Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Iraq: Withdrawal as a Time-Buying Strategy

Bigger than 9-11--According to the UN, 3709 civilians were killed in Iraq last month--more than were killed at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Pennsylvania combined on 9-11. The U. S. occupation of Iraq may turn out to be the biggest terrorist bonanza in history.

Make It Matter or Move Them Out--There are 15,000 American troops in Baghdad and 20,000 in Anbar. The American military command is at least four months into its enhanced operations in Baghdad and still hasn't figured out a way to make American forces relevant to the sectarian battles between the Shiites and Sunni insurgents. If American troops can't be made relevant to the situation in Baghdad, they should either be redeployed back to Anbar or sent home.

The Crunch--Likewise, there are not enough American troops in al-Anbar to defeat the Sunni insurgents and global jihadis. That's been the situation for at least 18 months. It's getting pretty close to crunch time in Anbar. The current stasis in which the American military is only "contains" a slowly gaining insurgency is unsustainable. American public has lost patience with the war and the Bush administration will probably initiate a general withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq before the 2008 election.

The difficulty with al-Anbar is two-fold. If the U. S. withdraws, there is a real possibility that global jihadis will establish Taliban-type regimes in Anbar cities and start using them as bases for attacks on the West in general and the U. S. in particular. At the same time, the only way that the U. S. could subdue Anbar completely would be to put America on a war footing, re-institute a draft, and dramatically increase the number of American troops in the region.

Buying Time? But do we need to subdue Anbar to prevent terrorist initiatives against the U. S.? Not necessarily. If the U. S. withdrew it's troops from Iraq, it may be that a combination of Sunni insurgent groups and tribal militias would prevent the jihadis from using Anbar as a terrorist launching pad. Right now, nobody knows how the relations between global insurgents, nationalist jihadis, and the tribal structures would play out after an American withdrawal. The situation might take months or years to shake out completely.

In this sense, an American withdrawal from Iraq might be viewed in terms of preparing for future conflicts. Perhaps it would be best to put the U. S. on a war footing anyway as a way to prepare for extended conflict in Iraq if it looks like global jihadis are gaining the upper hand or if there is going to be a wholesale sectarian genocide. That certainly would mean reinstituting a draft of young men and women to increase the number of troops and raising taxes to support an enhanced military. It would also mean retraining the entire military apparatus, especially the high command, for political, humanitarian, and occupation duties as well as traditional warfare.

The U. S. was not ready for a war on terror when we were attacked on 9-11. Perhaps a withdrawal from Iraq would allow us to buy the time needed to get ready.

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