to Iraqis (I think we did this for Najaf already IIRC). Hell, we would not even really need to withdraw them from Iraq, but maybe move them to someplace like Baquba, Samarra, or Ramadi. The point could be to show that we really only want the troops in to provide security and could also show that if you play nice and join the political process, American troops will pull themselves from your particular patch of ground.

But this is just my own uninformed opinion.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at March 31, 2005 02:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why not maintain permanent bases in Iraq? If we acknowledge that we are engaged in a war against radical Islam, and that the base of this enemy is the Middle East, then maintaining military assets in the area is essential. We have had troops in Germany since the end of WW2; first to win the war, then to pacify and rebuild, and then to counter the Soviet threat. Accepting Podhoretz's (and others's) premise that this is World War IV means that we should have a similar arrangement with our allies in the Middle East, of which Iraq has become one.

Posted by: Nudnik at March 31, 2005 03:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A primary difference being that Germany welcomed the troops.

Posted by: praktike at March 31, 2005 03:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I generally agree with Greg on this issue, and have maintained all along that any troop withdrawal should be tied to the facts on the ground, not an arbitrary timetable.

That being said, I think a definitive and repeated statement of our intentions regarding permanent bases could do a lot to alleviate some, though by no means all or even most, of the suspicions of imperialism.

Nudnik, first of all why should we accept Podhoretz's premise regarding WW IV? I see no compelling reason, and would note that Podhoretz has been one of the most extreme voices in recent history, so hitching your ride to his lead is not the wisest of decisions.

But further, assuming we would want permanent bases in Iraq, I think that our continued presence must be contingent on the will of the Iraqi people. We are there to spread democracy right? Well then, if a democratically elected government asks us to leave, do you suggest we ignore that? What kind of alliance is that? What kind of democracy?

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 31, 2005 03:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Praktike offered the shorter version while I was typing....

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 31, 2005 03:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

B.D. I'm a fan of you but I have a question. Are you sure it's so important to debate Yglesias' theories about Iraq? I'm not.

Best.

Posted by: e.r. at March 31, 2005 04:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr Yglesias wrote: "Somebody needs to make the first move here and get us out of the trap."

I do not accept this reasoning. It is better to remain in the trap than to make the first move for the sake of making a move, weakening our position and letting our enemies lead us into an exactly similar "trap" farther down the line.

By bringing about elections and training an Iraqi army, we have made our non-imperialist bona fides clear enough to all. If Sunni participation at this point is truly conditional on withdrawal, then it shows that withdrawal rather than participation is their aim, and thus that there should be no withdrawal.

Posted by: sammler at March 31, 2005 04:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How incredibly easy it is to say in hindsight that 'Germany welcomed the troops'. The alternative of Soviet troops had nothing to do with that naturally...

Posted by: Andrew Paterson at March 31, 2005 05:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Are there any Soviet troops threatening to invade Iraq at the moment?

Seems relevant.

Posted by: praktike at March 31, 2005 06:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is a sense that this discussion is taking place in a vacuum, assuming as it appears to that Sunni Arabs act as they do only because they are reacting to us; that Sunni Arabs presumed hostility to a long term American presence does not need to be weighed against Kurdish Iraqis strong preference for one; and lastly that America's future in Iraq will depend only on developments in that country.

None of these assumptions are sound. My main problem with the Yglesias argument is it too easily assigns the reasons American liberals distrust the Bush administration to the Sunni Arabs leading the Iraqi insurgency. Now, there may be Sunni Arabs planning suicide attacks on Shiite mosques and religious pilgrims because they suspect President Bush of wanting permanent American air bases around Baghdad. Is it not more likely, though, that the background of attacks like this is Sunni Arabs' traditional dominance of Iraq, their view of Shiites as infidels and generally lower forms of life and the generalized bloodlust that the former Iraqi regime encouraged among its supporters for over 30 years?

Frankly, it looks to me as if Sunni Arab politics in Iraq are struggling now with the same problem that has bedeviled Palestinians most recently and the wider Arab world for most of this century. A large number, perhaps even a majority, of Sunni Arabs could be reconciled to the new reality in Iraq -- a government in which they would have a voice, but no more than that. The chief impediment to such reconciliation is the fear of assassination and massacre perpetrated by those Sunni Arabs who do not want it, whether for sectarian religious reasons, because a restoration of civil order might disrupt profitable criminal activities, or because of hope that something like the old regime might be restored once the Americans leave.

It was this dynamic that kept Arab countries locked into non-recognition of Israel decades after it was obvious to everyone that Israel was not going anywhere, and it is probably this dynamic even more than corrupt authoritarian governments' desire to cling to power that is the most important obstacle to democratization in most Arab countries today. In Iraq, there are a significant number of people who want what they want, and do not want it from us. Those are the people that the new government will have to deal with to end the insurgency.

Conversely my problem with Greg's argument is its assumptions that Iraq is both worth all the resources we are pouring into it now and that it will remain so into the indefinite future. The first condition is arguable; the second is nuts. Iraq is one mid-sized country in a region that is significant to us because of a geological accident and for no other reason. If an Iraqi democracy can be established and serve as an example for the rest of the Arab world, great. But we are borrowing the money to pay for this experiment now. We cannot afford to do so forever. Nor can we assume that we will not need to use the Army and Marines for anything else in the next five years.

There is already a timetable for American withdrawal from Iraq, one imposed by our limited resources and other priorities. Rather than fussing over whether symbolic withdrawals would do any good what we need to be doing is making very clear to all the Iraqi factions that their forming a government is not something that can be fiddled around with until tempers cool or the hardcore insurgents die from old age. All America can do is what it has done: give Iraq the opportunity for a government better than what it had. It is up to Iraqis whether they take advantage of it.

Posted by: Zathras at March 31, 2005 06:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We need to look at the long game - Bush certainly does. The great tasks of American foreign policy over the next 20 years are to suppress Islamic terrorism and to manage the emergence of China and the collapse of Russia without letting the world get blown up.

The most important thing happening now is the formation of a serious alliance between the US and India. With Britain, Australia and Japan this group can sustain a classically liberal world civilization whatever disruption may come out of Asia.

We must, however, anchor the left flank in the Mideast. No Sino-Pakistani alliance. The Mullahs in Iran need to go. There will be bases in Iraq for some time - but it will be like Korea, where the presence of US troops was consistent with emergence of a prosperous, relatively liberal democracy.

You don't have to be able to pronounce "strategy" to have one.

Posted by: Mike at March 31, 2005 08:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The classic theme after every invasion? (Except some places after WW2).


YANKEE, GO HOME!!!


That seems to be an objective, universal truth.

Posted by: NeoDude at March 31, 2005 09:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory posted, "As I've written to Matt, I think telegraphing an exit date is a terrible idea. It provides succor to insurgents (and neighbors in the region, shall we say, not favorably disposed to our interests) to simply wait us out."

Is that such a terrible idea? The alternative is they don't wait. If we can get them to wait, say, 2 years that's 2 years we can rebuild our economy and rebuild our army and figure out what the hell we're trying to do. It sounds like a real good deal compared to the alternative.

"Once the Shi'a begin to engage in displays of crude majoritarianism, once the Kurds heighten their efforts to carve out a highly autonomous republic and discriminate against Arab Sunnis in their midst (reverse Arabization!)--many Sunnis may very well want American troops to stick around to protect their interests. "

Why would they believe we would do that? Do you believe we would do that? Can you actually imaginie us doing that? Where did you come up with this idea?

"After you have committed the blood and treasure of a nation to the tune of 1,500 personnel and hundreds of billions of dollars; you don't just "make a guess" about a troop withdrawal date. That just ain't how the game is played bro. Not. Serious."

Right. Once you're stuck in the quagmire you don't just wade out. That wouldn't be serious. You have to wade in deeper until you either win or.... And you depend on Vietnamization. Sure, someday when iraq is sufficiently vietnamised we can pull most of the troops out. But our losses are too big to write off so we can't cut our losses and pull out. Sounds familiar.

"Matt seems overly hyped that the U.S. intends to keep permanent bases in Mesopotamia. Look, I don't think that's going to happen"[.]

If it was useful to relations with iraqis, Bush could announce that it isn't going to happen. Maybe he will. Is there any reason not to? Well, maybe nobody would believe him because he's a notorious liar. But maybe he's a reformed liar and he doesn't want to lie about this one?

"And I agree that many in Iraq, in a nation given to conspiracy theories, are concerned Americans have neo-imperialistic designs on their nation. But the elections helped assuage much of these concerns."

Do you believe that? When there's an iraqi government that stands up to the USA and gets away with it, *that* will help assuage those concerns. Until then they can *hope* that they're getting a real government, but the more it looks like it can't oppose the USA, the less useful it looks.

'The real 'up-and-up', the best message to the Iraqi people over the long-term, is to not do this half-assed. This means ensuring that Iraq remains a unitary, viable polity."

That's logical. Maybe our big mistake in vietnam was not conquering north vietnam. If we'd occupied the whole country and insisted that it stay a unitary, viable polity, maybe things would have worked out better.

"This means U.S. forces in theater in sufficient number to help ensure this result until an adequately-sized, trained and equipped Iraqi [/////vietnamese] army has proven willing to stand, fight and die for the New Iraq[////vietnam]. This means continuing to prosecute a robust counter-insurgency campaign in the months ahead."

Yes, we've been here before. We've moved as much of our transport as possible to air. I've misplaced the quote but the general responsible said, "I don't care what it costs.". If the occupation is worth doing at all, it's worth doing it with air supply. Only what will the iraqi army do? They can't do air supply. Unless they can find new tactics they won't be able to fight the way we do. Maybe the insurgents won't hit them as hard because they'll be iraqis and will have support we can't get? Maybe if so they'll do better with us gone....

"Pulling 20,000 troops out now [...] is most assuredly not the right way to go at this juncture to achieve said goals."

I agree with that. To pull troops out we must either leave big areas unoccupied (leaving them for the insurgents to take over and use as staging areas etc) or we must be spread thinner. And to the extent we still have ground transport we have to protect our supply lines. We mustn't have a weak force in iraq. It would be absurd to arrange a military defeat.

One option would be to move out of everything but kurdistan, where we're welcome. Put big airbases in kurdistan, big enough to supply a reasonable force by air, and then we have a deterrent. Anybody who invades kurdistan will face us; we'd have a strong force on the ground, air superiority, and whatever WMDs we felt like using. The kurds would welcome us like south korea, we'd keep them from getting invaded.

But for the rest of it, we need to get out or we need a draft. People talk like a draft wouldn't help because it takes 2 years to train our soldiers. They're talking like the war will be over in 2 years. But if we need to keep occupying iraq as you say above, in sufficient numbers until vietnamization is complete, in two years we'll just barely be started.

"And what would happen if we made a short-term "symbolic" withdrawal, just to look on the "up-and-up" with Sunnis who don't dig us right now, and a renewed insurgency takes root among Sadr's followers in the slums of Baghdad or Najaf?"

Good point. We're already stretched thin. Get the Sadr and Badr groups fighting us and we'd be in trouble. If they got some sort of effective anti-helicopter weapons we'd be in serious trouble. Lose too many copters and we'd be in a cross between dunkirk and the british retreat from afghanistan.

We need to either hold on as hard as we can for 2 years while we train enough troops to put 350,000 into iraq for the indefinite future, or we need to get them out of there. Anything inbetween is just weaseling.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 3, 2005 07:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Praktite, how uncharacteristically simple of you. Of course there are "fascist" troops "waiting to invade Iraq at the moment".

Your momentary idiocy here seems relevant - are you feeling alright?

Posted by: Tommy G at April 6, 2005 01:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And you , Thomas - how utterly contemptable.
"rebuild our economy and rebuild our army"?
Unless you're a European national, I don't think you're sane.

Check the math, brother - there are now 3 extra Divisions of the most well trained and acclimated soldiers available for the Iraqi theater - with more battalions coming on-line every 3 months. Your proposal is to replace them with draftees from American universities?

You.. I..wha...Heh. Hah-hah..No, I...Bwah-hahahahahah. AHHHH- hahahahaha. Ohhhheeee. HA heh-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA...

Posted by: Tommy G at April 6, 2005 01:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tommy, 3 divisions is likely not to be nearly enough. We need to have 350,000 men there until the iraqi army can take over -- call it 10 years. Longer than we can reasonably plan for, anyway.

I'd be glad to be wrong about that, but if I'm right we need to start training them now so we'll have them 2 years from now. It would be irresponsible to assume they won't be needed and then not have them when we find out we do need them.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 6, 2005 02:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tommy/Thomas
I think you'll find this "relevant".

http://www.mnstci.iraq.centcom.mil/

Posted by: Art Wellesley at April 6, 2005 02:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Art, I look at that site occasionally. It's very short on actual information but the pictures are pretty.

I note that the iraqi army has 27 battalions that include only three transportation battalions.

Their "air force" will have some C130s, no mention of how many. And some helicopters, no mention of what kind or how many.

They don't have nearly the US resources for air supply, and they're kind of weak on armor for convoys too. So they'll need a lot of cooperation from the citizenry -- the sort of thing we do without -- because they can't do it our way. Unless we provide their supply and air strikes etc.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 6, 2005 07:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Glad you do, because, in the end, the question is not what kind of security forces would a given citizen want ("a cop on every corner - until they start interfering with me" is the usual answer), but what amount are sustainable.

Without going into all of the security foces, let's look at your "noting" of the Iraqi Army's 3 Divisions.

We live in a nation of nation-states. With with 270 some odd Million Citizens, we manage, sometimes poorly, to support 36 Brigades (x3 = 108 BN).

What should we expect Iraq to be able to field? With 27 Million citizens, the statisticians might only allow you 10.8 Battalions before the editorial board at the new Bagdad Times started opining about their "peace dividend".

Put another way: So what could we expect the good people of Texas (pop 26 Million) to support on it's own? Can you imagine what stationing 3 Divisions (35,000 soldiers) there would look like? What about your own state?

Puts a whole other take on bleating out numbers like 350,000 - doesn't it? Sustainablilty is the correct metric here, and I dare say you appear to have an issue with decimal points.

Posted by: Art Wellesley at April 8, 2005 02:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Art, the question is not whether the official iraqi government can beat their insurgencies with an army they can afford. That depends on their ability to co-opt the insurgents and their sympathisers -- something that we have been utterly unsuccessful at ourselves.

If they can use political and social methods to reduce their insurgency to something they can handle then they're home free. They won't need us any more and they can tell us to get lost.

But if they can't do that, in the worst case if they find themselves facing the level of opposition that kept us pinned down for 21 months, maybe with some shi'ite opposition thrown in too, then it's up to us to prop them up until the iraqi public is beaten into submission. (Well, that isn't the worst case. But that one is bad enough.) Iraqi battalions could help with that -- we could supply them by air and provide the air cover and the transport, and they could do the dying. The beauty of that approach is that when they fight it doesn't matter which side dies since they're all iraqis, either way it beats them into submission. We just have to keep training new soldiers faster than the old ones die.

We'd still need something like a hundred thousand troops to maintain our bases and airfields and to do supply and transport and airsupport and all, but we could move our attack troops out.

But if we can't depend on 250,000 or so iraqi troops to do that for us, won't we need 350,000 US troops in iraq?

Posted by: J Thomas at April 8, 2005 04:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Put another way: So what could we expect the good people of Texas (pop 26 Million) to support on it's own? Can you imagine what stationing 3 Divisions (35,000 soldiers) there would look like?"

Oh, man, don't go there. I've lived in texas. Try to put an unpopular 3 divisions in texas and you're going to pull back a bloody stump. Don't mess with texas.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 8, 2005 04:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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