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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Time to Leave

There came a time with global warming when the debate changed from whether it existed to what to do about it. Suddenly people were saying "Now that it has been established beyond reasonable doubt that global warming exists, save a few people still in denial, what should we do next?" A similar transition appears to be happening with Iraq. As the subtitle says, "It is no longer a question of if or when the U.S. leaves Iraq, but how":

Beating an orderly retreat, by Francis Fukuyama, Commentary, LA Times: Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has promised to return to Washington in September to report on the outcome of his surge strategy. I hope he will say that sectarian killings, bombings and U.S. casualties are all down. But even if he does, I doubt he can offer a clear, plausible date by which the Iraqi army and police will be able to stand on their own without massive U.S. support. So regardless of what he concludes, we seem destined to enter the presidential election season with no credible date for a U.S. exit from Iraq.

In more than four years of war, there have been countless turning points at which we were led to expect decisive political progress in Iraq... The surge was the last military card we had to play, and now our bluff will soon be called. ...

Do we have any other choice than to withdraw? ...[No]. This means that we will have to engage in a very different debate from the one we have been having up to now, a debate not about surging and not about withdrawing with our goals accomplished but about how to draw down our forces in a way that minimizes the costs that will inevitably accompany our loss of control.

This is a difficult situation, but it is necessary. The questions we need to address include: How do we reconfigure our forces to provide advice, training and support, rather than engaging in combat? How we can withdraw safely without a serious Iraqi army to cover our retreat? How will we dismantle enormous bases like Camp Liberty or Camp Victory and protect the diminishing numbers of U.S. troops in the country? Do we trust the Iraqi military and police sufficiently to turn over our equipment to them? How do we protect the lives of those who collaborated with us? The images of South Vietnamese allies hanging to the skid pads of U.S. helicopters departing Saigon should be burned into our memories.

And what if the weak Iraqi government we leave behind falls or other political crises occur when we have fewer U.S. troops to respond? Can we work with proxies, resources or arms supplies to shape outcomes?

As we draw down, the civil war is likely to intensify, and the focus of our efforts will have to shift to containing it within Iraq's borders. Preventing intervention by outside forces will become an even more urgent priority.

On the other hand, it is not necessarily the case that the situation will spiral out of control. Although the situation is graver in some ways than Vietnam, in others it is better. Although we have no equivalent to a South Vietnamese army, the enemy has no equivalent of the North Vietnamese army. It is hard to see any of the small factions struggling for power in different parts of the country emerging as a dominant force throughout Iraq.

The presence of U.S. forces has itself been a spur to terrorist recruitment, but as it becomes clear that we are on our way out, it will be easier for Iraqi nationalists to turn against the foreign jihadists...

We need to start figuring out how to leave this zombie-like zone now.

This runs along the same lines as the argument I made recently here.

    Posted by on Saturday, May 5, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (37)

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