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11/23/2004

Fewer Troops in Iraq

Laura Rozen, Matt Yglesias, Jim Henley, Kevin Drum, Max Sawicky, Jesse Taylor, Taegan Goddard, and surely others have flagged yesterday's Boston Globe article by Brian Bender, "Hawks Push Deep Cuts in Forces in Iraq." Apparently, Cato's director of foreign policy studies Chris Preble struck a chord with his report "Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against Al-Qaeda." Bender's update to the September Robert Novak scoop (which was soundly ridiculed on the right) and quasi-confirmation of John Derbyshire's speculation is valuable reporting.

This development bizarrely reverses the invective hurled mere weeks ago against John Kerry. Many of the same people Bender cites as coming around to a radical troop reduction position accused Kerry of harboring the same secret desires, despite his avowed statements to the contrary. Three weeks ago Bush himself insinuated that Kerry wanted to "cut and run" - which, regardless of its wisdom, is exactly what Bush is considering doing. Kerry called it - he argued that Bush was going to radically reduce troop levels without regard for the consequences, an assertion skeptically received (and which Bush and Cheney routinely denied).

Hypocrisy is old news, and surely not shocking from this bunch. But we still need to figure out what exactly is going on. Henley and Yglesias think the ulterior motives of the shift are to rationalize away our failure in Iraq, thereby minimizing the damage it's done to our imperialist impulses, and free up resources for Iran. It has now become obvious to many Americans that we did not go into Iraq with enough troops to secure the peace, primarily due to the poor strategic planning of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (that Salon article is worth watching the adv.). According to Henley, the hawks aren't happy with the idea that the militaristic imposition of democracy requires significant resources, and the only available counterargument is to claim that we weren't aggressive enough. I doubt that we could have created a democratic Iraq through military intervention no matter how effective our planning had been - but to argue that we failed because we used too many troops is shere madness.

The problem is that I'm not sure how I feel about the wisdom of troop reductions. I stand athwart the Kaplan-Feldman divide. The decision to invade was wrong, but it's done, and we need to find a path forward. Kaplan provides a reality-based argument that gets us to the same end of the absurd "hawkish" arguments: a draw down accompanied by increased reliance on proxies. Feldman, in focusing on "what we owe Iraq," returns us to our non-trivial moral obligations to a people we have screwed. Complicating the question is the dual incompetence of the Bush administration's policy apparatus and the national Democrats' message apparatus. The administration's policy incompetence lends weight to Kaplan by minimizing the opportunities for screw up. The Democrats' message incompetence lends weight to Feldman by increasing the risk that the GOP will be able to spin troop reductions as vindication and support for more intervention.

I can't resolve the dispute to my satisfaction - all I can do is list my considerations.

  • Troop reductions during instability will give a massive propaganda victory to bin Laden, Zarqawi, et al. The Afghan-Soviet mythology will be reinforced, Al Qaeda emboldened, etc. Of course, increasing troop levels, and especially locating permanent bases in Iraq, will also hand them a propaganda victory, affirming our lust for oil. We shouldn't have invaded.

  • Troop reductions without dividing Sunni insurgents from Al Qaeda fighters will inevitably produce civil war. This is Feldman's most insightful contribution: Al Qaeda has adopted Sunni grievances and Iraqi nationalism as tactics against the US, and we can not strategically succeed separating them. Sunni have different ultimate strategic objectives that Al Qaeda - returning to a privileged position in an Iraqi state v. shaming the "Great Satan" - and that divide must be exploited. An early draw down encourages greater cooperation, as the Sunni best case scenario (winning a civil war and installing another Sunni dominated regime) become possible again.

  • Iraqi national security forces are not ready to assume the responsibility of stabilizing the country. Insurgents and Al Qaeda have strategically targeted Iraqi security forces, massacreing them left and right, from the 50 dragged from their busses and executed to the headless bodies littering Mosul. Iraqi forces are infiltrated and intimidated by the insurgents, and are as likely to drop their weapons or switch sides as actually fight. The exception is the Kurds, who are competent and faithful, but a despised minority (again, see Mosul).

  • Troops & civilians are dying. The question, for me, is if more civilians will die in a civil war than under US occupation.

  • The impact on American credibility is uncertain. Parts of the world will view a withdrawal as a return to sanity, though the accompanying hawkish rationale will undercut that. Part will view it as one more lie from the President (recently validated by the American public - "sorry everybody" only goes so far). Part (Kurds) will view it as a betrayal.
I wish I had the answer.

 

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