View Full Version : If America Left Iraq

02-28-2006, 06:14 PM
December 2005 Atlantic Monthly - If America Left Iraq: The Case for Cutting and Running (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200512/iraq-withdrawal) by Nir Rosen.

At some point—whether sooner or later—U.S. troops will leave Iraq. I have spent much of the occupation reporting from Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Fallujah, and elsewhere in the country, and I can tell you that a growing majority of Iraqis would like it to be sooner. As the occupation wears on, more and more Iraqis chafe at its failure to provide stability or even electricity, and they have grown to hate the explosions, gunfire, and constant war, and also the daily annoyances: having to wait hours in traffic because the Americans have closed off half the city; having to sit in that traffic behind a U.S. military vehicle pointing its weapons at them; having to endure constant searches and arrests. Before the January 30 elections this year the Association of Muslim Scholars—Iraq's most important Sunni Arab body, and one closely tied to the indigenous majority of the insurgency—called for a commitment to a timely U.S. withdrawal as a condition for its participation in the vote. (In exchange the association promised to rein in the resistance.) It's not just Sunnis who have demanded a withdrawal: the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is immensely popular among the young and the poor, has made a similar demand. So has the mainstream leader of the Shiites' Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who made his first call for U.S. withdrawal as early as April 23, 2003.

If the people the U.S. military is ostensibly protecting want it to go, why do the soldiers stay? The most common answer is that it would be irresponsible for the United States to depart before some measure of peace has been assured. The American presence, this argument goes, is the only thing keeping Iraq from an all-out civil war that could take millions of lives and would profoundly destabilize the region. But is that really the case? Let's consider the key questions surrounding the prospect of an imminent American withdrawal...

Read on at the link for each of the "key questions" and Rosen's reasoning behind an answer for each...

03-01-2006, 11:52 PM
Good article. I think the historical record shows that one of the most common mistakes great powers make in small wars is in knowing when to quit. A desire to create the perfect outcome and justify all of the expense prevents us from striving for acceptable outcomes. It is like the old saying: “better is the enemy of good enough”.

03-02-2006, 01:02 AM
Would the withdrawal of U.S. troops ignite a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites?
The author is correct in that a low-level sectarian conflict has been under way for a while, and is in danger of tipping over.

However, he is entirely mistaken in his reasoning in blaming the US for the existence of the Sunni Arab insurgency. Yes, we ended the rule of the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq - but our departure will not change that picture. The Sunni Arabs will take full advantage of a US departure to increase their attacks upon Shi'a Arab military, police and government administrative elements until they are either summarily defeated or they are given what they perceive to be a legitimate share of the power in the new Iraq. I don't believe that I need to lay out that their perception of a "legitimate share", and the Shi'a Arab perceptions of such are very different. The author's belief that the Sunni opposition to the current nascent government exists solely because they are viewed as "quislings" due to the US presence is naive at best.

But if American troops aren't in Baghdad, what's to stop the Sunnis from launching an assault and seizing control of the city?
The author is correct in asserting that the Sunni Arabs do not possess the ability to take Baghdad. However, we can forsee its descent into even more brutal factional civil war within the city - akin to Beirut in the late '70s - should Coalition forces abruptly depart.

Wouldn't a U.S. withdrawal embolden the insurgency?
The author has completely failed to look at this question in the appropriate context. The Sunni Arab view of revenge in this context extends to the Shi'a (and to a lesser extent the Kurds) for driving them out of power - a position the Sunni Arabs have held in Iraq since long before Saddam. A US withdrawal would damn sure embolden their efforts.

But what about the foreign jihadi element of the resistance? Wouldn't it be empowered by a U.S. withdrawal?
The author is correct that they are numerically insignificant. However, we have already seen that the effects of their operations have a significance beyond their numbers.

US pressures on both sides to come together have had some limited successes - despite (and in some cases because of) actions of the foreign jihadis calculated to hasten the spread of civil conflict. With a US withdrawal, that moderating influence is gone, and both sides will go back to seeing the situation as a zero-sum game, which only one side can win. This raises the likelihood of Sunni Arabs renewing and increasing their ties with the foreign jihadists, thus reversing the positive trend we have been seeing recently.

What about the Kurds? Won't they secede if the United States leaves?
The author is mighty flippant about a critical regional stability issue - Yes, but that's going to happen anyway. Not necessarily so. The Kurds do want their independence; but their leaders are also very pragmatic regarding their current geo-political situation. They understand that they need to work within the Iraqi state for the forseeable future, and continue to dream of independence. A premature independence, forced upon them by descent into civil war which itself was precipitated by a hasty US departure, raises the serious spectre of intervention by neighbors hostile to any idea of an independent Kurdistan.

Would Turkey invade in response to a Kurdish secession?
The author has no idea of the power of Turkish nationalism in respect to this question. Take a close look at the history of Turkish military incursions into Iraq - I was present in northern Iraq during two of their spring offensives in the '90s, and have observed some of their machinations in the north post-Saddam. The possibility of a Turkish military intervention to protect what they view as their interests is very real.

Would Iran effectively take over Iraq?
The author is correct in discounting this premise, although he greatly exaggerates the degree of hostility Iraqi Shi'a Arabs feel towards Iran. Iran would definitely have influence with a Shi'a-majority government - hell, they already do....but they would never have control.

Enough. This guy clearly feels that Iraq is a completely lost cause, and that we should get the hell out. The degree to which he minimizes and even dismisses critical issues that could ensue from a withdrawal make that pretty damn clear.

I posted this before, but its worth a re-read after reading over the article at the top of this thread. From SSI, published last October:

Precedents, Variables, and Options in Planning a U.S. Military Disengagement Strategy from Iraq (http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB627.pdf)