Wednesday, September 05, 2007

On the Consequences of Withdrawing from Iraq

It's become a popular argument among those who are against withdrawal that pulling our troops out of Iraq would lead to a bloodbath. It's a good argument in that it appeals to the compassion of those who are advocating withdrawal for mostly compassionate reasons, but it's a bad argument because it misses the point.

Mark Kleiman sums it up well:

More Iraqis will probably die of violence just after a U.S. withdrawal than are dying violently now. That will hand the pro-war forces a rhetorical "I told you so." Anyone who can blame what happened in Cambodia on U.S. doves is clearly shameless enough to blame the civil war in Iraq on the people who opposed the invasion rather than those who carried it out and then bungled the occupation.

But that's not a good enough reason to hang around, unless at some point it stops being true: that six months, or a year, or two years, or five years from now we would be able to withdraw and not have civil war and massacre follow. If we're spending blood and treasure only to postpone a catastrophe we can't prevent, the "humanitarian" argument against a fairly rapid withdrawal collapses.

Unless we are making progress towards an Iraqi government capable of preventing a civil war -- and it appears that we are not -- then there will be a civil war and probably ethnic cleansing whenever we leave. The question then is not whether leaving will lead to a bloodbath, but whether staying is simply putting off the inevitable -- but at immense cost to us, militarily, politically, and fiscally.

That a bloodbath would eventually follow the removal of Saddam Hussein has always been obvious. Dick Cheney himself said so in the 1990s and those who opposed this war from the beginning said it in 2002. To blame the inevitable on the people who have been right all along is disgraceful.

Unfortunately, this looks like it's playing out exactly as I predicted at the end of last year:
The administration will smear anyone who suggests we might have to cut our losses and leave. (The dreaded "cut and run.") They'll do so right until there is absolutely no other option. Then it will be an unplanned, "chaotic bugout with huge, avoidable losses of men and materiel." Then they'll blame the Democrats.

If they're responsible, we can minimize the damage we do by leaving. We can set a timetable and do our best to prepare the Iraqi army. We can take other diplomatic and military options to make our inevitable withdrawal less harmful. But they're not responsible. They're going to wait and wait and soldiers are going to keep dying until finally the truth is absolutely undeniable, and then they'll bug out in an awful mess and blame the Democrats.

If the right is so concerned about the results of our withdrawal, the time to start planning for it is right freaking now. We should be talking about the way to withdraw with the least possible damage to Iraq, but instead the Bush administration is forcing us to continue arguing about whether the damn surge is working.

Before the invasion, the administration failed to plan adequately for the occupation and reconstruction. Now they are failing to plan for the inevitable withdrawal. And you just know they're going to blame the results on the Democrats.

What chutzpah.


asher said...

Well JA,

In the words of a former president with alzheimer, "there you go again"

When Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry all voted in favor the war they were all misinformed?
Didn't they realize at the time what would happen? How could they not forsee this "insurgency" and "sectarian" violence in this most violent country?

Sure the war was wrong to begin with; and there weren't enough boots on the ground (reminds me of the old joke "The food at this hotel is terrible....and there's so little of it!)

Then they couldn't find any WMDs. Then our very presence was creating the insurgency. Then the newly formed Iraqi government and the elections there were useless.
You can't bring democracy to a Muslim about a racist argument. Then Charles Rangel (D-NY) calls for an immediate gets voted down. Then the same Charlie Rangle (D-NY) calls for the institution of a draft and he himself votes against this proposal when it gets to the floor. Talk about someone with convictions!

Now we have a surge (or an increase in troops)Hillary, Barack and others are hastily admitting that it might be working.
Regardless of what this new report has to say, the mantra is "it ain't gonna work" and if the report says it might work, that sounds bad for the Democrats.

Now, make up your mind. Isn't this war immoral? Aren't we fighting a losing battle that can't be won?
Say so.

Jewish Atheist said...


"Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry" were wrong. It's one of the biggest reasons I'm supporting Kerry.

Now do you have any defense of Bush besides "but but they did it, too!!"

Jewish Atheist said...

Eek. I meant "why I'm supporting Obama," of course.

Agkyra said...


I think the bold phrase in your Mark Kleiman quote is key: unless at some point it stops being true. You say, "Unless we are making progress towards an Iraqi government capable of preventing a civil war -- and it appears that we are not -- then there will be a civil war and probably ethnic cleansing whenever we leave," but it's too easy for us -- safe and comfortable -- to give ourselves up to the possibility of civil war and ethnic cleansing. Why should we care if "it appears that we are not"? If it appears that we are not, shouldn't you be asking what is in our power to make that a reality, what we can do to facilitate a stable Iraqi government?

And that's the reason the Democrats will ultimately be blameworthy if a premature pull out does result in a bloodbath: because they have not made the case that an effective government in Iraq is impossible. The rest of us are operating on the belief that it is.

Pulling out may be convenient for us (cut our losses), but its effect on Iraq and the whole region -- as well as us in the next 100 years or so -- would be dreadful. The suggestion that we pull out is really shortsighted, I think. Bigger even than the possibility of a civil war, in terms of long-term effects, is what kind of regime would gain power as the result of a civil war. Would we be stuck with a bigger problem in 50 years than we had with Saddam Hussein? We share responsibility with the Iraqis for what kind of government emerges out of all this. And when I say "we," I mean we Americans, regardless of party or position about the war, pullout, or anything else. We should accept that responsibility and participate actively rather than pull out and watch as spectators.

To give an analogy from parenting (please, no charges of paternalism here -- it's just an analogy): a father shares responsibility for how his son turns out. If his son at age 11 shows signs of getting into trouble, he shouldn't be saying "This kid has problems. If he turns out wrong, I'll be hurt and ashamed. Therefore, I want nothing more to do with him," (the pull out approach). Instead, how about "This kid has problems. Nevertheless, I love the child, and our lives are bound up with each other no matter what, so I had better do what I can to help him with his problems." An absentee father is just as responsible for the way his child turns out as one who is active and engaged.

jewish philosopher said...

Realistically, nothing will change until Hillary is in the White House.

Jewish Atheist said...


Why should we care if "it appears that we are not"? If it appears that we are not, shouldn't you be asking what is in our power to make that a reality, what we can do to facilitate a stable Iraqi government?

If I thought it was reasonably without our power to make it a reality, I would support it. My objection to the continued occupation stems from my belief that it is not in our power to do it. (My belief, in turn, is based on what essentially every expert who is not directly affiliated with the Bush administration appears to believe, but that's for another debate.)

I'm also not advocating an immediate, precipitous, 100% withdrawal. I'm saying we should begin the process of withdrawal and focus on minimizing the damage left behind. I wouldn't be opposed to some smallish number of soldiers/advisors/special forces remaining for some years.

Jewish Atheist said...


Realistically, nothing will change until Hillary is in the White House.

And that's the most irresponsible thing Bush could do. I don't want to believe that he's just running out the clock until it's someone else's problem, because that would make him truly a despicable man. Someone willing to let hundreds of our troops die just to save face has committed treason, in my opinion.

AbeU said...

Regardless of your original opinion on the justice of the war, it happened. I agree with agkyra that we're not really in a moral position to just decide that we're tired of it. The U.S. made this mess and it's our responsibility to clean it up.

Mark said...

Why do you think reconstruction/state-building should take a fraction of the time it took in Germany and Japan?

Oh, and I linked and commented on this here

Anonymous said...

Would the same logic apply to Rwanda and Darfur if a nigh-permanent presence was required to prevent bloodshed?

What do you think about the US troops in South Korea and old Yugoslavia?

Jewish Atheist said...


Obviously, there are always tradeoffs. The question is what are the costs and what the rewards.