Monday, August 27, 2007
Yes, it is time to start coming home, not in a wild panic, but with purposeful deliberativeness. After all, we have other tools in our quiver, apart from bleeding American lives in seeming perpetuity in Iraq, to prevent a full-scale genocide there, or the emergence of a significant al-Qaeda sanctuary, or the regionalization of the conflict. Indeed, cogent arguments can me made that having troops 'over the horizon' or located near the borders might act as better prophylactic to prevent the conflict spreading to neighboring countries, while still affording requisite forces in the neighborhood to pressure al-Qaeda as necessary (indeed, freeing up some forces for Afghanistan). As for preventing a genocide, we've done rather shabbily protecting innocent Iraqi life to date, and it is very likely that population transfers born of 'ethnic cleansing' fears will continue to take place whether we stay or leave. For instance, the rate of internally displaced hasn't slowed since the surge began, indeed reports indicate the contrary. These movements are occuring because Iraqis feel compelled to flee towards areas controlled by sectarian kin. They know, sooner or later, that we will leave, and so are planning for that day. It is high time we start doing the same.
Well said. And no, not in a wild panic, but following a detailed plan tied to a deliberate, yet focused, timeline.
I can understand Greg's reluctance to advocate this position since, inherently, it acknowledges our impotence in staving off the roiling conflict. Not to mention the existence of legitimate concerns for strategic imperatives such as maintaining a robust supply of oil and forestalling the creation of failed state-terrorist redoubts. But good intentions and a desire to shield the Iraqi people from the destruction that we have unleashed are not enough to actually achieve those goals (assuming such benevolent motivations are even operable in senior Bush administration circles). The terrorist haven we fear is already a reality - and is likely made more pernicious, not less, by our very presence. The same goes for disruptions of the oil supply. Still, our withdrawal won't be pretty or neat because there are no "good" options in Iraq - just less disastrous ones. This is, unfortunately, the least bad option - though just because it is not an inspiring or particularly uplifting mission does not mean that we can afford to delay it.
Like Greg, it took me far too long to accept things as they are, not as I hoped we could make them in Iraq (a futile quest for a tourniquet that was not, and would never be, within our reach). Nevertheless, Djerejian is counseling a wise course of action now, and I see no reason to reject his input out of some sanctimonious puritanism.
I do have one minor quibble with Djerejian's formulation, though. He mentions that he is open to the possibility of maintaining troops "near the borders" in Iraq.* Such a policy would likely run into the same problems that all other plans for residual forces inevitably confront: There will either be too few troops with too restrictive a mandate to effectively carry out the mission or, in the alternative, there will be so many troops with such a broad mandate that they will present an ongoing target and potential catalyst for expansion of that same regional war.
Not to mention the costs associated with re-supply and force protection, and the immense strain on our military that would ensue, if even a medium range footprint were required (say 50,000-75,000 troops). Those costs are one of the primary arguments in favor of withdrawal in the first place (with the adjunct being that such costs are incurred for little tangible or lasting gain - essentially an enormous waste of resources and lives for nothing in return).
Consider that the conflict is, already, in many ways regional - at least to the extent that the Saudis and other Sunni states/populations are funding and arming the Sunni insurgent groups (and providing foot soldiers via Syria), and the Iranians are arming funding key elements of the elected Iraqi government (ISCI, Dawa, Sadr). 160,000 troops isn't stopping this now. 50,000-75,000 troops spread across Iraq's expansive borders won't likely stop this in the future.
For example, how will we prevent Iran from providing arms and support to its proxies through better border policing? There is a tremendous amount of Shrine traffic, robust business relations and general human interaction between Iran and the Shiite south. There is no way to police this cross border human exchange with only a small portion of the already vastly reduced residual force - say, 20,000 out of 50,000. Even a full 160,000 would find it a difficult task.
Iran's Shiite allies in Iraq would likely try to make such an occupation exceedingly costly as well, since its primary mission would be to cut off aid flowing from their patron. There is little doubt that Iraq's Shiite militias acting in concert with Iraq's military and security forces (heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias, especially those stationed in this part of Iraq) could easily wage an effective guerrilla campaign against the small garrison of troops that we would have in the area. Especially considering that this eastern garrison would have to be resupplied from the vulnerable route stretching up from the Gulf, through the Shiite south. In addition, the troops involved in border guard activities would have to spend considerable time outside of the fortified bases to actually do the border policing (making for a myriad of prime targets). Also, keeping this many troops on the Iranian border for the purpose of countering Iran presents a highly combustible situation that could easily explode into major conflict between Iranian and US forces (with Iraq's Shiites likely putting the squeeze on our small contingent of troops).
And what would be the purpose if the goal were not to halt regional participation via proxy? It is extremely unlikely that either Saudi Arabia or Iran (or Jordan or Syria) will actually commit ground troops as some sort of invasion, "defensive" occupation or regional war. None of these nations has the military or economic capacity for prolonged conquest, or the desire to bleed that exorbitant an amount of resources for dubious ends. The US military - vastly superior to all of those regional powers combined - backed by the US economy hasn't been able to establish a sustainable occupation, but somehow Jordan will? Or Saudi Arabia? Or Syria? Or Iran (which is doing well enough via proxy to make such a risky gambit)? In addition, our air-power alone would be an effective weapon against conventional forces moving across open desert (see, ie, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait). As such, our publicized threat against any nation willing to make such an incursion would prove a potent deterrent.
Turkey is the only viable threat in terms of actual military invasion. Putting troops in Kurdistan, however, would put us in an untenable position - caught between a NATO ally with legitimate complaints (suffering attacks from terrorist groups housed in Kurdistan) and our regional military host's expansionist tendencies (Kirkuk, etc). Would we go to war against Turkey if it crossed the border (answer: hell no, and the Turks know it, and we know they know it, and they know...)? Would we stand aside and let the Turks and Kurds fight - and would the Kurds understand our inaction (answer: we would sit idly by, and our inaction wouldn't exactly endear us to our guests, or serve the initial purpose of the garrison - to stave off regional expansion!)? Not to mention the problem of supplying the Kurdish troop contingent: as the only viable routes are through either Iran, Syria or Turkey (who, do you suppose, out of that triumvirate would offer us safe passage?).
Thus, any plan to station troops in Kurdistan must be preceded by a workable, durable modus vivendi between the Kurds and Turkey and an accord on Kirkuk and other regional Kurdish aspirations. I wouldn't hold my breath for that, or begin making plans for the move. And even if such an accord were forged, why would we place troops in Kurdistan to prevent a regional expansion of the conflict that wouldn't occur because of the workable, durable Turkish-Kurdish pact that was just agreed to?
In conclusion, we are currently unable to halt regional influence and fighting via proxy, and will be even less able with a reduced force defending tenuous positions with problematic resupply capacity. An expansion of the conflict from proxy war to full blown conventional confrontation, invasion and/or occupation is highly unlikely and would be, to some extent, deterable via the threat of US air power to be marshaled in response to such attempts at conquest.*[Greg could mean that he would consider plans to keep US troops near the border in friendlier environs "outside of Iraq" and that such a posture could avoid some of the costs and pitfalls outlined above. If the plan is to put US troops outside of Iraq, however, we would not be able to halt Iran's involvement via proxy because the only place outside of Iraq where our troops could carry out this mission would be...Iran itself. Same with Syria. And would the Saudis want that many US troops in Saudi Arabia tasked with the mission of frustrating the Saudis' attempts to fund and arm their Sunni benefactors? Even if they acquiesced, wouldn't this prove an incredible propaganda victory for al-Qaeda (much more potent than the post-Gulf War I basing)? And in attempting to prevent a regional war by keeping troops in Saudi Arabia and possibly Jordan, we would in essence be cutting off one source, while leaving many others in action. A tacit tilt in favor of Iran. Another reason that the Saudis wouldn't accept such a deal.]