Tuesday, October 17, 2006

When Johnny Comes Marching Home –Part 1

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.


Carl said...


My guess regarding the withdrawal of troops is that enough Iraqis would kick them on the way out that we'd be forced to leave a presence on the way out the door.

Oh...you forgot one exit route, and it's probably the easiest one: thru the Kurdish zone and into Turkey.

5th Estate said...

The dispostion of the majority of US forces is the primary issue. I'm not sure where they all are but I gather most are in and around Baghdad, smaller forces in the west and the East. It's not just the fighting men and women it's all the support personnel and equipment.
Those in the north could be airlifted via Turkey but no way all the Abrams, Bradley's etc would be going that way. The majority will have to leave through the same doors they came in--airport, Basra and Kuwait.
They can coordinate with British forces in the south, each providing support to the other during withdrawal.

They could "stage" to the south but still inside of Iraq, control Basra--drawing back instead of actually leaving--let the militia factions fight amongst themselves in the center, still provide air support to the kurds and take the time to consider the situation and re-orient.
Note this sounds suspiciously like the pre-war containment strategy but with a troop presence inside Iraq.
The thing is that something's got to change and Bush and Rumsfeld are refusing to either retreat or advance. Their inaction just adds to the bodies and the resentment on both sides.

There are no tidy options, but regardless of domestic sentiment something needs to be done--something practical and measurable. Current "policy" satisfies neither military nor political nor humanitarian goals.

Whilst Bush and Rumsfeld dither about or rather ignore reality, US troops and the Iraqis are left in a hellish limbo.
Complete withdrawal will solve some immediate problems on both sides but won't mitigate the longer term issues brought about by this disastrous occupation.

A re-alignment of forces and goals might recover some long term benefits overall for all concerned but though "reasonable" that would take will, money, lives and commitment that are now in short supply.

I've no slam dunk solutions, but I care enough to think about what might be done. Bush and Rumsfeld who are in charge seem content to do nothing until they collect their government pensions.

sumo said...

Complete and utter fools they are...they don't know their ass from a hole in the ground...don't expect anything conventional or safe from them. Chaos is the rule of the day.

Carl said...

True, Brit, that utilizing Turkey is a long shot...we haven't even begun to consider the effects of American troops marching thru what would nominally be Kurdish home territory in two nations or the domestic political effect in Turkey of having American troops there.

The reasons I raised Turkey were 1) it's an ally, and therefore an option, and 2) with it's struggles to get into the EU, a bargaining chip they might offer is assistance in the withdrawal in exchange for full-throated US support of its EU membership, perhaps even additional US investments in Turkey (currently, Turkey only gets about $1B in foreign investments, accroding to the CIA Factbook).

Granted, there are many many other issues at hand for Turkey, the slow pace of its economic development being among several equally vital factors like the Armenian and Cypriot questions, but it couldn't hurt.

5th Estate said...

Yes deals could be made with Turkey--they provided airbases for the northern no-fly zone post the '91 war but then balked at letting the 4th ID transit into northern Iraq in 2003--apparently the US didn;t offer quite enough money or something.

Though international politics are incredibly byzantine behind closed doors and anything is possible I don't see the US (that is BushCo) having any EU influence at all--bribes grease the wheels of diplomacy but one needs diplomats too and Bushco doesn't seem to have any that are competent or credible--ergo a very, very long shot IMHO

Carl said...

One person who springs to mind is James Baker, but I concede your point on that.

5th Estate said...

Carl..ah yes, Baker of Baker,Botts--he does know how to cut a deal but even so what would he have to work with? That's the sticking point, and like I akkuded to before, at best Turkey would provide a small and not very practiable exit point. Basically the US has to leave through the same doorways they entered-Kuwait, Basra and the airport.

Red Tory said...

Not altogether on topic, but did you happen to see the “Frontline” program on PBS last night that detailed the disastrous first year in Iraq when the wheels started to fall off the invasion? Fascinating. Nothing really new, but interesting to watch. It might wake some people up.

Carl said...


If only. People who watch Frontline are people who probably understood that point from the get-go. But one can hope.