Sunday, September 26, 2004

What if America Just Pulled Out?

That's the question Roger Cohen in The New York Times asks today. It's also a question I've tried to grapple with recently as well, here and here.
A decision to withdraw would focus the minds of Iraqis, and perhaps their neighbors, on the need to grapple seriously with establishing security and an inclusive political system. It would also remove a chief target of the insurgents - American infidels in uniform - and so presumably undermine their cause.

"A withdrawal plan says to the Iraqis: you want this to be your country, you must make the deals to keep it together," said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. "If we are there to fight, they won't do this. So a timetable should be established."
That does have a certain degree of logic to it, but a pull out without a stable government existing would be far worse as Cohen goes on to explain.
But the counterarguments are also powerful. Withdrawal in the absence of stability would amount to a devastating admission of failure and a blow to America's world leadership. The credibility of the United States, already compromised, would be devastated. More than 1,000 young lives would appear to have been blotted out for naught.

Iraq might descend into all-out civil war and split into three pieces, one Kurdish, one Shiite, one predominantly Sunni. Neighboring states, particularly Iran and Turkey, would be drawn in. A failed state - or the vestiges of one - would draw terrorists as surely as a honey-pot draws bees.

There is a troubling recent precedent for such a retreat. When the Soviet Union, confronted by an intractable insurgency, pulled out of Afghanistan, Kabul soon became terrorism central. The Taliban took control, offering sanctuary to Al Qaeda and terrorist training camps. The Soviet Union, sapped by its Afghan adventure, never fully recovered.

Is this the trauma the United States wants from its foray into Iraq?

"Iraq would be worse than post-Soviet Afghanistan," said Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution. "Its oil and geostrategic importance ensures that. The Lebanese civil war dragged in Syria, and just as surely the civil war that would result from an American withdrawal would drag in Iran and Turkey. You'd see ethnic strife that would make Kosovo look like a picnic. It's hard to fathom how bad it would be if we left."
That is the most persausive reason to not withdraw troops from Iraq. The death toll on American soldiers and Iraqi civilians is indeed horrible, but as I said in the past, would pale to anything that would happen if we withdrew troops. The problem with this war is that it's not being fought to win. We are running this war based on the media. The media can handle the slow drip of death, but if we were to retake the Sunni strongholds that would result it lots of American and Iraqi deaths, probably too much for the American public to handle; that in turn would most likely cost Bush the election. We do plan on retaking the insurgent cities by the end of the year, but by then, the insurgency could grow in popularity among Iraqi's. In fact, a lot of Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad members are indigineous Sunni Iraqi's who support Zarqawi's goal of creating an Islamic state run under the shahria.

Another problem is the Bush and Allawi's plan to have the Iraqi security forces do most of the work in Fallujah and Baquba. Not unlikely the Saudi security forces, the Iraqi forces appear to be infiltrated by al Qaeda as well. This is evidenced by the arrest of Brig. Gen. Talib Abid Ghayib al-Lahibi, senior commander of the Iraqi National Gaurd, for "having associations with known insurgents."

Also, in a partially related point, last week I asked:
If that situation presents itself, would it be better to let the Islamist win or rig the ballot so that only friendly people are on it?
Well, it seems as if the White House has decided not to influence the elections by backing any pro-US candidates.