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)
13 thoughts on “A look at the next phase of the Iraq War: 2009-2012”
“In a democratic republic we are responsible for the actions of our government. Neither future historians nor our descendants will care for our excuses.”
Fabius, you have an over-developed sense of responsibility. The USA is not actually democratic. The votes don’t get counted honestly. Broadening the Inquiry into New Hampshire, Black Box Voting (28 February 2008).
Fabius Maximus replies: I am sure you do not believe this is a new phenomenon. Voting fraud was a major support for metro political machines in the 19th and 20th centuries. What’s missing is evidence about the size of modern voting fraud (that it exists does not mean that it is determinitive). And it is easily prevented if enough people care. If we depend on Mommy to keep everything neat and tidy, then we cannot be a democracy because we are not citizens.
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Joshua Foust has written an interesting note expanding on this post. Here is my reply (posted at his site, copied here):
It is important to put this in perspective. This requires drawing upon the finest analysis on the net.
1. The correct response to Cordesman’s list is that of course we want all these things…and a pony too. This comes from what is perhaps the greatest internet post ever, based on a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip: If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride — A Pony!, at John and Belle Have a Blog (6 March 2004)
2. Cordesman’s prescription is a variant of the Green Lantern theory of geopolitics, by Matthew Yglesias (6 July 2004). If we have sufficient willpower, we can make anything happen.
3. What is the cause of these delusions, which would not deserve a second of attention if we were not wagering America’s future on them? Something is broken in our national mind, what John Boyd called our Observation-Orientation-Decesion-Action loop.
In other words, we have collectively gone bonkers. Diagnosis and treatment of this is above my pay grade, however I have made some small efforts at this. Perhaps most relevant is: America’s Most Dangerous Enemy.
Now for something completely different. Or is this really as far off topic as it seems? War as a Sacrificial Ritual — chapter four of the forthcoming book, The Origins of War in Child Abuse, by Lloyd deMause (no date).
“…Wars are in fact prosperity-reducing, sacrificial rituals. Group behavior guaranteed to provoke revenge is not “aggressive”-it is self-destructive…”
Fabius Maximus: worth reading. The book should be interesting. I wonder if he overstates the case. Rather than psychosis, the rush to war has much (even by deMause’s own description) with marriage. While that too is often crazy… At some level of rational analysis, life itself is irrational. As Shaw saws in his play “You Never Can Tell”:
“It is unwise to be born; it is unwise to be married; it is unwise to live; and it is wise to die.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said — “two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert … near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” —
Fabius Maximus replies: thank you for posting this. Food for thought…
I think it was William Lind that made the comment saying the longer we leave our people in Iraq, the more likely it is they will be defeated in the field. We have never had an army defeated in the field. I think it was he also that compared our Iraq adventure to the Opium war against the Chinese empire with US being the Chinese. It took them a century to recover. That is the part that really bothers me.
I live in Dupage county in Illinois. No one really talks about the war here. As long as the gas stations have gas and the malls are open, no one seems to care. To me, this is tragic.
‘Twill be illuminating indeed to see how the next phase is impacted by a certain gap in the petroleum supply and demand curves. The defeat mentioned by Mr Lind may play a part, as may the unwinding of several exotic credit instruments and subsequent evaporation of a few Trillion. If the poor wretch that has the misfortune to be designated president can exert more than passing influence on Iraq, it will not be to the betterment of this nation. The curse of interesting times is upon us!
“Our government might not do foreign occupations well, but they have mastered one aspect of 4GW: infowar. Unfortunately they are wielding it against us.”
You said a mouthful.
Of course deMause is way over the top. His work is interesting nevertheless. It does attempt to explain the “collectively bonkers” theory.
Fabius Maximus replies: Agreed. So does the theory that we are like the guy (or gal) who goes on a bender and wakes up married to some trash picked up along the way at a seedy dive. In both cases pleading insanity to the judge is the best bet.
They all look prettier at closing time.
Fabius Maximus replies: One of the great truths of life, a rebuttal to our pretensions of rationality.
The Book of Jeremiah, chapter 51 — about Babylon:
“I will make her officials and wise men drunk, her governors, officers and warriors as well … the peoples exhaust themselves for nothing, the nations labor is only fuel for the flames.”
I have posted an update with a comment about Senator Obama’s speech about the Iraq War, and link to the text. Please read the speech.
“Obama May Consider Slowing Iraq Withdrawal“, Washington Post (4 July 2008) — “Candidate Says He Remains Committed to Ending War.” Yes, just as is McCain. Only the naive should be surprise. Excerpt:
Sen. Barack Obama raised the possibility of slowing a promised gradual, 16-month withdrawal from Iraq if he is elected president, saying that Thursday he will consult with military commanders on an upcoming trip to the region and “continue to refine” his proposals.
“My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything I’ve said, was always premised on making sure our troops were safe,” Obama told reporters as his campaign plane landed in North Dakota, a state no Democratic presidential candidate has carried since 1964. “And my guiding approach continues to be that we’ve got to make sure that our troops are safe, and that Iraq is stable. And I’m going to continue to gather information to find out whether those conditions still hold.”
In a second, hastily convened news conference, Obama insisted that his policies have not changed, and that he has “not equivocated” or is not “searching for maneuvering room” on Iraq.
… “Let me be as clear as I can be: I intend to end this war,” he said. “My first day in office, I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission. That is to end this war, responsibly, deliberately but decisively.”
Thus far, he added, he has seen nothing to contradict his belief that one to two combat brigades could be pulled out each month over 16 months.