Joint Chiefs Chair Warns Obama and Clinton on Iraq

America’s top military leader is warning about rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

The Joint Chiefs chairman has a word of warning to Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: A rapid of withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a “chaotic situation” and would “turnaround the gains we have achieved, and struggled to achieve, and turn them around overnight.

Admiral Mullen’s comments came in a response to a question about what the Joint Chiefs are doing to prepare for a new president, given that two of the candidates have called for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. “We need to be prepared across the board for what a new president will bring,” Mullen said. “I do worry about a rapid withdrawal. . . [that would] turn around the gains we have achieved and struggled to achieve and turn them around overnight.” Asked to define a “rapid withdrawal,” Mullen said, “a withdrawal that would be so fast that it would leave us in a chaotic situation and the gains we have achieved would be lost.”

That said, Mullen added: “When a new president comes in, I will get my orders and I will carry them out.”

Obviously.

Despite early rhetoric in the campaign, it has become rather clear that none of the three serious candidates for the presidency would order a “rapid withdrawal” under that definition. John McCain is obviously more committed to the mission’s success but neither Clinton nor Obama wants to be blamed for failure.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Iraq War, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. glasnost says:

    I don’t know if you noticed, James, but over the past few weeks we’ve learned that when the ‘surge’ ends, we’re going to have more troops in Iraq than when we started, and the army has no plans to let any of the rest of them leave. And why would they? The insurgency is still killing a US soldier per day. Someone forgot to send them the memo that we won and they don’t exist.

    Any form of withdrawal stands a chance of increasing Iraqi civic chaos. But it’s going to happen anyway, because it’s long overdue. But as Mullen makes clear here, no one has any idea what a “rapid” withdrawal is. A “rapid withdrawal” is just a “withdrawal where something bad happens”. But that could come about right now as we undo the surge. It could come about even with the surge. Frankly, I don’t think the American voters care anymore.

  2. grampagravy says:

    Invading Iraq in the first place was stupid. The real enemy wasn’t there, the imminent threat to America wasn’t there, and the WMDs weren’t there. Bullets and bombs didn’t win hearts and minds, if anything civilian deaths created more animosity, and trying to do the whole thing “on the cheap” was at best stupid-at worst criminal. The suggestion that whoever winds up cleaning this mess up could own some of the blame is truly an amazing one, unless one looks out ahead at, say, election 2012.
    Let’s see, let’s run a non-starter like McCain, spend four years blaming everything we did to the country for eight years on whichever Democrat wins, and come back all shiny and new in a few years.
    How else can the GOP live down one of the worst Presidents in history?

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    What gains have we made there with our troop presence, exactly? I’ve been digging into this for a couple of weeks now, and as near as I can tell, the recent declines in violence have been less attributable to increased troops in Iraq and more attributable to:

    1) al-Sadr agreeing to a ceasefire for his personal forces and

    2) the U.S. bribing Sunni tribesmen into not fighting.

    But even with more troops, the Sadr ceasefire, and rampant bribery the “Sunni Awakening”, violence is still at the same levels it was in 2005. In other words, Iraq is still pretty much in chaos right now.

    What difference are we making?

  4. DL says:

    FTA “That said, Mullen added: “When a new president comes in, I will get my orders and I will carry them out.”

    What would happen if he said instead that if the new president orders me to surrender I will resign my command on the spot and hand him/her the white flag to do the dishonorable deed himself?

  5. Bithead says:

    What progress?
    Well, I’m not shocked you don’t know, because as the US death rate has gone down, the reporting has been far less. Indeed, I have a post on this later this morning. Here’s part of a quote from it:

    The Iraqi parliament has passed several laws meeting required political reconciliation benchmarks. Attacks in Baghdad have fallen up to 80 percent in the past twelve months, Reuters reported February 16. Deaths among Iraqi military forces and civilians have dropped by more than two-thirds, from more than 2,000 per month in early 2007 to fewer than 600 per month since November.

    And U.S. military deaths have also declined, falling from 126 in May 2007 to 40 in January 2008 and just 29 so far in February, with two days left in the month. Yet this good news seems to have diminished the media elite’s interest in broadcasting any news from Iraq

    I mean, I hate to bust your bubble, but those are the facts. There’s more that makes the case, of course, but I’ll leave it at this. I expect this will be problem enough to ignore.

  6. Alex Knapp says:

    Bithead,

    I didn’t say that violence hasn’t died down, and it’s nice to see that the Iraqi Parliament might actually complete the laws they were supposed to have passed in 2004.

    What I am saying is that violence is still at 2005 levels, which was hardly a time of peace and prosperity in Iraq.

    I’m also saying that that the bulk of that decrease in violence doesn’t actually appear to be directly attributable to our increase in forces.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    The key words in your last comment, Alex,are “directly attributable”. Does it really matter whether the results are directly attributable, indirectly attributable, our troops are one of many contributing factors, or whatever? As I’ve said before ad nauseam, I opposed the invasion of Iraq but I also think that fewer people getting killed in Iraq than were a year ago is a good thing. I know that lots of people think that getting the heck out of Iraq is worth the risk of returning to those halcyon days. If the carnage returns at least it won’t be shown on the Nightly News.

    And may I remind everyone that never having invaded Iraq is no longer one of the options on the table? That ship sailed in 2003 and bringing it up again is just an exercise in nostalgia. Just because you think that the invasion was a mistake doesn’t mean that withdrawing without considering the current situation or the likely consequences is a good idea, too.

  8. Dantheman says:

    Dave Schuler,

    “And may I remind everyone that never having invaded Iraq is no longer one of the options on the table? That ship sailed in 2003 and bringing it up again is just an exercise in nostalgia.”

    It is more than that. It is looking at a person’s judgment on a critical issue in the past. Bringing the issue into the campaign arena, when McCain or Clinton argues that they have far more experience than Obama and that is a reason to trust their judgment, it is entirely relevant to ask how good their judgment has been on close and critical issues in the past.

    On the merits of leaving Iraq, my view is that there is no incentive for the various parties to compromise so long as they know that there will be US troops to prevent the situation from boiling over if they fail to reach a deal. Keeping the troops in Iraq is the political equivalent of a moral hazard in economics, where there is no penalty for failure.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    It is more than that. It is looking at a person’s judgment on a critical issue in the past. Bringing the issue into the campaign arena, when McCain or Clinton argues that they have far more experience than Obama and that is a reason to trust their judgment, it is entirely relevant to ask how good their judgment has been on close and critical issues in the past.

    Agreed. But it’s not relevant to whether we should stay in Iraq or leave.

    On the merits of leaving Iraq, my view is that there is no incentive for the various parties to compromise so long as they know that there will be US troops to prevent the situation from boiling over if they fail to reach a deal. Keeping the troops in Iraq is the political equivalent of a moral hazard in economics, where there is no penalty for failure.

    Recalling that I believe that intelligent people can differ on whether our troops should stay in Iraq or leave, I think you’re making the same error that many of our politicians are: you can’t judge Iraqi politicians by the standards of an American politicians experience. The Iraqis aren’t just being stubborn or lazy and putting their feet to the fire is unlikely to produce a favorable outcome. They have plenty of incentives for resolving their differences without our putting pressure on them by leaving or threats to leave. They take the bloodstains on their streets as seriously as we do, probably more so.

    Political progress is being made now and, as Anthony Cordesman pointed out not long ago, as long as that’s the case the advantages in our staying outway the disadvantages.

  10. Alex Knapp says:

    Does it really matter whether the results are directly attributable, indirectly attributable, our troops are one of many contributing factors, or whatever? As I’ve said before ad nauseam, I opposed the invasion of Iraq but I also think that fewer people getting killed in Iraq than were a year ago is a good thing.

    The point is, Dave, is that if security gains in Iraq aren’t due to increased levels of U.S. troops, then the argument that we need to maintain troop levels to keep violence down isn’t sustainable.

    If, as I suspect, that the largest reason for the decline in violence in Iraq is due to al-Sadr’s ceasefire, then it doesn’t appear that U.S. forces are really needed that much at all.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    And my point is that I think you’re overreaching, bootstrapping from “not directly attributable” to “not the largest reason” to irrelevant while the evidence at the very most supports only the first step.

    My own position, by the way, is not that we need more troops or the pre-Surge number. I don’t honestly know what the right number is or if there is a right number. I think there’s going to be a reduction in our level of forces in Iraq this year for logistical reasons.

    I do think that zero is the wrong number. I think we’re going to have a sizeable military commitment to Iraq for the foreseeable future. And the way I read the policy positions of all three prospective presidential candidates that’s what they’re saying, too (or at the very least that’s the most likely interpretation).

  12. grampagravy says:

    And may I remind everyone that never having invaded Iraq is no longer one of the options on the table? That ship sailed in 2003 and bringing it up again is just an exercise in nostalgia.

    Bringing it up again is an exercise in remembering whose failure to focus on in the future, and an exercise in noting the futility of “staying the (wrong) course.”

    John McCain is obviously more committed to the mission’s success but neither Clinton nor Obama wants to be blamed for failure.

    A little “nostalgia” (some of us call it history) puts the possibility of “success” in stupidity or blaming the successor into perspective.

  13. C.Wagener says:

    The commanders on the ground seem to feel the increased troop presence allowed them to pursue the counterinsurgency strategy that has proved successful. No offense, but I think they might be a bit more qualified and knowledgeable about the situation than guys writing comments on a blog, myself included.

    Viewed from 2/29/08, how exactly is this a disastrous war? Terrorists have been killed in large numbers. More importantly their ideology (or lack thereof) has been destroyed in the eyes of the natives. The same thing is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Turns out people don’t like their friends and family blown up by nihilistic sociopaths. People dying in NYC was OK, but not in their markets.

    Do we seriously want to go back to the Clinton approach of arresting a few people and putting them on trial and accepting getting hit every couple of years? How about we win this and be done with it. It is a completely false premise that America can unilaterally declare peace. We will lose life regardless of our actions because there are people intent on killing Americans. As for all you history fans, Churchill’s “Gathering Storm” might be worth a perusal. Lives spent early in a conflict can prevent catastrophe later on.

    I certainly wish we didn’t lose a single American life, but the reality is we lose lives every day to less important causes. Five people per hour die in traffic accidents in this country. The NHTSA estimates ten people die per day due to CAFE standards.

  14. Bithead says:

    I didn’t say that violence hasn’t died down, and it’s nice to see that the Iraqi Parliament might actually complete the laws they were supposed to have passed in 2004

    And why is that prolematic, particularly? I mean, have you seen the glacial pce of our own Congress of late? why shuld we expect better performance out of a band of people who are arguably n a more contentious situation than we here in the US are? The point I’m making is that demands of quick action on the part of such a group is likley not realistic.

    The point is, Dave, is that if security gains in Iraq aren’t due to increased levels of U.S. troops, then the argument that we need to maintain troop levels to keep violence down isn’t sustainable.

    You’re not suprisingly missing it, Alex…
    Even assuming for the moment, that the reduction in violence is the fianl arbitor of success or failure over the short term… AND even assuming it’s a valid arbitor at ALL… AND assuming that our troops are not responsible for the reductions now seen… with all that assummption going on… a stretch to begin with… what positive link do you have to prove that reducing our troop levels there isn’t going to increase the violence? I mean, look, even if we asume that the troop levels didn’t calm things there, what’s to say they won’t ignite once we leave?

    The point is you seem to be leaping over a number of unanswered questions, to a pre-determined and politically correct (Democrat approved) course of action.

  15. Bithead says:

    sorry for typos… can’t see this damned laptop screen.
    Eyesight is the second thing to go.
    I don’t recall what the first thing is.

  16. G.A.Phillips says:

    I certainly wish we didn’t lose a single American life, but the reality is we lose lives every day to less important causes. Five people per hour die in traffic accidents in this country. The NHTSA estimates ten people die per day due to CAFE standards.

    I agree, for instance how many people do we lose every day to intercity liberals looking for drug money?