Time to Come Home?
In early 2003 Donald Rumsfeld—best known for knowing everything yet not knowing anything—confidently doubted that the war in Iraq would ever stretch to six months. He has since spent the last three-plus years insisting that every miserable fact of failure in Iraq is mere “defeatist” speculation, as have Bush, Cheney and Rice. But the truth, being stranger than fiction and a lot more useful, has slowly but surely seeped past the administration’s filter and into the cognitive area of the American public’s brains.
This year an August 9 CNN poll reported that 60% of their respondents wanted “some withdrawal” by the end of 2006.
An August 5 Opinion Dynamics/Fox News poll found 27% wanted all troops out by year’s end and 31% wanted all troops out over the next 12 months—for a total of 58% wanting the troops out. This month that figure has risen to an impressive 73%. The vast majority of Iraqis want the US to leave as well for many obvious reasons.
Don’t Let The Door Hit Your Ass On The Way Out
So what might happen if Bush & company chose to act on the overwhelming public sentiment in both the US and Iraq and actually began withdrawing troops (assuming no UN assistance)?
It took two weeks to reach Baghdad from Kuwait and that was with less personnel and equipment than the 140,000 or so now deployed. Withdrawal will take at least a couple of months. US forces have only three viable points of exit—the airport, the port of Basra and the Kuwait border.
As US forces fall back for departure the various militias will move in to abandoned areas to create and consolidate their presence and influence and to prevent their rivals from doing the same. The inevitability of a power struggle ought to keep a number of their fighters away from attacking the US forces as they depart. Pure pragmatism would suggest that the Iraqis just let the US forces leave without harassment so the various factions can escalate their civil war that much sooner and with greater strength.
However there will be a huge temptation for many to get in some “last-licks” as the US retreats. With US forces concentrated and on the move, out in the open and keen to be leaving at last, they will be vulnerable to harassment from relatively small opposition forces.
To counter this possibility the US will want to call on Navy/Marine air-power to keep the Iraqis at bay. I imagine that cluster and phosphorous bombs would be the preferred munitions as anti personnel and area-denial weapons and their use would be no more discerning than has been the case in any other support operations thus far—in other words they will blow the holy crap out of anything and everything to protect the departing forces.
Whether the US forces leave under fire or not the Iraqi militants will be able to claim victory—military, political and even moral. What will the US have to show for their efforts?
Never In The Field of Human Conflict Have So Few Done So Little For So Many
Bush still insists that the troops must stay “until the job is done” but what does he mean by that? There aren’t enough troops to provide the security needed to restore essential services, permit meaningful reconstruction and allow the government to establish authority—there never has been and apparently there never will be (at least not until after 2008)—so why keep them there?
The answer is; to satisfy the psychopathic egos of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld which sent the troops to Iraq in the first place. If they refuse to bring the troops home there will be no retreat and therefore no failure. Even if the GOP loses both houses in November and even if impeachment was begun immediately Bush can wield his “signing statements” and simply refuse to accede until his term is over—whereupon he (and Cheney and Rumsfeld) can literally (not just figuratively) walk away from responsibility.
And what about the troops?
A February 28, 2006 LeMoyne College/Zogby poll of the US troops indicated that 72% overall wanted to leave by the end of 2006 (89% of Reserves and 82% National Guard had that opinion, whilst for the Marines it was a significantly lower but still notable 58%).
Given the trend of public opinion and the increased violence in Iraq since February 2006 it would be safe to assume that the soldiers desire to get the hell out of Iraq has likewise increased.
Whether they get to leave sooner or later their departure (under fire or not), whatever relief the troops might feel will be severely tempered. Neither defeated nor victorious, whatever individual accomplishments and personal satisfactions they might derive from their service will be challenged by other inseparable experiences and realities. Though they will leave the battlefield, the battlefield will not leave them so easily. My thoughts on the soldier’s homecoming will follow in part II.