Now the Firing Squads: CAP Makes a Proposal for Iraq
Posted by Heather Hurlburt
Kudos to the folks over at Center for American Progress (and yes, they are one of our sponsors here at DA) for spelling out something many have been quietly thinking: a plan for ratcheting back but not ending the US presence in Iraq, turning as much security as possible over to Iraqi troops and the various Shiite and Kurdish militias. This would allow a lower US profile as well as freeing up troops for Afghanistan, anti-terror missions, and a less killing tempo of operations (rotating troops back to the US more frequently and for longer stays).
Now, CAP could have been more honest about what this costs us: possibly accelerating a slide toward civil war (check out Informed Comment for lengthy back-and-forth on whether US troops prevent or assist one's arrival); surely accelerating some rather noxious forms of local rule; abandoning the claim that we are helping Iraqis build a democratic, secular state; admitting that we will tolerate continuing low- to medium-level violence as long as it stays contained within Iraq.
Those tradeoffs may not be yours, but folks, some tradeoffs are going to have to be made. CAP has made a good start at outlining what analysts like our own Derek Chollet say is happening anyway, as various military leaders and Administration friends continue to talk about drawdowns next year, whatever W. says to the contrary.
Now comes the odd part: Patrick Doherty over at TomPaine.com says US troops should stay; that priority should be on negotiating international agreements, not brokered by the US, that would cut down the insurgency, allow for real economic revival, and lead the various forces to commit their troops in wayst hat would be more stable. Patrick sets out brutally the possible cost of a precipitous US withdrawal -- civil war, using Juan Cole's prediction of as many as one million dead. He also thinks that the CAP paper smacks of "cynical, cold-blooded calculation" in its concern for oil access. (To which I say: the GOP give no evidence recently of dispassionate, cold-blooded thought. I'd feel better if I thought someone was thinking cold-bloodedly. It'd be progress.) He also thinks that just promoting this plan will help the GOP maintain its majority in Congress in '06.
So I just have to pause and note that the center-left now wants us to begin withdrawing while the lefter-left, or at least some of it, wants us to stay? This is odd, and needs further thought. But it also suggests sophisticated reasoning on all sides, which is hopeful.
Patrick is honest about costs, which is important. If, in fact, the Administration does begin implementing a partial pullout without admitting it, outside groups will have the job of "nattering nabobs of negativism" -- pointing out all the bad things the Admin has abandoned us and the Iraqis to. Note: that is the job of people who are not running for office. People who are running for office have to explain what they would do better. It's different.
I do think that most of the important questions here have empirical answers, I just don't know them:
Is a civil war more likely and more bloody if we pull out partially, entirely or not at all? The CAP proposal is rather silent on what a reduced US force does in the face of massive civil unrest/killing.
Is the notion of negotiations run by some non-US figure, which many on the left see as a potential solution, at all possible? It's appealing, yes, but I find it discouraging that there are no signs of UN or European interest in running such a thing, and precious few comments from people who are real Iraq experts that this could work.
So, if we could turn down the rhetoric a notch, look for the real answers and stop aiming the guns at each other (the idea that the CAP, by putting out a policy paper, is helping the GOP keep control of Congress... honestly, if only papers written by people like us actually did matter that much...) there's a lot that needs refinement here. But at least we now have intelligent people talking specifics.
Lastly, a great quote from Iraq vet Bryan Lentz, who is running for Congress against 10-term Curt Weldon (R-PA): "I'm not anti-war, I'm anti-failure." He's one of 6 vets running as Ds; at least 2 are running as Rs, says the AP. What is the Iraq War ushering into our politics? Remains to be seen.