Friday, October 27, 2006

We need to discuss the Iraq War now, not wait until after the election

Sandy Levison makes a very valid point about the Baker-Hamilton Commission studying alternatives to Iraq policy and withholding recommendations until after the election:

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.

This is so true and so frustrating by the elite’s distrust of democracy. President Bush says we are winning in Iraq which indicates he is either lying or being lied to by the very narrow circle of people inside the White House bubble. That doesn’t mean we can not or should not be debating this issues based upon the reality that Iraq is deteriorating and our current policy of muddling along is, at best, not working and, at worse, aggravating the situation. We need to discuss alternatives now.

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:
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.
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.

Exactly what the solution is, I don’t know. I do know I wish there was more debate about alternatives prior to this election.

1 comment:

Tyler Tarwater said...

I agree with you that the United States bares responsibility for the ensuing civil war in Iraq. Part of our responsibility as an occupying power of Iraq is to obey the will of the population. Iraqis are overwhelmingly against continued U.S. occupation--there are numerous polls indicating this fact.

I find Berger's editorial interesting because of the analogy he mentions. However, I think he gets it a bit wrong, the connection is not between US funding of Afghanistan and the US occupation of Iraq. Instead, the real parallel is between the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American invasion of Iraq.

No one would have suggested that the Soviets should not withdrawal from Afghanistan, at any point. The same should be true for the United States. If one is morally consistent, then the United States must withdrawal immediately.

As you mentioned, the United States does bear responsibility for what happens next. For starters, we owe millions in reparations. But we cannot even begin to think about that until we take full blame for the invasion which never had legitimate justification.

I wrote more about Berger's editorial on my blog at