Iraq: Are We There Yet?

Barbara Walter, professor of political science at UC San Diego, warns of removing our troops from Iraq prematurely in an op-ed in the LA Times:

Right now, U.S. forces serve two important purposes. First, they signal to Maliki and the dominant Shiite population that a decisive victory over the Sunnis and Kurds will not be possible. They also signal to the less-numerous Sunni and Kurdish populations that both of these groups will be protected from Shiite exploitation over time. Remove U.S. forces and U.S. involvement in Iraq and you simultaneously embolden the Shiites while telling the weaker groups they must fend for themselves.

So what should the U.S. do? President Obama has already said he plans to remove all combat troops by August 2010, with a remaining force of 35,000 to 50,000 “support troops” in place until the end of 2011. There is pressure to pull out all the troops on a faster schedule, but there is also talk of slowing the timetable for the removal of combat troops.

The U.S. needs to decide what outcome it is willing to live with in Iraq. It’s likely that if the U.S. withdraws all of its troops on schedule, the strategic balance will dramatically shift in favor of the Shiites, and they will press for full control over the state. This, in turn, will probably goad the Sunnis and Kurds back to war, likely ending in a brutal Shiite victory and the establishment of an authoritarian state.

concluding that we’ll need to maintain substantial levels of support, including troops, for Iraq well past the 2011 withdrawal date.

I think that Dr. Walter is trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted. The American people have decided that it’s time for us to remove our troops from Iraq. If President Obama were to step back from an agreement that the Bush Administration negotiated and the premise of which, that we would remove our troops from Iraq, was the key plank in his successful campaign for the presidency, he would face revolt from factions in his own base that he needs to secure re-election in 2012, especially if his domestic policies give independents cold feet as they’re all but certain to do. So the die is cast.

The matter is now a logistical question rather than a strategic one.

UPDATE (James Joyner):  I didn’t catch the connection the first time I read Dave’s piece but I used to use  Walter’s essay, “The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement” from the Summer 1997 issue of International Organization in my classes on national security policy and international conflict.  A useful summary here. While her LAT op-ed is in the spirit of that essay, she seems to have lengthened her timeline.  We’ve otherwise met all of the conditions that she outlined a dozen years ago.

Also, Jim Henley is “appalled” that this discussion is going on as if this were simply a decision for the United States and we had not made a commitment to a sovereign government to withdraw by the end of 2011. Presumably, though, persuading the Iraqi government that they continue to need us is implicit in this calculation.    I agree with Dave, however, that the issue is moot:  American appetite to remain in Iraq in more than a token capacity is fading fast.

FILED UNDER: General,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Steve Verdon says:

    If President Obama were to step back from an agreement that the Bush Administration negotiated and the premise of which, that we would remove our troops from Iraq, was the key plank in his successful campaign for the presidency, he would face revolt from factions in his own base that he needs to secure re-election in 2012….

    It is after reading things like this that I find the allure of anarcho-capitalism strongest. The translation is:

    “Yeah, so I’m going to let thousands suffer and die so I can get re-elected.”

    And there are people out there that really believe that “if we get just the right guy…why government will be ponies, honey, and fluffy bunnies.”

    meh

    (By the way, not aiming this at you Dave, I agree with your analysis.)

  2. Steve:

    No, the interpretation is, “We’ve done enough and we’ve paid enough, if the Iraqis can’t get their act together it’s on them.”

    What’s your alternative? Stay until Iraq is Vermont? Could be a really long stay. And the government of Iraq, such as it is, doesn’t want us to stay.

  3. odograph says:

    Did you guys cover the Reese memorandum?

  4. steve says:

    And your alternative Dave? How long can we stay, with how many troops, at what cost and be guaranteed the Sunnis and Shia will make up and play nice? This ignores the Kurds too. Lots of potential for conflict there yet. What is the opportunity cost of staying?

    Steve

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Me? I’m one of the very, very few who opposed the invasion, opposed withdrawing when the country was teetering on the brink of civil war, and think we should be withdrawing faster now.

    Unlike the author of the op-ed, I think we’ve already done what we can to soften Iraq’s landing.

    From my point of view the take-away message of the entire Iraq adventure is that while Americans may be willing to bomb the living daylights out of a country, we don’t have the colonizing instincts to stay put until the situation stabilizes. The only way to win is not to play.

  6. Jim Henley says:

    Does Barbara Walter know what the SOFA says? Does she care?

  7. odograph says:

    I was against the invasion, thought that a hollow victory would be easy, but that blowback would come for generations.

    If Reese (chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, Multinational Division-Baghdad, Iraq) is correct, we are still at hollow-victory stage.

    (I was surprised when a recent Iranian immigrant told me that (a) he loved GWB for defeating Iraq, and (b) that he thought this was the plan all along, to leave a failed state.)

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    What’s your alternative? Stay until Iraq is Vermont? Could be a really long stay. And the government of Iraq, such as it is, doesn’t want us to stay.

    That we hadn’t gone in the first place, but we can’t undo that. So instead we either stay until things are stable or we pull out. The latter comes with the rather unpleasant consequence that there will likely be lots of blood shed and misery and making the entire invasion almost completely pointless.

    And you are kind of missing the point of my comment Michael. It isn’t what we should do, but that politicians rarely “do the right thing”, instead they do the politically expedient thing. That latter is almost always easier than the former. Its one reason why democracy makes such a hash of everything. Granted other systems usually make and even bigger mess of things, but that gets back to my initial statment about the allure of anarcho-capitalism.

  9. steve says:

    Dave-Fair enough.

    “So instead we either stay until things are stable or we pull out”

    There’s the rub. How do you define stable? Does this not imply the possibility of an indefinite, very long occupation. What do we do if they start fighting weeks after we leave? It seems to me that things are relatively stable now. I think we should plan on leaving. We should not stay unless we are asked to stay. If asked, we should demand a price. That price should include reconciliation on some/all of the important political issues which remain unresolved. Partial payment in advance must be required.

    If we do the insisting/asking on staying, we have no leverage. We just continue to play the part of the Bodyguard for Maliki. Too easy for us to be manipulated by factions in Iraq into a bad position.

    Steve

  10. odograph says:

    A wish for a non-failed state in Iraq is not quite the same thing as a plan.

    (Read the memo steve, we aren’t protecting Maliki, he is setting himself against us: “Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a ‘great victory,’ implying the victory was over the US.”)

  11. And you are kind of missing the point of my comment Michael.

    It looked to me as if you had accused Obama of indifference to human life if it conflicted with his plan for re-election. I don’t think you have any basis for that conclusion with this president. At least so far.

    Obama is handing out very little free candy. Aside from the cash-for-clunkers thing (which is a pittance in budget terms) his major programs have been risky to his electoral chances. He’s not a Republican tossing out the inevitable tax cut, he’s trading his popularity for programs he at least believes are necessary.

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    It looked to me as if you had accused Obama of indifference to human life if it conflicted with his plan for re-election. I don’t think you have any basis for that conclusion with this president. At least so far.

    He is a politician and an agent of the State which by definition means he prefers violence as a means to achieving things.

    Obama is handing out very little free candy. Aside from the cash-for-clunkers thing (which is a pittance in budget terms) his major programs have been risky to his electoral chances. He’s not a Republican tossing out the inevitable tax cut, he’s trading his popularity for programs he at least believes are necessary.

    And there we go, someone who thinks that if we get just the right guy….

  13. Steve:

    Don’t you find sophomore year cynicism a little tiring after a while? Is your point that it doesn’t matter who we elect? Is it that no politician will ever do the right thing? Anyone familiar with American history can refute both those notions.

    He is a politician and an agent of the State which by definition means he prefers violence as a means to achieving things

    Is that supposed to be serious? Or is it a joke and I’m just not getting it?

  14. Herb says:

    As you say, the die is cast. Also, the two “important purposes” Walter cited are not good reasons to for US forces to stay in Iraq:

    “First, they signal to Maliki and the dominant Shiite population that a decisive victory over the Sunnis and Kurds will not be possible. They also signal to the less-numerous Sunni and Kurdish populations that both of these groups will be protected from Shiite exploitation over time.”

    So????? We don’t have a dog in that fight and I, for one, am sick of paying my tax dollars to buck up Iraqi national security. Don’t they have taxpayers of their own?

  15. Brett says:

    concluding that we’ll need to maintain substantial levels of support, including troops, for Iraq well past the 2011 withdrawal date.

    Isn’t that assuming that the Iraqi government lets you do that? They obviously can’t forcibly kick you out, but they could easily make it impossible for the US to do its missions.

    the strategic balance will dramatically shift in favor of the Shiites, and they will press for full control over the state.

    That’s going to happen in any Iraq that is

    A)democratically based, and

    B)possessing a strong central government.

    The Shiites are the largest group in Iraq, representing a majority. No amount of US positioning is going to change the fact that they’re going to dominate Iraq short of the US actively backing Sunni dominance (and they won’t do that).

    They also signal to the less-numerous Sunni and Kurdish populations that both of these groups will be protected from Shiite exploitation over time.

    It also tells them that they can put off the inevitable conciliations that they’re going to have to make with the Shiite majority in Iraq.

  16. anjin-san says:

    He is a politician and an agent of the State which by definition means he prefers violence as a means to achieving things.

    By the definition of whom? Pull your head out of your rear Steve. I don’t always agree with you, but you are a lot smarter than you are sounding at the moment…

  17. Jim Henley says:

    STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT PEOPLE!!!

    Criminy, one of you is as bad as the next.

  18. odograph says:

    James writes in his update:

    Also, Jim Henley is “appalled” that this discussion is going on as if this were simply a decision for the United States and we had not made a commitment to a sovereign government to withdraw by the end of 2011. Presumably, though, persuading the Iraqi government that they continue to need us is implicit in this calculation.

    It is also implicit that you can convince American officers on the ground like Col. Reese?

    Or do you have evidence that they think a non-failed state has a game plan?

  19. Bill says:

    The American people have decided that it’s time for us to remove our troops from Iraq.

    1. “The American People” don’t really care that much, especially since Iraq has vanished from the news. As long as Obama continues to make his moves toward removal and downplaying the US presence …

    And the center is his goal for reelection.

    2. This is why we don’t have direct Democracy, so elected experts can make decisions in the country’s best interest. thus far, Obama has fulfilled this mandate on foreign policy.

    3. “STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT PEOPLE!!!”

    The SOFA can be manipulated/interpreted by both Iraqi politicians and US personnel, at sufficient discretion. There is an airbase in Kuwait that the local government insists does not exist, for example.

    4. The reason for continued US involvement isn’t preventing the Shia from dominating. It’s preventing them from using state apparatus to imprison every Sunni they have a bone to pick with, thus sparking another war.

  20. Steve Verdon says:

    Don’t you find sophomore year cynicism a little tiring after a while? Is your point that it doesn’t matter who we elect?

    Pretty much.

    Let me use an analogy.

    You have a friend, a female friend. You’ve noticed she’s been depressed lately. Finally one day she confides in you. “My husband is a good man. He puts food on the table, a roof over my head, and provides for our children. But sometimes when I make a mistake or do something wrong he threatens me…it scares me, and every now and then he hits me.” I’m going to guess that your reactins is that she leave him. He is violent, dangerous.

    Now, in this analogy the husband is the State. The wife the voters, the children the children of the voters, and the threats and beatings are what the State uses to keep order and “peace”. It is a fundamentally unhealthy relationship. This is why our Founding Father’s put in restraints on our government. They did that to prevent the “husband” from beating his wife too much. Of course, most of us would say any such violence in a personal marriage is too much, but well it isn’t a perfect analogy I admit.

    But after you watch events for 20+ years, read history, and read guys like Robert Higgs you see that government is slipping free of its restraints (power corrupts, and all great men are bad men, etc.–to paraphrase Lord Acton). We grant more and more power to the government so it can provide for us. But that also means we get threatened and beaten more often. More laws criminalizing previously non-criminal behavior.

    For example, the laws on psuedoephedrine. I read an article that I posted on (check the archives) about a guy who had severe allergies. His son also had severe allergies. Because of the overbearing fear of meth, he was made a criminal when he bought enough Claritin for himself and his son for about a month.

    Another example? The rise in the use of SWAT teams for non-violent crimes. I’ve written on it. Glenn Reynolds has written on it. James Joyner has written on it. And last, but by far not least Radley Balko has written on it–I dare you to read his archives for two weeks, some of it is quite depressing.

    Both Democrats and Republicans seem to be in a competition to out “law and order” each other. We have citties enacting laws not about what people can do in public, but what they can and can’t do in their own homes. Smoking? Nope, not if you share a common wall (who knows maybe Irvine will make smoking while walking the sidewalks illegal and the asian couple will no longer have to fear you and your cigar…oh and no more smoking on that back porch either). Fois gras? Nope, its mean to geese. We’ve arrested people at airports for reading the wrong books, detained families because the little boy had a 2 inch replica of a laser gun from a cartoon. But we feel oh so much safer.

    They are “putting a roof over our heads” and “putting food on the table” and “providing for our children” (that latter one is often a rallying cry for the Nanny Staters–do it for the children!!!). We have Rahm Emmanuel telling us politicians should never let a good crisis go to waste when they can use to make significant changes, read increasing the size and scope of government, and look they aren’t. They want to massively increase the size and scope of government with health care, taking over GM, and putting in place new regulations on financial institutions (has anyone asked if enforcing the existing ones would be sufficient and why they weren’t enforced?).

    But feel free to go ahead and dismiss all this as “sophmore year cynicism”.

    Is it that no politician will ever do the right thing?

    Only if it coincides with improving his chances at getting re-elected. For example if the right things is “raising taxes” and that would also increase his chances of getting re-elected then yes, he’d do it.

    Anyone familiar with American history can refute both those notions.

    Aside from the fact that you’ve set up a straw man, Robert Higgs would strongly disagree with you. Remember my claim is that politicians don’t do the right thing they do the politically expedient thing, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but then again nothing says they have to always be identical. Its a difference between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. Sometimes they are one in the same, but often not. I’d have thought you’d have figured this out by now.

    Is that supposed to be serious? Or is it a joke and I’m just not getting it?

    No joke. And you aren’t getting it because you just aren’t engaging that brain of yours. The government operates via force. If you don’t do what the government wants it initiates force against you…violence. Don’t pay your taxes you are jailed. Violate regulations you are fined, fail to pay the fines, jailed. Both of these are a type of violence. The first is backed up by the threat of violence the second is direct violence and both deprive the individual of time–i.e. their life. Look at Henry Louis Gates…he was essentially arrested for “contempt of cop” which is not a crime anywhere. But that’s okay because…well because Michael Reynolds doesn’t have “sophmore year cynicism”.

  21. Steve:

    I’m “not getting” it probably because I’m quite a bit older than you are and less enthralled by the 20 years you say you’ve observed.

    In the 55 years I’ve been around:

    1) Blacks were freed from explicit, legal discrimination on a wide scale.
    2) Women moved from second class status in the law to equal status.
    3) Gays have begun to move to fully equal legal status.
    4) Drug laws have been widely relaxed.
    5) The death penalty was reinstated, but then moved off the table in a practical sense in many states.
    6) Cable and internet have voided most government media censorship.
    7) People with handicaps now have legally protected rights.
    8) Abortion and birth control were both made legal in my lifetime.

    I find it absurd to look at this vast migration of second-class citizens to full and equal citizenship and somehow conclude that recent history is about a relentless growth of government power at the expense of our rights. Many more Americans have many more rights.

    I have so much more freedom now than I did growing up. I no longer have to worry about being drafted. I no longer have to worry about death threats if I have a black person at my house. (Yeah, we had that happen.)

    You’re a kid looking and the tide coming in for the first time and thinking, “We’re all gonna drown!” I’ve seen the tide come in, and the tide go out.

    Cynicism seems like wisdom at a certain age. It did to me. But it isn’t. Cynicism is surrender.

    Hope and optimism are rational, not irrational virtues. In the end we’re all dead. That’s a fact. But that’s a narcissistic view. We aren’t just about ourselves, we’re about membership in the human race, and about the long, slow process of building and improving a civilization. Our obligation to the civilization that nurtures us to improve it — and cynics improve nothing. Cynics surrender and imagine themselves wise.

    So cheer up. Life is actually pretty damned good. I watched American cities burn, and watched black men humiliated, and knew that women were treated as servants, and that gays were terrorized. LIfe is great. American life is great.

    But as always, it could be better.

  22. Steve Verdon says:

    I’m “not getting” it probably because I’m quite a bit older than you are and less enthralled by the 20 years you say you’ve observed.

    In the 55 years I’ve been around:

    Actually I’m 41, but for the first 20 years or so I was young and dumb. I recall items 2 – 8 on your list.

    4) Drug laws have been widely relaxed.

    Earth to Michael, no they haven’t. Sure some states are trying to pass medical marijuana laws and the typical person’s views have moderated considerably, but we just made pseudephedrine practically illegal. And the Feds still go after medical marijuana establishments under the growing federal drug laws. Then there is the prosecution of doctors for prescribing pain medication. Yes in some cases it gets abused, but in others it looks like a gross failure of the War on Drugs. Really, what events have you been watching?

    6) Cable and internet have voided most government media censorship.

    And yet at the same time “terrestrial radio” has made a push at getting the FCC to apply the same censorship rules against satellite radio.

    But yay! We can watch boobs and butts on television. Nevermind that the governemnt wants to move a rather large portion of the economy under its authority. That the government will likely end up limiting people’s choices of doctor, insurance plan, and even when and how much care they can get.

    I have so much more freedom now than I did growing up. I no longer have to worry about being drafted.

    Only because of your age. Registration for the draft is technically still the law.

    You’re a kid looking and the tide coming in for the first time and thinking, “We’re all gonna drown!” I’ve seen the tide come in, and the tide go out.

    You are 14 years older than me that hardly constitutes me being a “kid”. Also, the idea that you’ve been observing history for your full 55 years is a stupid statement. One of many you’ve made recently.

    Oh and Robert Higgs is 65 so are we to give his views more deference than yours because he is older? Are you really saying your position is the more correct one simply because you are older than me? Are you really advocating ageism?

    Here’s a thought, maybe instead of focusing on what you (incorrectly) think is a person’s age maybe you should look at the arguments. After all, your position prohibits you from commenting on anything outside of your 55 years of life. Anything before 1954 are forbidden topics to you (and me). You want to make the claim that because you were alive in 1963 (you were what…7?) that my reading of events in 1963 renders my views…less than yours simply because you lived it and your views from that time as a 7 year old are to be given more weight? Really?

  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    The funny thing is that I was giving you the benefit of the doubt assuming you were young. But have it your way: you’re superficial, philosophically shallow and immature.

    Much better.

    Only an idiot uses marriage as a metaphor for government. You were smarter when I thought you were a kid.

  24. Steve Verdon says:

    Right, superficial and shallow, nevermind that its a similar philosophy for people like Milton Friedman, Friederich Hayak, Ludwig von Mises, and others.

    And no it isn’t idiotic to use marriage given the level of paternalism and parentalism going on today. And look you live in Irvine, shocking. A city renowned for its parentalism.

    I’ll also note you have nothing left to argue with other than personal insults. You’ve lost…then again you didn’t have much of a position to start with.