Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hypotheticals

Oh I wish I were this good a blogger:
Zengerle wants to lead us into a set of rhetorical questions intended to make us more thoughtful about withdrawal. To work, however, rhetorical questions shouldn't have obvious answers.

1. What are the consequences of America losing a war?
The same as the consequences of any other country losing a war, only far less so since the war was fought far away for reasons tangential to genuine US security interests.

2. What will it do to our position in the world?
The dreadful defeat will leave the US the most powerful country in the world.
This whole line of argument -- "people should be honest with the consequences of withdrawal from Iraq" -- leaves me gasping. If we'd been honest about the consequences of invading Iraq in the first place, then we wouldn't be in this mess.

Moreover, the argument that "things will be worse if the US leaves Iraq" manages to be both dubious in accuracy and utility at the same time. First of all, it could simply be untrue -- without the US there, the Shia militias might achieve a rapid victory in the Civil War and establish some kind of order. Any order, at this point, would be preferable to the status quo.

I'm not saying this will happen, but you can't simply assert that the US presence is keeping things from spinning out of control. There's certainly no historical evidence for it -- we've arrived at the current war of all against all in Iraq with an extremely heft US presence, and it clearly hasn't stopped us from getting here.

Which leads to the second point: the current trajectory of things in Iraq is horrible, and getting worse. This, I repeat, with a hefty US presence. Even if you assume the US is having a marginal positive effect on affairs in that country (the reverse could be true) it is quite clearly not enough to change the direction things are headed. At best, Americans are lightly braking the bloodletting, not stopping it, nor even keeping it from accelerating.

So whatever horrible things are going to happen in Iraq will probably happen anyway, just on a different timetable depending on the US presence. Say, for example, that the end point in Iraq is some Bosnian ethnic division between Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. Is it worth 500 American lives, or 1,000, to make sure that this happens in 2009 instead of 2008?

I've been saying this since I started this blog -- the US does not control affairs in Iraq, and hasn't since at least the spring/summer of 2004.

Which means they should get out. The President has the authority to spend soldiers' lives, but only on the condition that the objectives are achievable and in the national interest of the United States. Iraq is neither, and Bush doesn't have the right to squander human beings simply to keep from being the guy who lost Iraq.

4 comments:

Closet Liberal said...

Given the US precipitated Iraq's current crises by creating a power vacuum.
Given they are unable to control it.
Given they are unlikely to ever control it.

Still begs the question, what if anything, can we (the rest of the world) do about it? Is our only course of action getting out and leaving Iraq to its own devices?

That's looking like a cop-out to me. Is there absolutely nothing that can be done? If the rest of the world (a la the UN) were to present a credible alternative, Bush and his ilk could probably be convinced to withdraw. At least they would have a legitimate out that saves face, and we might be able to save Iraq.

john said...

"If the rest of the world (a la the UN) were to present a credible alternative, Bush and his ilk could probably be convinced to withdraw."

That was the hope behind Jim Baker's ISG report -- give bush a face-saving out. It hasn't worked, and Baker's a republican. Why would we imagine the Bush Administration would be more receptive to a UN alternative?

Whether you meant to or not, you've asked two totally different questions: "Is there absolutely nothing that can be done?" Yes, there are all sorts of possibilities: raise 500-750,000 Arabic speaking soldiers trained in the art of counterinsurgency warfare and stay there for 20 years. You want to stop the bloodletting and assert control over Iraq, something like that is what's probably required.

Your other question, though, "what if anything can we... do about it?" is not a hypothetical question. It needs to be based on our actual means. Here, the best options are probably refugee camps in Syria, Saudi, and (if the Turks allow it) Turkey. Let/help one side win the civil war quickly and establish a legitimate government.

M. Simon said...

You defeat guerillas by democracy and going after their sources of supply and secure bases.

So do we have the will to take on Iran and the Saudis?

In Iraq we are swatting flies instead of burying the manure pile.

When you work on the manure pile you get covered with flies. At first. No one wants the job.

What we want to avoid is Iraq becoming (another) secure base for jihadis. This is doable at the current troop level if we are willing to bleed lightly for the indefinite future.

John January 10, 2007 5:18 PM, has it about right although I think the troop levels he suggests are too high.

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I note that you show the times on the posts as local time. Blogger has a GMT option - world time. (the year gets truncated though)

Closet Liberal said...

Why would we imagine the Bush Administration would be more receptive to a UN alternative?

If we get enough world pressure. Requires UN countries to provide a united front. I'm likely whistling in the dark on that one, but, if the world leaders want a solution, then this is their recourse. Any solution requires a united international front, of some sort. Even using Arabic speaking soldiers requires co-operation between Muslim countries and the US and its allies.

What I was really trying to ask: Are we willing to try to find the solutions? Will the world step up to the plate? Or, is it as I fear, we're going to blame the US for the whole fiasco, and wash our hands of it?