Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Iraq After We Leave

The debate over Iraq-despite President Bush's stonewalling-has quickly gone from "Should we leave?" to "What will happen when we leave?" In that vein, the Washington Post reports on the results of war games conducted by the military in an attempt to answer that very question:

If U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraq in the near future, three developments would be likely to unfold. Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of ethnically mixed areas west to Anbar province. Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war between Shiite groups. And the Kurdish north would solidify its borders and invite a U.S. troop presence there. In short, Iraq would effectively become three separate nations.

That was the conclusion reached in recent "war games" exercises conducted for the U.S. military by retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson. "I honestly don't think it will be apocalyptic," said Anderson, who has served in Iraq and now works for a major defense contractor. But "it will be ugly."

Of course, as military planners are quick to admit, they have no idea how accurate their forecasts are. But given the state of Iraq and the way things have played out over the last four years, their conclusions are not unreasonable and to my knowledge at least, they're not they only ones saying this will be the result.

Of course, that their conclusion is sensible and reasonable does not mean that opponents and supporters of our presence in Iraq won't ignore or put their own spin on the results. As the article mentions, President Bush has touted the danger posed by al Qaeda if we leave (this despite the fact that at the same time, war supporters are touting how the Sunni have turned on al Qaeda in Anbar.) Even more dishonest supporters of the war accuse critics of the war of arguing that Iraq will stabilize once we leave, while they themselves predict utter chaos and a Middle East regional war that will apparently dwarf WWII.

The real lesson to take away from all of this is that it is likely that the sectarian divide in Iraq will only worsen, the civil war will only grow more violent, and U.S. forces which at one time seemed to serve as a sort of "cap" on the violence no longer do so, even with an extra 30,000 of them having been dispatched in the surge. Some "experts" on the Middle East seem to have trouble understanding this, as quotes from the article make clear:

Critics of complete withdrawal often charge that "those advocating [it] just don't understand the serious consequences of doing so," said Wayne White, a former deputy director of Near East division of the State Department's Intelligence and Research Bureau. "Unfortunately, most of us old Middle East hands understand all too well some of the consequences."

"Say the Shiites drive the Sunnis into Anbar," one expert said of Anderson's war-game scenario. "Well, what does that really mean? How many tens of thousands of people are going to get killed before all the surviving Sunnis are in Anbar?" He questioned whether that result would prove acceptable to a pro-withdrawal U.S. public.

This talk is both annoying and frustrating. "Understanding" the consequences also means understanding that they are likely inevitable, no matter how many troops we send to Iraq or how long we stay. These experts seem to have trouble understanding causality. Civil war in Iraq will not erupt full-blown from nothing once our troops leave. It's already there, it's been there for some time now, and it will get worse. Our troops no longer appear to be serving as an effective check on the violence, so how exactly does "understanding the consequences" lead to any other conclusion other than redeployment and withdrawal? The second "expert" seems to think that the American people will accept staying even longer if they just "understand" the terrible consequences of civil war in Iraq. This condescends to the American people and gives them too much credit at the same time. For one, as this war has demonstrated, we are perfectly okay with Iraqis being killed in the hundreds of thousands for unjustifiable purposes. Second, the public understands quite well that civil war will be horrible; what they also are coming to understand quite well is that there's nothing we can do to stop it, a factor that this "expert" leaves out of his analysis.

As much as Republicans and the President insist on blathering on about the threat of al Qaeda and regional war it won't ultimately stop what is already in the works, which is the the eventual withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. There are of course still various options for how we can end our participation in the Iraq civil war, and those merit very serious debate. Unfortunately, that debate is clouded by dishonest rhetoric and inaccurate analysis, on both the pro-war and anti-war sides (though considerably moreso on the pro-war side.) But it's become quite clear that withdrawal is inevitable, and the only question now is who here at home will determine how that withdrawal takes effect.

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