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September 27, 2005

Iraq Endgame
Posted by Derek Chollet

Last weekend’s protests in Washington (and yesterday’s massive sit-in in front of the White House) proved that the anti-war movement is alive and, as Lorelei describes it, rather festive and even witty. 

But here’s the thing: they are going to get what they asked for.  We’re getting out.

The pundits are starting to see this.  Thomas Friedman had it right when asked about this last weekend on Meet the Press (courtesy of TPM Cafe):

“I think we're in the end game now,” he said. “I don't believe we're going to be in Iraq a year from now in the numbers that we are now because one of two things is going to happen….Either this process that's unfolding there now of first a referendum on the constitution and then a parliamentary election is going to play out in some decent way. And if it does, I think you're going to see not only a new Iraqi government want us to reduce our numbers there but there's going to be a huge domestic push here to do that, or it's not going to play out. In which case, it's going to be obvious that this is a fiasco and we're going have to fight our way out of there. But I think we're in a six-month window here where it's going to become very clear and this is all going to pre-empt I think the next congressional election--that's my own feeling-- let alone the presidential one.”

Even more interesting – and significant -- than the shifting attitudes of the Beltway punditry is that this kind of talk is happening at the military’s highest levels.  In yesterday’s Washington Post, David Ignatius reported on what he heard at a Centcom commanders meeting in Doha.  His piece is worth reading in full, but the first two paragraphs pretty much tell the story:

“Posted on a bulletin board at Centcom headquarters here is a 1918 admonition from T.E. Lawrence explaining what he learned in training Arab soldiers: ‘It is better to let them do it themselves imperfectly than to do it yourself perfectly. It is their country, their way, and our time is short.’”

“That quote sums up an important shift in U.S. military strategy on Iraq that has been emerging over the past year. The commanders who are running the war don't talk about transforming Iraq into an American-style democracy or of imposing U.S. values. They understand that Iraqis dislike American occupation, and for that reason they want fewer American troops in Iraq, not more.”

I know what some will argue: how can we believe that we are getting out when Bush is clearly saying that we are not, as he did last week after a Pentagon briefing?  In many ways, that’s the point.  Bush is not going to give the anti-war movement a victory by standing up and saying: I’m wrong, I’m sorry, we’re failing, and now we are going to come home with our tails between our legs.  And I don’t think this is only because of his arrogance: President’s rarely do that (the last I can think of is Ronald Reagan’s pullout of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombing). 

What Bush will do is continue what he has been doing: push the imperfect political process along (in the face of criticism from think tankers and experts), slowly begin withdrawing, and talk up the glass-half-full argument.  He can do this because he knows that even as things tailspin downward in Iraq, as long as our troops are leaving his political opposition won’t have the clout or support to offer the alternative -- to keep our troops there.


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» From the ICG, Pessimism About Iraq's Future from Hampton Stephens
The International Crisis Group on September 26 released a report on the state of the constitutional process in Iraq. It is not a heartening document. Here's the overview: Instead of healing the growing divisions between Iraq's three principal communiti... [Read More]


...agree with almost all of the Ignatius piece - it confirms, after all, what many of of have been saying for some time. found one thing odd, however:

"They are planning to reduce U.S. troop levels over the next year to a force that will focus on training and advising the Iraqi military. They don't want permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. Indeed, they believe such a high..."

I've said previously that we will reduce our strength in iraq by 80 % - still be believe that to be the case.
even if that percentage is high, where are we going to post that remainong 20%? on iraqi bases? not hardly - permanent US bases in iraq are a reality.

The problem is, is whether or not the pullout is going to look like Dunkirk or Saigon. After the former the UK fought harder. In the latter we disappeared for a good eight years or more

I can't tell you enough how I feel you guys are gnawing on the wrong bone here.

American presence will remain in the gulf in general and specificly in Iraq, until oil becomes irrelevent.

I would say however it makes perfect sense to pretend like we are going to pull out in order to swing an election.

If you want troops out of Iraq, and the gulf, and not to return there. You need to support a national MagLev train network, you need to press for PBNR to take over our electricity grid, and you need to increase funding for NASAs electomagnetic propultion research. We need these implemented up to 95% even before thinking of departing the middle east.

Why do you continue to waist your time?

Rob: I seem to recall PBNR not getting off the ground. As in, they didn't even build the test reactor.

Not true. PBNRs are alive and well in China and South Africa, operated disaster free in West Germany.

I think Derek in his well-crafted contribution today goes beyond even Tom Friedman in optimism about a US exit from Iraq. I don't mean to suggest that Tom Friedman is without optimism: He and others who favored going to war against Iraq from the start are naturally deeply invested in finding a vindicatory outcome -- want to believe that a reduction in US military force levels next year will avert a public repudiation at the polls of those responsible for the war. Hence the endless quest for turning points -- Saddam Hussein's capture, the installation of an interim government, and the election of a constituent assembly -- that could be seen as locking in success.

But this is where, Derek, we see Tom Friedman already hedging his bets: In his interview quoted above, he offers just two contrasting scenarios at the end of the tunnel --"a fiasco," so chaotic that we "have to fight our way out of there"; and an optimistic vision that the constitutional referendum and parliamentary election "play out in some decent way". Unfortunately, that second scenario seems ever more fantastic. The liberal-minded professionals in Iraq who were once so hopeful about democratic change have been marginalized and shoved aside by the clericals.

Moreover, the Iraqi factions empowered by the invasion have proved incapable of an accord with Iraqi nationalists on a constitution that can enjoy general support. The former were traumatized by the harsh rule of the latter and don't want them anywhere near government authority, which is perfectly understandable -- but the consequence is that they must rely on the Americans to back up their drive for a divisive constitution.

And we're still missing the other essential ingredient for reality-based optimism: There is still no sign of any reduction in the Iraqi armed resistance. Training more units of uncertainly motivated Iraqi troops will not assure the Baghdad government's security. Even if the death toll -- already overwhelmingly Iraqi -- from insurgent attacks claims ever fewer American lives, the incessant images of chaos in Iraq across our TV screens and newspaper front pages will still underscore for the public (correctly) that the invasion has been disastrous.

Derek is absolutely right that Bush will never admit his war in Iraq was a mistake. But it was never going to be Bush who would "give the anti-war movement a victory." It's always been the American public who would award that victory. As a growing majority of Americans believe that they had been lied to to go into the war, see the consequences of America's unprecedented global isolation, and understand that this is a war with no creditable "mission accomplished," the case against war becomes ever more compelling.

So I wouldn't worry much about Bush getting off the political hook for his war. He only escapes accountability if progressives inexplicably join in solidarity with him on his war. The opposition party's primary voters will assure that that does not happen.

Let's put it this way. If we knew that there were no WMDs. If we knew that Saddam always was in our back pocket. If funds for rebuilding besides a small amount for a keystone cop force and a veneer of plaster, went to pork instead. Then might we not conjecture that the entire war is a smoke screen to maintain an ambiguous necessity to keep U.S. soldiers on the second largest oil supply.

You keep trying to turn part of the smoke screen into something more solid. No objective was reached in Iraq except money stolen from the American taxpayer, and Oil from the Iraqi people.

In other words, if your in doubt throw it out.

Was Saddam our objective? He's gone yet we remain.

"So I wouldn't worry much about Bush getting off the political hook for his war. He only escapes accountability if progressives inexplicably join in solidarity with him on his war."

No doubt the history books will treat him harshly. Assuming americans get to write our own history books....

As for accountability, he's president until 2009. Barring impeachment or assassination. Then he quits being president, and I doubt he has further political ambitions. He intended all along to spend all his political capital by the time he was done.

The only possible way to hold him accountable is to impeach him. This doesn't look likely but it looks about 20 times as likely now as it did 3 months ago, so it might very well happen.

Alternative methods to hold him accountable involve requiring him to stay in the USA for fear of getting held for trial at the World Court, or possibly he could go on trial after his presidency? Seems kind of doubtful....

Agreed. If this presidency is one big bank robbery. I don't see any calvary coming down the road to bring real justice.

That being said, Bush is showing the world how to clean America's clock.

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I wouldn't worry much about Bush getting off the political hook for his war. He only escapes accountability if progressives inexplicably join in solidarity with him on his war."

“I don't believe we're going to be in Iraq a year from now in the numbers that we are now because one of two things is going to happen

I wouldn't worry much about Bush getting off the political hook for his war. He only escapes accountability if progressives inexplicably join in solidarity with him on his war.

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