Last week we heard Democratic leaders in the House and Senate say they are not pushing for a timeline or a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq.
This week George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 who ran on an anti-Vietnam war platform, and who will meet with House Democrats this week, said he wants troops to begin pulling out immediately. Any troop withdrawal will be phased over a period of time. It’s impossible to get them all out in a day. It would take several months even if we began now. Just getting that clear.
Yesterday Democratic Sen. Carl Levin came out saying his proposal is to begin taking the troops out in 4 to 6 months. He said we must make it clear to the Iraqi leadership that they must stand on their own, and that we are leaving. This goes along with the notion that there is no military solution in Iraq, only a political solution. Sen. Levin said that he based this opinion on discussions he has had with military commanders who believe the same thing.
What I think this neglects is any political solution must be backed up by military strength. Is the Iraqi army able to fully defend the country on its own? From all indications I’ve heard, the answer is no. Have we turned over territory to the Iraqi military when they are able to take on the job? Yes. So in a way we have been withdrawing from territory and turning it over to the Iraqis. Do McGovern and Sen. Levin believe that we should be withdrawing faster and cede more territory than the Iraqi military is ready to take on? It sure sounds like it. Is this a wise thing to do? I think not.
One reason why Iraqi PM Maliki may have done things we don’t like is he is paying attention to the realities on the ground. His own neck depends on it. He has corruption in his own government, and the military force level under his government’s command is not sufficient to defend against all enemies, though from what I understand it’s progressively getting better and better. The main opponent jabbing Maliki in the ribs right now is Iran, through al-Sadr. Some Democrats seem to believe that by withdrawing what is essentially protection for his government, he will pay more attention to our priorities. No. It will give Iran and possibly Syria the opportunity to start punching Maliki in his gut, and eventually his face.
I think if we start pulling troops out too soon, it will leave Maliki in a weakened position, and it will increasingly polarize the Iraqis, not bring them closer together. If there’s one thing we have learned about the Arab people is they respect strong leadership, and despise weak leadership. Each constituency will put more faith in their own militias for their own defense. Iran will up the military pressure through its Shia proxies in Iraq, such as al-Sadr, encouraging us to try to pull out faster, meanwhile it will pursue more influence and power over the Iraqi government and the Shia community. The Sunnis, seeing their power base eroded will put more stock in their own militias to fight back against the Shia insurgency, and pull out their representatives from the Iraqi government. The central Iraqi government will become irrelevant. Even then I don’t anticipate a civil war as we would traditionally define it, but rather a struggle for control over Iraq by Syria and Iran, with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other countries in the region looking on in horror that we let this happen. Does anyone doubt that this will result in the slaughter of anyone who cooperated with us? You think it’s bad now, just wait until we’re gone.
And what of the Kurds? What will they do in light of all this? Will they declare independence from Iraq into their own Kurdistan? It’s my understanding that Turkey has made it clear it will not tolerate this, and will go to war with the Kurds if this happens.
I wonder if we’ll do the same thing with Iraqis that we did with Vietnamese and Cambodians back in the 1970s: allow refugees to come to the U.S. by the hundreds of thousands, escaping the chaos in their home country. That would be a consolation, but such a sad end.
Yes, I am implying a repeat of what happened in Vietnam and Cambodia. I am just playing out a scenario, though, just giving you a glimpse of a possible future. We do not have to repeat the Vietnam experience. I’ve thought for a long time that the whole Vietnam analogy was bogus. I don’t believe that’s what we’re dealing with today, but I do believe we could succeed in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, repeating the tragedy that was Vietnam if we continue to believe that Iraq parallels that experience.
As violent as Iraq has been, our military presence has been helping to hold the country together, and contain the violence. It’s given the Iraqi government a modicum of credibility to try to establish itself. As I’ve said before, in reality the duly elected Iraqi government has really only been constituted for about 5 months.
The thing that bothers me the most is I see the opponents to the current Iraqi experiment all asking the question “When do we get out?” and not anticipating “What then?” What are the consequences of our actions if we take our military out of Iraq? What’s the next move after removing our military? Most critics believe that the civil war has already started, and we’ll merely let them fight it out. What I see everyone ignoring is the role Iran is playing in this, and what role it and Syria could play in a power vacuum in Iraq.
Maybe that’s the idea. Get Iran (which is Shia) and Syria (which is Sunni) to fight each other in Iraq rather than cooperating as they have been. Iraq, instead of Afghanistan playing its traditional role, will become “The Great Game”. We’ll let them play “who will get the oil?”, with Iraq as their play thing. Is this responsible to our interests? Again, I think not. We do not buy oil from Syria or Iran now. We might be forced to buy it from one of them in the future if we let this happen, directly funding those who have no qualms about funding jihadists. That would truly be a loss in what we call the War on Terror.
What bothers me just as much is the critics say that things in Iraq are terrible now. They almost beg the question, “How could it get any worse?” The reality is it could, and none of them see that.
Some say we could talk with Iran and reach a negotiated settlement over their nuclear program. This is not what I see. Every time Iran has said they’re willing to talk, they follow it with provocative moves and rhetoric. Their words of reconciliation are empty. I saw news just yesterday that indicates Iran is helping train leaders and fighters for Al Qaeda, our mortal enemy. It could just be idle rhetoric on their part, but does any of this sound like a government that’s willing to talk with us?
There’s a phrase that once again has been running through my head when I think about all of this. It’s from the movie, “The Siege”, about Islamic terrorism in New York City: “Remember: the most committed wins.”