Prepping Us for the Long War?
A New York Times article Saturday highlighted the fact the leading Democratic candidates’ “withdrawal” plans all require leaving unspecified numbers of US troops in Iraq indefinitely to continue fighting al Qaeda [in Iraq], train Iraqi security forces and/or prevent either internal genocide (Edwards) or external invasions (Clinton, Obama, Biden). All of this has been apparent for months, but given all the Michael Gordon articles about the threats to Iraq posed by al Qaeda and Iran, this latest Times article seemed calculated to dispel the illusion that a Democratic President would bring most of the US forces home.
Monday’s Times lead editorial indirectly criticizes these plans while arguing, as best I can tell, that there may be no other acceptable option short of complete withdrawal, which the Times has never endorsed. After noting the British strategy of pulling back its forces and limiting their mission to training and some counter-insurgency efforts, to allow a substantial reduction in direct combat, the editorial, like the Washington Post article a week ago, declares the British phased withdrawal strategy is failing in Basra.
There simply aren’t reliable, effective and impartial Iraqi forces ready to keep the cities safe, nor are they likely to exist any time soon. And insurgents are not going to stop attacking Americans just because the Americans announce that they’re out of the fight.
In Basra — after four years of British tutelage — police forces are infiltrated by sectarian militias. The British departure will cede huge areas to criminal gangs and rival Shiite militias. Without Iraqis capable of taking over, the phased drawdown of British troops has turned ugly. The remaining British troops hunkered down in the city at Basra Palace are under fire from all directions. Those at the airbase are regularly bombarded.
And Basra should be easier than Baghdad. Most of the population is Shiite, and neither Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia nor other Sunni insurgent groups have a significant presence. Elsewhere in Iraq, where internal rivalries are overshadowed by the Sunni insurgency, sectarian civil war and rampant ethnic cleansing, a reduced American force might find itself in an even worse predicament. The clear lesson of the British experience is that going partway is not a realistic option.
George Bush once said his strategy was to lock the next President into his long term Iraq occupation plans. He apparently reasoned that if he could bury the US deeply enough in the Iraq quagmire, no one would have the stomach or wisdom to get us out. He may be right.
Of course, if the US is going to stay another 10 years in a country of resentful and warring Sunni and Shia militias and surrounded on all sides by neighbors threatening to intervene, it’s going to need a much bigger Army, one fed by a more efficient recruiting method than the all-volunteer system is proving for unpopular wars. So I suspect this trial balloon was intentional, notwithstanding the immediate denials. Countdown’s KO has more: see the video “Feeling a draft.”