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An Answer To Our Conservative Friends

Mission Accomplished Bush

I'm going to answer these questions posted by conservative Dale Franks here and not in their comments because I know quite a few of the cons who read my site regularly ask the same questions (and by "ask" I mean regurgitate existing talking points), and even though I've made my views crystal clear for the last 5+ years (since before the war), here we go again.

And let's dispense with silly arguments about whether we should've gone into Iraq in the first place. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Well, the history of this decision is consistently being rewritten by the right. As the war has gone worse, the decision has magically become more bipartisan. Certainly the Democrats were very very stupid to vote for the authorization, but it was the President who made the case for war based on claims of Al Qaeda - Iraq - WMD and it is he who made the final decision to move from authorization to walking away from the UN to war.

First, I'm wondering what you think the result of an American withdrawal would be? And we really have to ask that about two spheres, the internal Iraqi results, and the effect on America's security.

There will be a bloody fight within Iraq for control of that nation. Whether that will be bloodier than the current civil war, I can't say. But it will be a bloody confrontation without the added carnage of American troops. On the domestic front, it will be better to have our troops not playing - essentially - pattycake with Iraqi forces who would just as soon betray them. Instead we would be back on track hunting down Al Qaeda and their affiliates instead of nation building. The postwar plans, if you can call them that, thought we would prop up a guy like Chalabi and Iraq would have some kind of democracy (everybody remember Bush's second inaugural speech?). That isn't going to happen. They want Sharia law. They don't want a secular, progressive republic. They'll pick what they want.

Do you reject the "you broke it, you bought it" idea?

I didn't outright, but it's clear there's nothing we can do to fix what we broke. The simple act of us being there is preventing that, either through the Iraqis leaning on us to clean up all their messes or resentment provoked by having their country occupied by the world's sole superpower. The moment to fix it has passed us by.

Do you think the Iraqis will find a way to cobble their state together? Do you think it will descend into a civil bloodbath? If so, then why don't we have any responsibility to try and prevent it?

As I stated above: this is going to happen. Either it happens when a Democratic president withdraws or it happens 10 years from now. The only difference is the amount of U.S. troops who die in the process and the gaping holes in U.S. security that linger on. I'm saying we pay up front instead of the 30 year mortgage.

Compare and contrast with Kosovo and Darfur.

In neither situation are Americans actively occupying and being killed. In Darfur, it's clear work has to be done internationally but there's no clear mission militarily. Even so, the general idea of helping the dispossessed militarily is not invalid, but if we're going to do it it ought to be clear what the endgame is supposed to be (and sold honestly instead of with talk of mushroom clouds and terrorist cells a plenty, cue Iran spin).

What if Iraq turns into a Taliban-like cesspool, and becomes a base for terrorist operation against the US in the same way Afghanistan was?

It currently is a haven, and that's with thousands of American troops on the ground there. We can hunt terrorists, and that should be our armed forces primary mission until the Al Qaeda threat is eliminated. But it isn't the time to build brand new nations now, not at this cost.

Do you think that the Iraqis can build a stable, functioning democratic state?

Maybe, I don't know. But the path to get there is clearly not with American handholding. It just gives them a crutch and gives us a tangled up military with a consistent casualty count.

Are they just not suited for Democracy as a people? If so, what are their deficiencies?

They've shown little to no interest in a Western style democracy. They're hamstrung by tribalism and religion (so is a lot of American politics, especially on the right, frankly). It's all about the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, and Sharia Law. Us wishing Ben Franklin upon them does not make it so.

The other half of the question is what effect will it have on American security? Will it embolden terrorists? Will our withdrawal make it more or less likely that terrorists will begin marshaling forces for another 9/11 style attack? Why?

Withdrawal from Iraq will help American security, again, our forces will not be babysitting a nation but be engaged in fighting terrorists instead of nation-building. The reason we haven't had another 9/11 is because the terrorists haven't sought to pull of an attack like it. Do you really think it's that much harder to commandeer a plane or ram a truck into a nuke plant or pull of some other spectacular attack now than it was six years ago? They waited 8 years between attacks on the World Trade Center, I don't think our occupation of Iraq has really rocked their world so badly they're not prepared to do it again. The way we and the rest of the world has been getting these guys is through precise investigative work or luck like with the Fort Dix and Miami crews. I guess the short version is: they're already preparing for the next attack, I'd just rather us not be stuck in Iraq at that time so we can prevent it or avenge it.

On the Global War on Terror more generally, will a withdrawal from Iraq help or hinder that effort?

Help. See above.

Or do we need to make an effort at all, other than some Special Ops stuff here and there, and intelligence, prevention, and law enforcement operations otherwise? What would be the US's military role after a withdrawal from Iraq? Does the US military actually have much a role beyond repelling an invasion?

A lot of this stuff involves more Special Operations and detective work than the random smashing of things, but for objectives like finding Bin Laden in the hills of Pakistan or wherever will require heavy military lifting. And that's fine because that's about protecting America and finding the terrorists at war with America.

Are we doomed to fail at achieving anything worthwhile in Iraq?

On balance, yes.

Why? Is it something organic to Iraq, or simply a problem with the current president?

It was never a good idea to invade and occupy Iraq in the first place. It was compounded by this president's frankly idiotic leadership: the lack of planning, the political calculations involved in selling the war and spinning the reality of the war (especially leading up to the '04 and '06 elections), and just overall frankly criminal behavior. War in Iraq? Bad. War in Iraq led by Bush? Disaster.

Would another administration be able to achieve some reasonable level of peace and stability?

Nope. Either we get out and salvage what we can or we stick with the failed Bush strategy. The choices are now Bad and Worse. Bad means less American deaths and our forces no longer tied up in nation building.

What if you're wrong?

Putting aside the fact that I was right 5 years ago (along with a lot of the nation) that it was wrong to invade Iraq, the idea that we should keep doing something stupid in favor of an idea that's more sane yet untested is kind of silly. We're hitting ourselves in the face, and while we don't know what will happen if we stop, at least if we DO stop we'll at least stop hitting ourselves in the face.

I mean, you're advocating a policy change that will have wide-ranging effects. It's not enough to say that everything will be OK. You have to show your math. You have to explain why you're not just whistling past the graveyard.

See above. We've tried it the conservative way for a long time now. It isn't working. Greeted as liberators. Stand up, stand down. Surge, etc.

And, keep in mind that you are essentially betting the future of left-liberalism's credibility on national security on the outcome of that policy.

Considering the alternative and what it has produced, I say "all in".

There's a reason why the Democrats were kept away from the national security switches and levers for 12 years after Jimmy Carter, and were only allowed to return when we were having a holiday from history in the 1990s.

It's not my fault America was stupid enough to vote for Ronald Reagan. And in a lot of ways Reagan, and to a greater extent, Bush I, were sane about these things. Neither was dumb enough to launch a preemptive war of occupation in the middle east. When President Bush I invaded Iraq he had a goal and an exit strategy backed up by overwhelming force. Neither one of those Republican presidents had the stupidity to invade and occupy a country based on "trust me". And yes, President Clinton presided over more or less peace and prosperity. Imagine that.

So, other than sunny optimism, what assurances can you give that the consequences of quick pullout from Iraq will be relatively painless?

Nobody said it would be painless or bloodless, nor am I optimistic about the near future at all thanks to the repercussions of our current situation. But again, it's going to be hell anyway, the question is how much American lives, money and security are we willing to throw into the mix. If there was any hope of a decent outcome, there would be support for it. But we've screwed the pooch. We are in the abyss and I don't see the sense in digging any deeper in hopes of finding a pony because its not there.