May 30, 2024

A Study in Cowardice

The Center for America Progress’ (CAP) recent study entitled “How to Redeploy: Implementing a Responsible Drawdown of U.S. Forces from Iraq” (PDF alert) features a quote from Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War:

“No nation has ever benefited from protracted warfare.”

This is meant to lead us into the center’s belief that America should abandon Iraq to its own destruction in a year’s time. That’s the thesis of How to Redeploy, a 28 page plan to bolt as fast as possible from the mess the U.S. has made in Iraq.

Of course, it’s not a case of protracted warfare that’s gotten us into trouble in Iraq. If anything I would assert that it’s the opposite: We ended the war in Iraq too soon, before we secured the borders and eliminated the enemy, and before we even came close to delivering on our promise of a stable democracy for the people of Iraq.

By bungling the initial invasion, the White House bogged America’s troops down in an untenable police action, not an unwinnable war, a war that in a sense was never really fought. Only in recent months have the gloves come part way off and, as Michael discussed earlier, some progress seems to be happening in Iraq as a result.

Some Democrats in Congress have changed with positions publicly, including including Brian Baird of Washington state who is now paying the price politically for visiting Iraq and coming away with the desire to do what is right:

For more than three hours Monday night, Rep. Brian Baird was verbally flogged by hundreds of his constituents for no longer supporting the quick withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

More than 500 people packed a high school auditorium in Vancouver while another 175 or so were unable to get inside. And virtually everyone who got a chance to address the Vancouver Democrat were harshly critical – including several who said they had been long-time supporters and friends.

While some people left the Vancouver meeting saying they respected Baird’s sincerity, the town hall had to have been a particularly brutal experience for the congressman. At several points, he pleaded with the crowd to let him finish his explanation. One woman told him the blood of the troops was now on his hands, and several said he was violating the wishes of his constituents.

“We don’t care what your convictions are,” said Jan Lustig of Vancouver. “You are here to represent us.”

Some of the angriest comments came from Vietnam veterans. “I was part of another surge in 1968 (in Vietnam), based on another pack of lies,” said Vancouver resident Bob Goss, who served in the Army there. “I really think it’s time to get out.”

As the evening wore on, Baird repeatedly insisted that Iraq would descend into worse chaos if the U.S. withdrew precipitously, with Iran gaining greater influence. “I think the probability is 95 percent if we withdraw prematurely, in our hearts we will live to regret it,” he said.

Baird said industries are starting to reopen and things are starting to get better. “We’re putting people back to work and that is good news,” he said.

“I am truly impressed by Brian’s willingness to stand here and take it gracefully,” said Joy Overstreet, a Vancouver writer, as the meeting passed the two-hour mark. But she said she would consider voting out the congressmen next year if there is a “viable alternative.”

“It could well cost me the next election,” Baird said at the end of the meeting. “That’s alright.”

Good for Baird. It’s refreshing to see a representative who will vote his conscience, consequences at the polls be damned. We need more people like him in leadership positions.

More from a transcript of an interview with Baird here:

I believe frankly that the invasion of Iraq was one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in the history of the country and I still believe that. However, once we had made that commitment and were on the ground I’ve pretty steadfastly opposed a timeline for withdrawal. Recently our party put forward a resolution really aimed at making sure that the preparedness of our soldiers was not sacrificed for this war and I did support that. But I really believe what we need to do now is stop looking at backwards and look at where we are today. The fact is, this country is trying to rebuild from very difficult circumstances. Their police were disbanded, their military was disbanded, the civil government was taken apart, the infrastructure was destroyed, and the borders were left open. To expect any country to rebuild from that in three brief years is I think not realistic. We have a strategic interest in seeing that this mission succeeds, we have a moral responsibility to the Iraqi people and the region, and I think we are seeing signs of progress and it is worth letting Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have their time and breathing room to move their project forward.

I know painfully well, that if we decide to keep troops on the ground for a longer period of time it will mean more American casualties and more lost US dollars, but I believe the outcome if we pull out precipitously would be far worse. And because of that I think the right course is to keep the presence on the ground probably through to next spring and then begin a gradual withdrawal. And I think it’s also important to note that what we say and do here have real consequences on the ground in Iraq in terms of how we impact their efforts to resolve things politically and we need to be very careful with what we do.

This is in stark contrast to the vision that CAP puts forth in How to Redeploy:

A phased military redeployment from Iraq over the next 10 to 12 months would begin extracting U.S. troops from Iraq’s internal conflicts immediately and would be completed by the end of 2008.

Nor would we leave the region entirely. To maintain an offensive and deterrent capability in the region, U.S. troops would temporarily station 8,000 to 10,000 troops (two brigades plus support and command elements) in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq for one year to prevent the outbreak of Turkish-Kurd violence and protect that region of the country from Iraq’s multiple civil conflicts. Marine Corps units would be tasked to provide security for personnel at the U.S. embassy. Another ground brigade and tactical air wing would be based in Kuwait.

The time for half-measures and experiments is over; it is now time for a logistically sound strategic redeployment.

A 10 to 12 month withdrawal will ensure that no critical supplies—arms and ammunition, sensitive equipment, such as computers, communications gear, or armored vehicles—will be left behind while non-essential equipment will remain or be destroyed. It is simply not cost effective, in terms of money and, most importantly, our troops’ lives, to delay withdrawal for the sake of totally dismantling our PXs, gymnasiums, housing trailers, headquarters buildings, maintenance
facilities, fast food restaurants, and other non-essential facilities and associated equipment. Ours is not a “no FOB left behind” policy.

In the final analysis, redeployment from Iraq is crucial to a broader reset of the United States’ position in the Middle East and the world. For this reason, we need to begin planning now for the deliberate drawdown of our military forces in Iraq.

Yes, we should plan for an eventual exit from Iraq. But as Rep. Baird came to realize, now is not the time. Nor will there ever be a time by which such a departure should be run by mandated timetables known to our enemies. The time to leave is when when and if the situation in Iraq becomes demonstrably untenable for U.S. troops. This has not yet taken place.

A MvdG post from earlier this week generated heated arguments against the modest offensive strategy being conducted in Iraq including this gem:

Yes, supporting the surge makes you responsible for the troops that will die. It makes you responsible for the loss in function of the Army.

An honest war supporter says, “Yes, I am willing to sacrifice young Americans to further our interests in the Middle East. It is important the the occupation continue, and hundreds of Americans potentially be killed, on the admittedly slim chance that Maliki is able to turn everything around in Iraq.”

That’s exactly right, except for the bit about Maliki. Our interests in the Middle East and the world require our troops continued presence in Iraq. Maliki or his replacement needs our assistance and we are obligated by the Iraqi blood that we’ve shed to provide it.

Unfortunately this does mean that some Americans, mostly young men, will die policing that country. I don’t like that this will happen. But I accept my portion of the responsibility, as required by the commentor.

A Diversion in Statistics

Let’s assume that 1000 troops will be killed in the next 12 months in Iraq, a number that is not far from historical averages.

Now, consider this somewhat dated report (PDF alert) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis. In it we see that in 2001 42,000 Americans were killed in traffic accidents and that 16-24 year olds accounted for 24% of these fatalities, or roughly 10,000. Of these, the intoxication rate was 18%, meaning approximately 1800 young men and women of an age with the buck soldiers in Iraq were killed by driving drunk and drunk drivers.

It’s saddening when any young person with a life full of potential is killed too soon. It truly is.

But it seems to be a bit of a stretch to say that “Bush’s War” in Iraq is killing our up and coming generation out of proportion to the value their service renders when 10 times as many young people are killed annually in automobile accidents alone and almost twice as many essentially kill themselves by driving drunk.

Back on Track

CAP’s report is undoubtedly meticulously researched. It may also prove to be right, eventually. And its authors do raise one important point that is very rarely discussed in anti-war circles. That is, what will happen to the tens of thousands of Iraqis who worked with the U.S. troops during our efforts there?

CAP says this:

As the United States withdraws from Iraq, it must find a way to ensure that Iraqis who have worked with the United States have a way out of Iraq. Currently, there are about 120,000 Iraqis working as contractors for the United States, including large numbers of Iraqis who have worked for American diplomatic and military forces as translators or in other capacities. The United States has a responsibility to begin planning to move those Iraqis and their families who have risked their lives to help us in Iraq while we plan our redeployment. The best way to serve our moral obligation to these Iraqis is to increase the number allowed into the United States as refugees from the current paltry total of 8,000 to 100,000, as laid out in our earlier report, Strategic Reset.

Officials at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are sure to say that the mere 8,000 refugees are all that can be physically accommodated in the system. In the first six months of 2007, just 200 Iraqi refugees were admitted due to the Department of Homeland Security’s inability to screen these refugees fast enough. We must do better.

Indeed. One wonders how many Iraqis working with the U.S. have been killed already and imagines that it’s far more than 200, including Anwar Abbas Lafta, the CBS translater abducted and killed last week.

These paragraphs prove that CAP recognizes our obligation to help Iraqis; they simply get the definition of help wrong. Retreating in a cloud of dust will help no one in Iraq or, I should say, no one that deserves help. For there are those who would benefit from America’s absence – those who terrorize Iraq’s streets and people even now.

America’s duty extends, as Brian Baird knows, to all Iraqis of good heart. We destroyed their country – quite literally destroyed it – and we have to do something about that. Packing up in the dead of night or over 12 months and leaving them with the empty shells of our troops canteens won’t rebuild Iraq. Only a determined effort from Americans and Iraqis both can do that.

In my opinion, Baird is right about something else, that invading Iraq was a huge foreign policy mistake. I don’t think that’s even something that can be debated. It’s also utterly irrelevant.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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