Sunday, July 22, 2007
The Well's Run Dry
When you weed out the minutae of Parliamentary procedure and the exacerbating factors of political animosity, there are really only four arguments presented by opponents to a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. First, the surge is either working or a step in the right direction that if maintained will eventually lead to a successful outcome. Second, an American withdrawal will severely damage our reputation and lead our allies and enemies to question our resolve. Third, if we leave Iraq now, it will allow elements of the global jihadi movement that have infiltrated the country to "follow us back home". And fourth, Iraq will become a killing field of sectarian violence if we leave without having stabilized the country.
The trouble with the first argument is that we've been hearing variations of it for four years now. And despite repeated right-wing attempts to undermine the press's credibility and call into question the American public's intestinal fortitude, most Americans just aren't buying it anymore. While it's certainly true that there are areas where progress is being made, taken as a whole, the picture is one of increasing violence and chaos. Even if we could turn the tide through continued military engagement -- and that's a big if -- the question now becomes at what price? This is where opponents of withdrawal have been less than forthcoming. How long is a long, hard slog? How many casualties can we expect during that time? How much of our financial resources will be ciphoned out of the Federal budget? To ask these questions is neither a sign of cowardice nor a lack of patriotism. To refuse to answer them, on the other hand, is.
The second argument is even flimsier. If our international reputation has been tarnished by the Iraq War, it isn't because we're now considering putting an end to the fiasco. It's because of how we conceived and prosecuted it to begin with. In fighting the Cold War, we understood that military preparedness wasn't enough to defeat a competing ideology. Putting a man on the moon and sending Peace Corps volunteers into the heart of global poverty were just as, if not more, important. The Global War On Terror has focused solely on repressive military responses. What's even worse, those responses have been poorly targeted (Iraq had nothing to do with the War on Terror) and incompetently carried out. Across the board, America's enemies are now taking pleasure in the difficulties we're encountering in Iraq and the losses we've suffered. And our allies, far fom questioning our resolve, have taken to questioning our judgment.
The third argument would be laughable if it weren't so tragic. To begin with, because Iraq has become a refuge for global jihadists because of the chaos caused by the War (which allows them to train new recruits in live-fire, battlefield conditions), not in spite of it. But even more significantly, global jihadists are already returning from Iraq to set up recruiting stations and operational cells in Western Europe. From there they will have easier access to not only European targets, but also American ones, through the use of European-born, second-generation recruits.
If there is an argument that causes advocates of withdrawal to pause, it is the prospect of Iraq descending into an even-bloodier hell of internecine and sectarian violence once we've left. No one can take this possibility lightly. And yet, if the questions of cost, likelihood of success, and the impact on American interests are valid reasons not to intiate direct military interventions in civil wars and sectarian violence (Darfur, Somalia, and Congo to name a few), then they're also valid reasons for bringing a failed military intervention to an end. Preventing an Iraqi bloodletting is in the interests of all the major players in the region, which means that there's a possibility of avoiding one even after we've withdrawn from the middle of the battlefield.
What's obvious is that, opponents' baseless arguments to the contrary, we're heading inexorably towards a phased withdrawal of troops. What's at play is how many needless causalties we'll incur before Congressional Republicans gather the courage to reject the President's failed policies, and what we leave in place afterwards. I still advocate a contingency force stationed out of the line of fire for a 3-5 year period, ideally under an international mandate. That will become less likely, however, should the political endgame become a question of rats jumping off a sinking ship.