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Obama and Iraq – Now Comes The Hard Part.

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04/24/95_15.58_SAIGONViet Nam

saigon 1975. will it be different when we leave Iraq?

Ivan Watson, NPR’s Baghdad Correspondent was the target of an assassination attempt today when he and his team were nearly killed by a car bomb. And in recent weeks there has clearly been a spike in violence in Iraq. Let nobody say that the situation that war-torn country is anything close to peaceful.

And yet the next President is going to withdraw our troops. Not in victory, or in defeat, but ‘believing’ and ‘hoping’ that peace will break out when we’re gone. That’s a bet many wouldn’t make.

Obama staked his early rise to prominence on a speedy withdrawal from Iraq, and superficially, facts on the ground seem to bear him out. He’s committed to a “safe and responsible” withdrawal of US troops around sixteen months from taking office. He has the support of the Maliki government, and the vast majority of the Iraqi people want us gone. The Status of Forces agreement which mandates our withdrawal by the end of 2001 also provides us with some political cover too.

So what’s the problem? Simple. When we leave, there is simply no way we won’t be leaving a power vacuum in Iraq. The myriad of competing interests have been well documented. Everyone wants their piece of the place. Kurds just want a chunk to help them build Kurdistan, while the Sunnis want their power back, and the Shiites still want revenge on the Sunnis, and make sure they don’t get their hands on any oil power. Then we have the Jihadists, the Iranians, and the rest of the Arab world keeping a close eye on developments. Violence continues to bubble, and the opportunities for inciting sectarian violence seem wide open. And keeping everything from going totally haywire. Us. Until the end of 2001 that is.

Let’s talk about two word “safety” and “responsibly”. The safety of our troops is easy to ensure. Keep them on base and stop sending them on patrol. But ‘responsible’ withdrawal is another matter entirely. Assuming that what Obama means by withdrawal is minimizing the risk of a flare-up after we’re outta there, it’s simply impossible to predict the future in Iraq with any degree of certainty, but the signs don’t look good. Controlling the chaos of Iraqi factionalism without the help of a first-class policing, intelligence, and political system will be impossible. It also requires a vibrant economy, accountability, social harmony, common values, and control of borders. Iraqi’s score on all these. Zippo.

Redeveloping Iraq was an idea that we’ve essentially dropped. During the campaign Obama made a big deal about Iraq’s $80 billion dollar budget surplus that should be used for its own redevelopment. He knows the American people aren’t going to be bankrolling them anymore. Instead, we’re leaving it up to them, and that ain’t gonna work. Most of the money would disappear into the pockets of officialdom, and infrastructure projects would languish as they are now, with US protection. The Sunni Awakening is on the Iraqi Government payroll, but that could change, and with it would go their cooperation with the Shiite dominated government. So barring the rise of some kind of Iraqi Tito, and nobody that fits the bill seems to be in the neighborhood, the place will quite simply still be a potential tinderbox when we go.

When we leave, you can be sure the Iraqi factions will all behave and wish us bon voyage. They don’t want any last minute delays on our departure. It will be glorious (and very unlike our helicopter-bound theatrics in Saigon in 1975). The media will make a game attempt to paper over the cracks of our flawed strategy. One can just imagine the headlines. “Countdown to Departure From Iraq”, “Baghdad Waits for Last Americans To Leave”, “Leaving With Dignity”, “All Calm A Week After We’re Gone – Obama Declares Withdrawal A Success”. “US Gone For Three Months. All is Quiet”.

It might take a day, a week, a month, a year. But the following headlines are just as possible without our grunts to stem the bleeding. “Iraqi Electricity Grid Grinds to Halt”, “Sadr City Besieged By Iraqi Army”, “Karbala Pilgrims Targeted Again”, “Iraqi Army Retreats From Basra”, “Golden Mosque Is Hit Again”, “Maliki Escapes Assassination Attempt”. “Suicide Bomber kills 150 at Election Rally – Sunni Extremists Claim Responsibility”. “Iranian Influence Growing In Iraqi Government.” And the list of possibilities goes on and on.

The US forces will be gone. No more Green Zone. No more Petraeus. The Jihadists will declare victory, and more recruits could easily pour over the border to close the deal. Unemployment, intolerable now, will get worse, and that means that young men could take up arms as insurgents and be back at it. Without the US to rain on his parade, Sadr could rebuild and reinforce his power with Iranian help. And Iraq could once again be on fire.

And if it is, or even if its smouldering and needs a strong hand to intervene, are we going to send boys back? No way. The American People wouldn’t have it, and President Obama might as well hand the keys over to the GOP if he tried it. So instead we’ll just have to watch from the sidelines.

This highly unpalatable possibility will linger for a very long time. It’s a product of the utter stupidity of starting a war that could not be finished, but that mistake will soon recede into history. It will be Obama that faces the music. That is unjust, but his judgment on when we get out will be the defining moment of the American experience in Iraq.

Obama seems like a cautious man, a responsible man, but when it comes to Iraq, there is no way that his call for responsibility can alleviate the risk of departure caused by Bush’s utter lack of it.

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One Response

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  1. oh my.. Ivan

    dramastic

    June 6, 2010 at 6:55 am


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