What is next in Iraq? None of the leading candidates have expressed any intention of leaving Iraq – except in the distant and vague future. McCain intends to fight so long as (or until) we suffer few casualties, then stay for a long time (perhaps a hundred years, as McCain said here and here) ). Obama has been quite explicit, saying on his web site that …
Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.
This looks like an attorney being clever.
Even after the surge is wound down (whenever that is) we will have over 60 thousand support troops in Iraq. How many of them will leave? We should need only a few thousand troops — bot “combat” and “support” – to protect our “embassy and diplomats.”
The reference to “building bases” is suspiciously vague. We have already spent tens of billions to build bases in Iraq, bases that look as permanent as those we have anywhere else (see tomorrow’s post for more on this). Will he close most of them, or some, or any of them? Each base will need combat troops to protect it, in addition to those protecting “our embassy and diplomats.”
The role of US bases has been, along with the air war (see this), one of the great under-covered aspects of the war. Many experts, such as Stratfor, said from the beginning that obtaining these bases – with a local government too weak to limit our use of them – was a key reason for invading Iraq. Events since 2003 have made these comments look prescient. From “Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq“, New York Times (20 April 2003):
The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region, senior Bush administration officials say.
American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.
If more Americans wanted us out of Iraq, and felt strongly about it, we would have a candidate advocating withdrawal. As it is, the Pew polls show that a “Majority now believe U.S. effort in Iraq will succeed, 53-39“. This is a result of and tribute to the skill and intensity of the propaganda campaign waged in America during the past year. Our government might not do foreign occupations well, but they have mastered one aspect of 4GW: infowar. Unfortunately they are wielding it against us. Not that it matters. In a democratic republic we are responsible for the actions of our government. Neither future historians nor our descendants will care for our excuses.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
Update: “The World Beyond Iraq”, speech by Senator Barack Obama at Fayetteville, NC (19 March 2008)
Here is an excerpt from a comment by Marc Lynch, posted at his blog Abu Aardvark:
Everyone is justifiably still talking about Barack Obama’s incredible speech on race yesterday, which only the fringe right failed to admit was rather extraordinary. But I was equally impressed by his outstanding speech today on Iraq and national security. I’m certainly not going to make a habit of reprinting every speech made, or focus on domestic politics more than occasionally, but this speech does a better job of framing the issues I care about than almost any other speech I’ve yet seen from any candidate. I was especially impressed with his ability to articulate the tension between tactics and strategy in Iraq, and the wider opportunity costs of the current strategy:
“…while we have a General who has used improved tactics to reduce violence, we still have the wrong strategy. As General Petraeus has himself acknowledged, the Iraqis are not achieving the political progress needed to end their civil war…. When you have no overarching strategy, there is no clear definition of success. Success comes to be defined as the ability to maintain a flawed policy indefinitely. Here is the truth: fighting a war without end will not force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. And fighting in a war without end will not make the American people safer.”
He argues that the troop withdrawal and changed political strategy:
“…will finally put pressure on Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future. Because we’ve learned that when we tell Iraq’s leaders that we’ll stay as long as it takes, they take as long as they want. We need to send a different message. We will help Iraq reach a meaningful accord on national reconciliation. We will engage with every country in the region – and the UN – to support the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq. And we will launch a major humanitarian initiative to support Iraq’s refugees and people. But Iraqis must take responsibility for their country. It is precisely this kind of approach – an approach that puts the onus on the Iraqis, and that relies on more than just military power – that is needed to stabilize Iraq.”
There’s a lot more in the speech, which places Iraq in a wider regional and global framework and talks seriously about the wider strategic perspective.
See the full text here; please read it. This election is important, perhaps of historic importance to America. Let’s get it right.
Where to go for information about our bases in Iraq
- If the U.S. is ultimately leaving Iraq, why is the military building ‘permanent’ bases?, Friends Committee on National Legislation
- Iraq Facilities, Global Security.org
- A Permanent Basis for Withdrawal?, Tom Engelhardt (14 February 2006)
- How Permanent Are Those Bases?, Tom Engelhardt (7 June 2007)
- Baseless Considerations, Tom Engelhardt (4 November 2007)
- A Basis for Enduring Relationships in Iraq, Tom Engelhardt (2 December 2007)