Thursday, November 16, 2006

A new direction in Iraq

I recently read an excellent post exposing a fatal flaw present in the Iraq Study Group. Not one expert on Iraq in the group. I suppose this should not come as such a surprise considering that the whole occupation has suffered from a dearth of Iraqi translators. The military did not trust the few qualified department of state translators that were available, and Bremer sent them away despite the obvious need to improve communication with Iraqis from day one. Even more to the point, the study group is meeting about 4 years TOO LATE!

Another idea that is being put forward by John McCain, among others, is that we need to send in more US troops. Since even General Abizaid is admitting today (now that Rummy is out) that we didn’t have enough troops from the start, this call for more troops has a certain logic to it. Unfortunately the number of troops that we could send in, even if we want to, is so small (20,000 seems the upper limit and even that would be a temporary bump) at this point that it won’t make a difference except to increase the US casualty count. More troops at the very start (say 100,000 more) might have provided enough security to prevent the literal death spiral of violence that Iraq is in today. Even two years ago, a serious boost in troop strength (~70,000 more) might have changed the dynamic by stabilizing the security situation after it was clear that troop levels were not sufficient to provide adequate security for training Iraqi troops and rebuilding Iraq. At this point sending more troops in would simply be too little too late.

I wish I could offer a good solution to the problem we face in Iraq, unfortunately I only see bad and worse options. Stay the course hasn’t worked for 3.5 years and in fact has made things significantly worse. Withdrawing all troops immediately is probably the least bad option, even though it appears to be a political non-starter as long as Bush is president. Why does it make sense to withdraw immediately if we could? First because we never should have invaded in the first place, Saddam was no threat to the US (he was perhaps a threat to Iraqis, but considering the chaos that now reigns in Iraq one might rationally dispute even this) there were no WMD, and (as should have been obvious) imposing democracy at gunpoint is perhaps the worst method of promoting it. As occupying powers we are responsible for somewhere between 250k-750k excess deaths in Iraq over the past 3.5 years, a sum which will only stop growing when we end our (illegitimate if not illegal) occupation. We are losing brave young American men and women at a rate of 3 per day (with at least 5 times this number suffering life changing injuries) in an enterprise that is damaging our reputation and interests around the world as well as fueling terrorist groups and record support for their bankrupt ideology. Moreover this war has already cost us over $500 Billion, enough money for every taxpayer in America to own a 1 kW array of solar panels on their homes (a.k.a 100 GW of solar capacity), 100% paid for by Uncle Sam.

The phased withdrawal that the Democrats are requesting may be the more realistic (i.e. politically viable) strategy to allow us to gradually disengage from Iraq without creating a power vacuum. The sooner we butt out, the sooner the Iraqis can get on with building the political institutions they want and rebuilding their country.


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