Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Democrats and the Iraq Aftermath

Everybody wants to know what's going to happen in Iraq after our troops redeploy/withdraw. Nobody knows, but everybody has an opinion. Some opinions are worse than others, as this article in the LA Times tries to make clear:

Opponents of a withdrawal have raised the specter of spiraling violence between Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis, a wider Middle Eastern war and a resurgent Al Qaeda to blunt the accelerating Democratic efforts to scale back military involvement in Iraq.

Many Democrats, however, believe that any increase in violence would be short-term, and argue that a troop drawdown would eventually lead to a more stable Iraq and Middle East.

Many congressional Democrats also say that a U.S. withdrawal would encourage Iraq's neighbors, such as Iran and Syria, to play a more constructive role in resolving the conflict.

"I believe, if we leave, the region will pull together," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), a founding member of the influential House Out of Iraq caucus. "It's important to them that Iraq stabilize."

There are a few points I'd like to make about this article. The most crucial deals with Democrats and their undeserved reputation for not being serious on issues of national security. Many people buy into that meme, thanks largely to Republican framing that's cherry-picked from the last several decades. Democrats are trying to reverse that, and Republicans have been more than willing to help out by destroying Iraq and allowing al Qaeda to flourish. But Democrats also need to be very, very careful when they start talking about what's going to happen to Iraq after we leave. Despite the writer's bold assertion that Democrats believe a drawdown will help Iraq, he doesn't actually quote any Democrats who say as much. And thank God for that, because that Democrat would be either a fool or a liar. The only reply that Democrats should give if they are even going to attempt to answer that question is "Violence will probably worsen, but it's worsening anyway and at least this way our soldiers aren't dying trying to stop a civil war that can't be stopped" or something to that effect. The American people are not idiots, and while there may be a few on the anti-war side who sincerely believe that things will magically get better if we leave, most Americans quite rightly believe that things are getting worse and there's nothing we can do about it. That's the argument for leaving, and no other. Several Democrats are quoted in the article as saying something to that effect.

Beyond that, there are things that irritate me about this article by Noam Levey. First of all, the title of the article is "Pullout Proposal Lacking a Plan B", but the only aspect of withdrawal or redeployment that the article addresses is the worsening civil war and Iraqi civilian casualties (the article makes this clear in the very first paragraph.) In other words, the article defines "Plan B" as "dealing with Iraq's civil war." Here's an example of this framing:

Many of them acknowledge that Iraq may plunge into vicious sectarian fighting much like the ethnic cleansing that consumed Bosnia a decade ago. However, they said they would reject the use of U.S. troops to stop the killing.

Huh? If you're like me, you're thinking that this sort of "Plan B" sounds an awful lot like the curent Plan A. How exactly are our troops supposed to prevent the killing of Iraqi civilians that will follow withdrawal without say, immediately deploying back into Iraq to do the same thing they were doing before they left? Then there's this:

The withdrawal measures offered by Democrats, including one the Senate is scheduled to vote on today, acknowledge the U.S. will continue to play a military role in Iraq for years. The bills would allow an unspecified number of troops to remain to perform limited missions, such as training Iraqis and going after terrorist networks.

Now you might be thinking, as I am, that this sounds an awful lot like a "Plan B". But there's more:

A few Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, have proposals they hope would increase the likelihood of a stable outcome after a U.S. pullback.

Biden, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advocates decentralizing the country into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions, which he contends would head off full-blown civil war.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounds like a "Plan B" to me too. At least in any other sense of the term beyond "prevent sectarian killings." In other words, the entire article purports to deal with what is basically a non-issue. There isn't any plan to deal with the sectarian killing that will follow withdrawal/redeployment because there isn't any way to prevent it, including what we're doing now. That's the whole point of all this withdrawal talk, though somehow Levey completely misses this fact. Levey frames the issue in such a way as to put the responsibility for dealing with the mess that will follow withdrawal/redeployment on the Democrats, and then makes hay out of the supposed fact that they have no plan to deal with the mess. But of course they have plans, as Levey manages to point out in a copule of paragraphs. The problem is their plans are realistic and tailored to the limitations of our military power. They don't purport to solve the Iraq civil war, which apparently in this article, is what a "Plan B" should do.

Beyond that, this article completely fails to address why Democrats have been so reluctant to talk about what's going to happen afterwards. Up until only very recently, they have been engaged in a fierce political battle with the White House over who will control the course of the war. It would have served no purpose to sit around talking about the violence that would follow withdrawal/redeployment, as Democrats were not yet in a position to address that concern. They are now slowly assuming that position, and so they are now beginning to seriously talk about it in public (as opposed to in private, which I assume they've done all along.)

Lastly, this article makes the critical assumption that sectarian violence will necessarily worsen following a withdrawal/redeployment, and only following such a change. I can't be too harsh, because that's an assumption that many on the left and right are making, and it's one I find myself unconsciously making again and again. But it's become clear to me that our soldiers aren't even serving as an effective check on the violence any longer. Iraqis are dying on the order of three to four thousand a month, and that's despite various tinkerings with our strategy and despite the additional 28,500 troops that have been sent to Iraq. That number of monthly civilian deaths has grown almost every month since the invasion, and it grows even now. Sectarian killings have been going on during the length of our presence in Iraq, and will continue and only get worse, no matter what we do. They'll get worse if we stay, and they'll get worse if we leave. In other words, the civil war has grown to the extent that the presence of our troops in Iraq has become less and less relevant to the war's outcome. It's simpy not possible to say "Before withdrawal/redeployment the violence was contained, and after withdrawal/redeployment the violence will get worse and mass sectarian killings will ensue." Mass sectarian killings are already underway, and have been for years now.

So unfortunately, this article is an example of muddled reporting that doesn't contribute much either to the debate over what to do in Iraq, or even to an understanding of that debate. Any future reporting that comes out the LA Times will hopefully be a little clearer, with less framing of the issues and fewer unwarranted assumptions.

1 comment:

adam said...

Yes, I was angered reading that article this morning. Typical MSM garbage.