Over at Salon recently, Kevin Berger interviewed Evan Kohlmann, who is considered to be an expert on the Iraqi insurgency and who has done consulting work for the DoD, CIA and other government agencies, and asked him, among other things, what the US should be doing in Iraq.
Kohlmann rules out a US withdrawal, for the following chilling reason (emphases mine):
If we withdraw from Iraq right now, there's no doubt what will happen. First there's going to be a war for control of Baghdad and then once Baghdad is ripped to the ground, the battle is going to spread across Iraq. It could potentially be like Rwanda. Right now, hundreds of people are being killed each month, which is awful and horrifying in itself. Imagine if that figure was 100 times bigger. Also, if we withdraw, a widespread war is going to be entirely our responsibility. It's easy to say it's Iraqis killing Iraqis. But nobody else is going to see it that way. Everyone is going to affix blame to us. We will ultimately cause a situation that forces us to reinvade Iraq and create even more casualties. It's an awful Catch 22.
But when asked to say what the US should do, instead of withdrawal, Kohlmann can only say this:
We have to give people a reason to stop supporting al-Qaida. And the only way to do that is to punish the people who are harming them. We have to show that democratic forces can also hold up justice. Right now, democracy for Iraqis amounts to Shiites in control of the police force and running everything. The things that might convince Sunnis to move back in the other direction would be a real step at trying to reform the Iraqi police force, the Interior Ministry, and try and bring some of the individuals in those places, which have committed gross crimes, including crimes on the scale of Saddam Hussein, to justice.
All of this is fine and dandy, but…
…but of course he doesn't propose to show how all of this can be done — probably because he knows that it CAN'T be done. What I just quoted above is all he had to say on the subject.
And in the very next breath, he admits that Bush wouldn't be capable of pulling it off anyway:
I thought perhaps, in invading Iraq, they had some long-term view that nobody else could see. But that hope faded very quickly. The Bush administration didn't reach out to anyone credible when they were asking about, for instance, the connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Anybody with any real knowledge of the region would have told them there are no connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. The only people who believed that nonsense were lunatics.
Staying in Iraq long-term, no matter how much Bush and his PNAC Platoon buddies want to keep control (via Executive Order 13303) of the billions and billions of oil revenue money coming out of Iraq, is simply impossible. Our armed forces are already fraying at the seams, and the day is fast approaching when unit cohesion is going to collapse the way it did in Vietnam, when troop mutinies and "fragging" became distressingly common.
In addition, to do what Kohlmann recommends would require tripling or quadrupling the number of American troops in Iraq to have even an outside chance of succeeding — and even if Bush were willing to call up a draft to do this (and thus ensure that the Democrats win big in 2008), there's simply no way the draftees could be trained fast enough and well enough to do the job, as there aren't enough people around Stateside to do that; most of the people who would be training them are themselves stuck in Iraq or Afghanistan. We couldn't get the draftees trained and into Iraq fast enough to save the unit cohesion of the troops already there.
The military commanders, even the ones Bush cherry-picked, all know this. General Petraeus has recently tacitly admitted as much, hence his push for talks with all parties, including Iran.
Speaking of Iran: What happens if Bush launches an attack on that country? I'll tell you what happens: The Shiites join the Sunni insurgents in attacking us in Iraq. We start losing bases in Iraq, one by one. The airport falls — trapping the tens of thousands of non-Iraqis living in the Green Zone next door, as their safest escape route out of Iraq is now gone. And those troops that do survive will do so only via a fighting withdrawal to Turkey or Syria or whichever of Iraq's neighbors is least likely to shoot them on sight.
The inconvenient truth here is that there are no 'good' options in Iraq right now. Leaving may well cause a much, much bigger series of bloodbaths than are already occurring, as well as send the price of oil skyrocketing as the Shiites fight the Sunnis for control of the oil rigs (which is, I suspect, what many if not most of the we-can't-leave folks really fear; Juan Cole, at least, was honest enough to give $20-a-gallon gas as a reason for the US to stay).
But there is no way that the US can stay in Iraq. It's just not feasible. It's also a particularly brutal proof of Einstein's famous truism that the problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them. The same people who planned the invasion have also been the unwitting architects of its undoing, by trashing the readiness of our armed forces and their ability to train new members, and trashing our credibility and reputation both in Iraq and elsewhere. It's one gigantic flustered cluck, and there are no possible "good" solutions to it — only those marked "bad" and "much, much worse". The main point of argument is "Which solution hurts the least amount of people in the long run?"
It now looks undeniable that a US withdrawal is that solution.