On the most important and divisive issue currently before the American public, they make a conscious decision to wait until after the election to make their recommendations. This suggests a monumental lack of trust in what used to
be called the democratic process. Apparently, We the People can't be trusted to get the recommendations at a time that they might actually be relevant in making choices as to whom to vote for. The Baker-Hamilton reticence is just another sign of the degradation of contemporary American politics.
Complete withdrawal is an option but it is not without many serious problems. One issue to contemplate is that as awful as things are now with sectarian fighting, they can become much worse in a full scale civil war without American troops acting as a buffer between various groups. Another issue is the self-fulfilling prophecy of Iraq or portions of Iraq (such as the region west of Bagdad) coming under control of organization, such as Al Qaeda or any of its imitators that truly intend to take the offensive against the United States and western societies
Peter Bergen, in yesterday’s New York Times, argues for keeping a number of American troops in Iraq but reordering priorities:
I too am concerned about the repercussions of a complete withdrawal. I agree with Mr. Bergen about the danger of Al Qaeda moving into a vacuum we have created. However, contrary to Mr. Bergen, I do feel we bare some responsibility for the low-level civil war currently being waged that could break out into full scale bloodletting at anytime as well as the rampant crime. We owe the Iraqi people more than to leave them with this mess.THE French saying, often attributed to Talleyrand, that “this is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder,” could easily describe America’s invasion of Iraq. But for the United States to pull entirely out of that country right now, as is being demanded by a growing chorus of critics, would be to snatch an unqualified disaster from the jaws of an enormous blunder.
To understand why, look to history. Vietnam often looms large in the debate over Iraq, but the better analogy is what happened in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. During the 1980’s, Washington poured billions of dollars into the Afghan resistance. Around the time of Moscow’s withdrawal in 1989, however, the United States shut its embassy in Kabul and largely ignored the ensuing civil war and the rise of the Taliban and its Qaeda allies. We can’t make the same mistake again in Iraq.
A total withdrawal from Iraq would play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists. As Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, made clear shortly after 9/11 in his book “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner,” Al Qaeda’s most important short-term strategic goal is to seize control of a state, or part of a state, somewhere in the Muslim world. “Confronting the enemies of Islam and launching jihad against them require a Muslim authority, established on a Muslim land,” he wrote. “Without achieving this goal our actions will mean nothing.” Such a jihadist state would be the ideal launching pad for future attacks on the West.
… there is little doubt that the botched American occupation of Iraq was the critical factor that fueled the Iraqi insurgency. But for the United States to wash its hands of the country now would give Al Qaeda’s leaders what they want.
This does not mean simply holding course. America should abandon its pretensions that it can make Iraq a functioning democracy and halt the civil war. Instead, we should focus on a minimalist definition of our interests in Iraq, which is to prevent a militant Sunni jihadist mini-state from emerging and allowing Al Qaeda to regroup.
While withdrawing a substantial number of American troops from Iraq would probably tamp down the insurgency and should be done as soon as is possible, a significant force must remain in Iraq for many years to destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq.
That can be accomplished by making the American presence less visible; withdrawing American troops to bases in central and western Iraq; and relying on contingents of Special Forces to hunt militants. To do otherwise would be to ignore the lessons of history, lessons that Al Qaeda’s leaders certainly haven’t forgotten.
Exactly what the solution is, I don’t know. I do know I wish there was more debate about alternatives prior to this election.