Politics The Withdrawal Method
posted by November 24 at 14:23 PMon
George Packer in the new New Yorker:
It is true that the presence of American troops is a source of great tension and violence in Iraq, and that overwhelming numbers of Iraqis want them to leave. But it is also true that wherever American troop levels have been reduced—in Falluja and Mosul in 2004, in Tal Afar in 2005, in Baghdad in 2006—security has deteriorated. In the absence of adequate and impartial Iraqi forces, Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias have filled the power vacuum with a reign of terror. An American withdrawal could produce the same result on a vast scale. That is why so many Iraqis, after expressing their ardent desire to see the last foreign troops leave their country, quickly add, “But not until they clean up the mess they made.ā€¯ And it is why a public-service announcement scrolling across the bottom of the screen during a recent broadcast on an Iraqi network said, “The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians not comply with the orders of the Army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.ā€¯
The argument that Iraq would be better off on its own is a self-serving illusion that seems to offer Americans a win-win solution to a lose-lose problem. Like so much about this war, it has more to do with politics here than reality there. Such wishful thinking (reminiscent of the sweets-and-flowers variety that preceded the war) would have pernicious consequences, as the United States fails to anticipate one disaster after another in the wake of its departure: ethnic cleansing on a large scale, refugees pouring across Iraq’s borders, incursions by neighboring armies, and the slaughter of Iraqis who had joined the American project.
I’m no hawk. I was against the Iraq war, and I’ll freely admit that I was pretty skeptical about invading Afghanistan (on my birthday, no less) with very little attempt to explain to the American public why this was a necessary step. But I strongly oppose any attempt to equate anti-war sentiment with advocacy of immediate withdrawal, “phased redeployment,” or any other euphemism for “we have no idea what to do, so we’ll back away slowly and pretend this never happened.”