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.