Forget the Senate Vote, the Pullout from Iraq Will Commence Forthwith…

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So the Senate Dems couldn't muster enough votes for either of their proposals to set a deadline for yanking troops out of Iraq.

That failure–expected, really, of a party that ran John Kerry for president and elected Harriet Miers fan Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as their top dog in the World's Fattest Greatest Deliberative Body–shouldn't put off folks looking for the U.S. to get the hell out of Iraq. As this SF Chronicle account suggests, the troops will likely be coming home in dribs and drabs anyway:

Despite Thursday's votes, it is widely expected that the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq will fall from the current 127,000 as the November elections approach. Republicans, who went on record in the House and Senate solidly behind President Bush's conduct of the war, still believe a significant decrease in troop levels will help them in the midterm elections.

Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, predicted within hours of Thursday's Senate votes that the size of the U.S. fighting force will shrink this year.

"I'm confident that we'll be able to continue to take reductions over the course of this year," Casey told a Pentagon news conference, accompanied by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Whole thing here.

Jonathan Rauch explained last December that the pullout has begun here.

On the 3rd anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Reason asked a bunch of know-it-alls to tell us what to do now. Check out responses here.

NEXT: Reductio ad Coulteram

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  1. Dribs and drabs isn’t going to cut it. What’s the difference, to the public, between 110,000 troops over there and 130,000? If a couple or more Americans keep getting killed every day, what difference will this make? The number of troops in country has wobbled up and down before, without any noticeable change in the American electorate’s view on the war.

    OTOH, if the government announced that we were redeploying our forces from Iraq, then a relatively small decrease in force levels could be a big deal. But the administration will not make that announcement, because they have absolutely no intention of ever leaving Iraq.

  2. Republicans … still believe a significant decrease in troop levels will help them in the midterm elections.

    I am shocked – shocked! – at the suggestion that the prosecution of our national defense is subject to the whim of Republican electoral strategy.

  3. What do people here think about setting a firm date for withdrawal? I know the conventional wisdom is that it would “embolden the enemy”, but there are 2 other things to consider:

    1) Deadlines tend to focus people. Give the Iraqi government a deadline and tell them that if they don’t want all hell to break loose then they’d damn well better get their act together by that date.

    2) Setting a withdrawal date would make a lot of ordinary Iraqi civilians much happier. The people engaging in violence can only survive as long as the civilian population is at least sympathetic enough to not inform on the fighters in their midst, and as long as there is a pool of pissed off civilians to recruit from. Take away the foreign army that a lot of Iraqi civilians resent, and you take away a big impetus to turn a blind eye as well as a recruiting tool.

    Yes, yes, I know, the hard-core fighters can never be appeased because they are medieval theocratic fanatics who hate us for our freedom. OK, but what about the population that they recruit from, and the population that turns a blind eye?

    Somebody in another thread suggested that we should still keep a small military presence in Iraq, preferably in the Kurdish areas where we are much more popular. I’d be OK with that. Tell the Iraqi government that they are responsible for what happens on the ground, but we’ll maintain an air base to support them. And we’ll still provide troops to train their troops. But starting on a pre-determined date, the work on the ground will have to be done by Iraqis.

  4. Yes, thoreau, except that the whole damn point of going into Iraq was to establish a large, permanent military presence.

  5. Thoreau,

    The problem with a hard and fast deadline is that you encourage the insurgency to hang on until the deadline and then have a chance to win once the U.S. leaves. Further, the arguement for a hard deadline assumes that the Iraqis are somehow dragging their feet in fighting the insurgency because they are depending on the U.S. too much. Where is the evidence of that? The Iraqis have formed a unity government and have consistently increased the number and effectiveness of their military and police forces. I don’t see any evidence that the Iraqis are not doing everything they can to get on their feet. In addition, there is a real contradiction in the arguments here. On the one hand people claim that we are an occupying power and the Iraqis want us to leave. One the other hand, people claim that the Iraqis are specifically trying not to do the one thing that will get the U.S. to leave. Which is it?

    Over the next two years, the number of troops will continue to go down. Every day the Iraqis get better at fighting themselves. It just not a linear track and it is not going to happen overnight. Look at it this way, two years ago, the CPA was still running the country and Iraq had essentially no police force and maybe a battalion or two of effective military. Now, Iraq has a democraticlly elected government and enough of a military that the U.S. can realisticlly begin to cut the number of troops there. There is another two years before the elections in 2008. Where will things be by then? If the past is any indication, by the fall of 2008, there will only be few thousand troops left in Iraq and people like Joe will be left to rage about a subject that no one cares about anymore.

  6. On the one hand people claim that we are an occupying power and the Iraqis want us to leave. One the other hand, people claim that the Iraqis are specifically trying not to do the one thing that will get the U.S. to leave. Which is it?

    Maybe the civilians are upset but the bureaucrats are slow?

  7. “The problem with a hard and fast deadline is that you encourage the insurgency to hang on until the deadline and then have a chance to win once the U.S. leaves.”

    Which, of course, is nonsensical. Plenty of large scale terrorist and guerilla movements have continued for decades (see, e.g., FARC, Tamil Tigers, IRA, etc.). The idea that the jihadis will give up next week or in six months because George Bush pretends that the US will keep the occupation going forever is nakedly stupid. The comment of a Pashtun fighter back in 2001 or 2002 accurately captured this; it was to the effect of “Those planes won’t be here forever, but we will.”

  8. “The problem with a hard and fast deadline is that you encourage the insurgency to hang on until the deadline and then have a chance to win once the U.S. leaves.”

    While rational and true, this argument isn’t very convincing. If the continued presence of the US military was working to eliminate the insurgency, then obviously announcing a deadline would be a break for the insurgents. But the problem is, the insurgency is holding its own, or actively growing, under the American military occupation. At this point, the anti-insurgent work the military is doing is less like building a bridge, with an endpoint that the effort brings us closer to, and more like collecting the trash.

    “Further, the arguement for a hard deadline assumes that the Iraqis are somehow dragging their feet in fighting the insurgency because they are depending on the U.S. too much. Where is the evidence of that?” I agree with John here. I don’t think we need to announce a pullout date as some kind of “tough love” to encourage the new government’s military actions – they are working damn hard already.

    The primary argument for announcing, and sticking to, a timeline to pull out is the effect it would have on the political dynamics in Iraq. Some segment of the insurgency is at war with the goverment because they view it as a continuation of their war with the invaders. If these people knew we were on our way, this segment of the insurgency, and much of the populace that supports it, is going to turn to the political process. And with us gone, it’s the foreign terrorists murdering Iraqi civilians who become the hated foreign invaders.

    “Over the next two years, the number of troops will continue to go down. Every day the Iraqis get better at fighting themselves.” And every day, the insurgency, and the segment of the population that supports it, gets larger.

    “If the past is any indication, by the fall of 2008, there will only be few thousand troops left in Iraq.” Except that the smooth drawdown of forces John postulates isn’t “the past.” The past is a series of increases and decreases in troop strength, including the cessation of reversal of a couple of effort to slowly reduce the number of troops, as insurgent/jihadist flareups required us to, well, take out the trash again.

    The slow drawdown of troops, without a stated policy of leaving, a hard date, and a promise that we don’t intend to maintain an open-ended occupation, will completely fail to produce the political breakthrough that is necessary for the pro- and anti-government Iraqi factions to reach an accommodation, avoid a civil war, and allow the government to concentrate on defeating the thousands of international terrorists we’ve let into their country.

    ” by the fall of 2008, there will only be few thousand troops left in Iraq and people like Joe will be left to rage about a subject that no one cares about anymore.” Uh huh. We’re really going to turn the corner this time, by staying the course. Please, John, don’t write such things a few lines after using the phrase “…if the past is any indication.” It makes the Baby Jesus cry.

  9. Some segment of the insurgency is at war with the goverment because they view it as a continuation of their war with the invaders. If these people knew we were on our way, this segment of the insurgency, and much of the populace that supports it, is going to turn to the political process. And with us gone, it’s the foreign terrorists murdering Iraqi civilians who become the hated foreign invaders.

    I hope this analysis is correct.

    An alternate analysis in favor of pulling out is that there’s going to be a big clusterfuck with or without our help. When in doubt, I prefer not to be involved with inevitable clusterfucks.

  10. Here’s what it comes down to:

    Right now the fighting is conducted by a mix of elements:

    1) Those whose main grievance is the presence of foreigners.
    2) Those who have some vision of an international Jihad.
    3) Those who hate their neighbors.

    When we leave, I think joe is right about the first group being defanged. The second group will also be defanged to a lesser extent, both because we are part of their motivation, and because it will be harder for them to blend in with the first group (and hence easier for the Iraqi authorities to get them).

    The big question is the third group: How much do the Iraqis hate each other? And will they resolve that dispute with an orgy of violence or a negotiated partition? They may not call it partition, they may call it “federalism” or “regional autonomy” or “local self-determination” or whatever. But I sure as hell hope that they opt for the second course.

    My big fear is that when we leave the internal disputes will flare up, with violence between Sunnis and Shias, culminating in the tyranny of an illiberal majority and the bloody suppression of the Sunnis. Oh, they’ll claim that they’re merely doing what is necessary to combat domestic terrorism, and use their majority status to put some sheen of alleged democratic legitimacy on it. But what it will come down to is that they have more people, more oil (and hence more money), more foreign allies (Iran), etc.

    As awful as this scenario sounds, I fear that no matter how long we stay it will inevitably happen once we leave. Given that this is the likely outcome, the only question is how many more troops we want to lose before it happens.

    I hope I’m wrong. I hope that they negotiate some sort of arrangement once we leave. I hope that the initial burst of euphoria and goodwill that will erupt once we announce a withdrawal creates an opening for some sort of compromise to be negotiated. Sometimes people find ways to capitalize on shining moments and establish something of lasting value. Then again, sometimes they don’t.

    Either way, the fate of Iraq will be determined by the Iraqis once we leave. The only question is how many soldiers we want to lose before that happens.

  11. Personally, I think withdrawl is the best plan.
    The sooner American boots get off their ground, the sooner the Iraqis will be forced to step it up and take control of their country.

    The longer that the American military is there, they will continue to use that as a crutch and not get serious about stabilizing their own country.

    There might be a slight upswing of rebel presence at first, but I think long term, ordiary Iraqi citizens will support their own security forces to stabilize their country and their lives.

    I don’t think this can happen with a large American military presence and Americans running checkpoints throughout the country.

  12. The reason that the Iraqi security forces have been ineffective so far is that the individuals who make up these forces have divided loyalties. Some see U.S. troops as foreign occupiers who don’t belong there. One former Iraqi who lives in the U.S now says that the Bush administration has greatly exaggerated how bad it was under Saddam. She hated Saddam, and left because she didn’t like the regime, but still added that it is far worse now, and that although his regime was politically repressive, in amy other respects the quality of life was quite high, prior to our two military interventions. Let’s trust Von Mises; social engineering, whether attempted at home or abroad, is a bad idea. Most Iraqis now feel that the level of violence will decrease once we leave.

  13. Let’s trust Von Mises; social engineering, whether attempted at home or abroad, is a bad idea.

    < conservatarian>
    Oh, but that only applies to social engineering done by regulatory agencies. The military, of course, is a lean, mean, and superbly intelligent bureaucracy.

    Most Iraqis now feel that the level of violence will decrease once we leave.

    Whom do you trust to know more about Iraq: The Iraqis, or planners in the Pentagon? Besides, the Iraqis are Muslims so you know they just hate America.
    </conservatarian>

  14. thoreau, you are quite right about sectarian divisions, sectarian militias, and sectarian loyalties among the security forces being a problem.

    What’s important to remember is that our presence there worsens these divisions by making it easier for the foreign Sunni/Wahabbist jihadis to operate and win the support of segments of the Sunnin population. The Al Qaedists were clearly using terror attacks on Shiite civilians to inspire a civil war. At the same time, the anti-occupation sentiment which is now wrapped in anti-goverment sentiment is, increasingly, conflated with anti-Shia sentiment. Less fighting between insurgents and the government is less fighting between Sunni and Shia.

  15. So what you’re saying is that the Sunnis will be less rabid about fighting Shias if they don’t perceive the Shia-majority government as an American tool?

    That’s plausible. It’s also plausible that the Shias will feel more desperate and less restrained without an American presence, and use some pretty barbaric tactics. Some of that has already happened, and more could happen in our absence.

    Thing is, I don’t see how staying longer will make that any less likely once we leave. If anything, our staying longer may exacerbate tensions and make it even more likely that something truly awful will happen once we pull out. OTOH, announcing a withdrawal may create a short but happy moment, and hence an opportunity for something better to be negotiated by the Iraqis. The Iraqi statesmen will either seize or ignore this opportunity.

    As I see it, we either get out ASAP and hope for the best, knowing that staying won’t make it any easier, or we stay for a LONG time. LONG meaning generations.

    I vote for the first option.

  16. Every day the Iraqis get better at fighting themselves.

    Ha!

    Thanks, John.

  17. Very first Republican I’ve heard commenting on the Iraqi PM’s expressed desire for the United States to announce a timetible to leave, from Sen. John Warner of Virginia on Fox News Sunday:

    “We’re not going to let them make a mistake.”

    I think it’s time for the hawks to spread that Santorum love around, and go back to declaring this war to be about WMDs. The whole “democracy” thing just fell apart.

  18. even if it passed (and i’m glad it didn’t) could we really trust a resolution to *pull out*, made by a group of men?

    i mean, after all, “i’ll pull out, i promise” is probably the most common lie of the 20th century, moreso even than “the checks in the mail”

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