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March 18, 2008


LT Nixon

Excellent analysis, Mr. Aardvark! I pretty much agree with everything you said, except I fear that Al-Qaeda in Iraq would continue to try to incite sectarian violence by targeting various sites holy to Shi'ite Muslims, and you would see the same kind of reprisal attacks and "death squad" activity that caused much of the humanitarian crisis in 2006.

Nur al-Cubicle

Bravo and many thanks, AA, for this analysis. How would you tie in Bush's desperate attempt to bind both Iraq and the US under a status of forces agreement and to what extend does a the US insistence on a permanent military presence affect all actors?

Farook Ahmed

The Dems (full disclosure, I am an independent who voted for Gore and Kerry) seem to be out of touch on Iraq. Michael O'Hanlon pointed out as much a week ago in his NYTimes Editorial and USA Today article.

After fighting hard to establish security, bringing US casualties down by 80% and Iraqi civilian casualties down by 60%, why are people rushing to quit the fight?

These facts are beyond dispute:
1- The cycle of ethno-sectarian violence has been broken. Events like the Arbeen suicide bombing in Iskandariyah or the pet market suicide bombings in Baghdad failed to create the violent reprisals that the Samarra Mosque bombing did.

2- The Iraqi Security Forces are slowly and steadily improving. Now that their training is no longer rushed, the ISF are operationally capable. They (particlarly the Iraqi Army) are no longer viewed as sectarian institutions. The ISF does not yet have the logistical backbone necessary to sustain themselves without US support, though.

3- The various Iraqi factions have (albeit too slowly) begun to take steps to undertake some amount of political reconciliation. General Petraeus has acknowledged that this is too slow. There is progress being made from the ground up, with the integration of mostly-Sunni Sons of Iraq auxiliary police groups into the Iraqi Security Forces.

The successes have been dramatic, but they are still reversible. Given the high stakes involved and the improved potential for victory, how does it make sense to quit at this point in time?

Farook Ahmed

Links to the O'Hanlon articles:

USA Today 3/10/08 "Reality and the Iraq War"

NY Times 3/9/08 "The State of Iraq: An Update"


This is a very helpful analysis, but I share the fear voiced above regarding al-Qaeda in Iraq. If everything goes according to plan, I can see things playing out as Professor Lynch suggests. But what happens after AQI sends a few more women to blow themselves up in Shia markets and mosques? A downgraded U.S. presence makes it easier for AQI to operate and, even worse, makes Shia groups more likely to brutally retaliate. Given the anti-"Iranian" rhetoric of Awakening leaders and the fact that many Sadrists seem to be chomping at Moqtada's bit, an all-out sectarian civil war still seems plausible to me.

At the end of the day, I agree with the 59% of Iraqis who say a withdrawal should only begin after security is restored and/or the Iraqi government and its security forces can handle more responsibility.


Why should the U.S. think about withdrawal at all? Did we consider withdrawing from Germany in 1946 when the Germans still hated us? Are we planning on a complete withdrawal from Germany today?


Lurking inside the cited story about Congresscritter Darcy Bender and her paleface planmongers there is a sort of counterplan advanced on behalf of the militant Republicans:

A spokesman for [David] Reichert said the [former GOP] congressman believes military leaders on the ground — not candidates for political office — should make decisions about when and how to end the war. Reichert has said the U.S. should do "whatever it takes" to ensure it leaves a stable Iraq with a strong infrastructure and a growing economy. (...) Reichert spokesman Mike Shields said it would be irresponsible to withdraw troops and then send U.S. money "into a black hole." The best thing to do is to determine whether the Bush administration's troop-increase strategy is working, secure the country and then use Iraqi money to begin reconstruction, he said. "This plan not only suggests that we create that terrible situation, but that we supplement that with U.S. taxpayer money," he said.

Poor Carl von Clausewitz seems to have got everything backwards, at least to hear D. Reichert tell it -- but then, Petraeus-Knows-Best is a product readily available from other Big Management Party vendors.

More interesting is to watch D. Reichert address the economic consequences of the aggression, especially at the present time, when conventional doves and donkeys have taken to Prof. Stiglitz's three billion talking points as if to laudanum.

Connecting the dots and projecting the lines a little, one might envision President J. Sidney McCain hanging around in the former Iraq for the next hundred years or so in order to collect certain moneys owed the extremist GOP in full.

Just kidding about the incoming Commanderissimo, of course, but aren't Messrs. Reichert and Shields morbidly fascinating all the same?

What better -- or at least more characteristic -- moral for a Party of Grant regular to draw from the bushogenic quagmire than "not to send money into a black holes"?

Happy days.

(PS. Would anybody know whether either Bender's stuff or Reichert's plays especially well out in Microsoft Country?)

Eric Martin

Why should the U.S. think about withdrawal at all? Did we consider withdrawing from Germany in 1946 when the Germans still hated us? Are we planning on a complete withdrawal from Germany today?

We might if the Germans were killing us at the rate our soldiers are dying now in Iraq. If the costs were as they are today in Iraq. If it were not safe to travel throughout the country as it is today in Iraq. If the loss of prestige were the same. The setback in the battle to cripple strategic adversaries. The opportunity costs in key places (Afghanistan), etc.

And even then, occupying Germany was far more important in 1946 than Iraq is today.


similar reading mark.


This is a worthwhile attempt at analysis. I sincerely hope there are people within the Defense Department and the coalition headquarters in Iraq able to read this in the context of their own analysis of the conditions that might attend a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

The one major doubt I have is something I have mentioned here before, namely that to see Maliki and senior "Green Zone" Shiite politicians as major obstacles to reconciliation is to mistake the sneezing for the head cold. Maliki and his crowd are not just reflecting their personal interests and political ambitions, but are also reflecting attitudes widely shared among the Shiite population. These attitudes did not form overnight or without good reasons, and as long as they are not addressed by leaders of the Sunni Arab population both in Baghdad and outside it Iraq will never be more than a few AQI human bombs away from a resumption of the bloodletting that wracked the country last year. With that bloodletting will also come the greatest likelihood of the kind of pervasive Iranian influence in Iraq that Sunni Arabs fear.


"Why should the U.S. think about withdrawal at all? Did we consider withdrawing from Germany in 1946 when the Germans still hated us? Are we planning on a complete withdrawal from Germany today?"

Posted by: Solomon2

Number of US troops killed by hostile actio in Germany after the surrender: 0.

That's a very, very sustainable occupation.

Sweating Through Fog

As I wrote here, we have had several opportunities to leave, and have missed every one. Unfortunately, we will stay until we are driven out.

Fabius Maximus

IMO this is a brilliant analysis. My only disagreement concerns the inter-related issues of our capabilities and the reasons we should withdraw.

" The single most important question shaping the possibility of US withdrawal is whether it takes place in the context of a relatively strong, competent and effectively sovereign Iraqi state."

*** If there was such a thing, we could settle in as allies in Japan and Germany. It is the fracturing of the Iraq state that puts us in the middle of a conflict in which we have no viable role.

"Despite the current American fashion in favor of decentralization, Iraqi support for a centralized Iraqi state remains strong: in last month's BBC survey, 66% of Iraqis preferred a unified Iraq…"

*** These wishes are nice, but perhaps of negligible significance after the outbreak of violence. In civil wars the outcomes are often shaped more by the elites commanding armed forces than sentiments of the general public.

"A withdrawal will be more likely to produce positive effects if it is preceded by building Iraqi national institutions and mobilizing regional support."

*** We need to leave because we do not know how to do these things. If we could, we should stay and do them.

More analysis of this at http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2008/03/19/4gw-attacks/


This article contains not one mention of which party will exploit Iraq's natural resources if America leaves!

There is a lot of money involved in this war, that is, a lot of money to be made by American actors should (a) the occupation continue, and (b) American lackeys remain in control and able to "legitimately" sign contracts for natural resource exploitation. Multiply 115 billion times $110 a barrel and you can see the ultimate stakes. Someone is going to ultimately pump that petroleum out of the ground. Who is going to pump that oil, refine that oil, wholesale that oil? If Saddam Hussein were still in power, then French and Russian companies would be in on the action, but not American firms.

Just what is the point of a fabulous military machine if it cannot be used to wrest needed and valuable natural resources from weaker parties/countries, and just what is the point of political power if a country's leaders cannot give these stolen assets to their friends and cronies?

America will not leave Iraq (or Iran, where there are 136 billion barrels, and where American troops soon will be), until either every last drop is pumped out into Exxon and BP tankers, or until petroleum becomes worthless due to technological advances.

Look at it this way: the American petroleum industry is a bedrock industry in America. This war/continuing occupation will help this industry grow and prosper. This war is not about self-defense, it is about money, like most every other effort of technologically-advanced humankind. Plus, like the poster wrote earlier, America does not leave countries it has conquered. The Phillippines might be an exception. I suppose it is nice to dream.

As my Republican friends say, "most people on Earth just do not know the value of a dollar." And apparently, neither do glib analysts of foreign policy.


"The turbulence in Sunni politics detailed in my earlier memo to this group has only increased, with the Anbar Salvation Council threatening violence against the Islamic Party, and rampant signs of discontent among the Awakenings."

Are these continued dire predictions the triumph of experience over hope, or of hope over experience?


For those concerned about what AQI will do in the event of an American withdrawal, AQI is clearly able to commit terrorist acts while American troops are very much present. I would argue that with the American presence being their best recruiting tool both at home and abroad, withdrawal will make terrorism less frequent, not more. AQI will be dealt with by the Iraqis -- Sunni and Shia alike -- or not at all.

As for Michael O'Hanlon, given his track record on Iraq, I give anything he says zero credibility.

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