There Is No Plan

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Can you Spell Power Vacuum? The US Can’t leave Iraq.

with 5 comments

Obama’s speech at Camp LeJeune today made official what we’ve known for a while, that the combat mission in Iraq is over. Perhaps that explains why the response to what should have been a historical announcement seemed strangely muted. There are many other possible explanations too, ranging from the little matter of a massive economic crisis, to the existing de facto end of hostilities in Iraq, to the fact that just maybe, there’s a sense out there that it’s a mistake to go.

Obama’s decision to bring our major combat brigades home by the end of August 2010, and the remainder of the training and counter-insurgency force by 2011 is not a cause for celebration, even among those vehement in their opposition to the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The reason is simple. If, as the President has pledged, all US forces are withdrawn from Iraq in 2011 we’ll be leaving an unpredictable power vacuum that we will have no ability to deal with – if as is possible, a new sectarian crisis breaks out. I’m certain that Obama’s National Security Team did their due diligence and got as much intelligence to support the case for continued stability in Iraq as possible, but forecasts are just another word for hopes. And in the Middle East, banking on hope is a very bad idea.

The Sadrists have taken a beating recently, and extremism appears to be on the defensive, but without the firepower and financial largesse of the United States, it’s not much of a stretch to see the radicals making a comeback in both Baghdad and Basra, and the Kurds finally pulling clear of a weak central Iraqi state to form the rump of a new Kurdistan, with all the international repercussions that would entail with Turkey, and other neighboring states. The Iraqi Government is incompetent, corrupt and weak. New elections won’t change that. Their army is poorly trained and lacks organization, motivation and firepower. The Iraqi economy remains a shambles, and the worldwide recession will do Baghdad no favors. Most important of all, the Sunni Awakening will be relying on bankroll from a Shiite government to keep the lid on Al Qaeda. That relationship is hardly made in heaven.

Overall, the bad guys are a patient bunch. There’s no reason why they won’t just wait us out. Reigniting the sectarian crisis shouldn’t be too difficult after we’ve gone. After all, the Shiites have essentially driven the Sunnis out, and won the Civil war, so the thirst for revenge is clearly there. Sharing oil revenues has gone ver quiet, as has de-baathification, and as for the religious extremists, it’s not in their nature to simply give up. They’ll be back for more.

But we won’t. Once they leave Iraq, our forces are not going back. The US strike force will be retraining and regrouping back home for a renewed campaign in Afghanistan. And Iraq will be left to it’s own devices.

America can not afford to take that chance. Our entry into Iraq in 2003 was a grevious error, but it’s a reality. We’re there, and we can’t take the chance of leaving any time soon. Simply put, the United States needs to set up permanent strike bases outside Baghdad, to the South and to the West. US bases can be made almost invisible, and pretty soon, they’d become part of the furniture. But we need a strong military presence there so we can keep the various rival elements (including Iranian influence) in Iraq as honest as we can. While our day-to-day combat operations (or as they were for the majority of the war police operations) must cease, our counter-insurgency, training and combat support operations for the Iraqi Army must continue. They need our air support, our special forces, and at least one or two strike brigades to give their major operations teeth, cohesion, confidence and leadership.

US forces remaining in Iraq after 2011 would be a deeply unpopular move. But Obama needs to reconsider, and stall their final departure. We can’t afford to risk being unable to control the power vacuum once our guys are stateside. It would be bad for our new image in the world and disastrous for our strategic position in the region.


Written by coolrebel

February 27, 2009 at 2:38 pm

5 Responses

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  1. it is all about money. that's totally true. money is power, it's a key part of the neo-lib arsenal. (by the way, ben suggests that neo-lib is taken as a name, so if you have any thoughts for a replacement…


    February 28, 2009 at 12:57 am

  2. baddbob

    February 27, 2009 at 6:11 pm

  3. I think it is pretty well-documented that the Saudis are funding Sunni groups in Iraq. Saudi money goes everywhere else, why not Iraq? Lawrence Wright claims that at one time, Saudi Arabia, “which constitutes only 1 percent of the world Muslim population, would support 90 percent of the expenses of the entire faith, overriding other traditions of Islam.” If it is anywhere near that amount today, you can bet that a chunk of it is reserved for the Iraqi Sunnis, if only to leverage against a potential Iranian takeover.

    The tricky part in all of this is how to approach the issue of state-funded terrorism. Iran is still part of the “axis of evil,” but will the US crack down on the flow of Saudi capital? What about the current level of military support for Pakistan? It’s immense, isn’t it? If we are worried about Pakistan and their potential influence in Iraq, shouldn’t we cut off the faucet at the source? Seems like common sense, though the cynic in me suspects that Obama will maintain the status quo in this arena.

    I suspect that, in the end, it’s all about the money. Isn’t that how the so-called Sunni Awakening really happened? We paid them. We should probably continue to do so, since it has proven to be the most effective way of easing the bloodshed. For now, it looks like we need 50,000 troops to do the job. Hopefully in a decade or so we’ll be able to cut that number by 90 percent.


    February 27, 2009 at 6:07 pm

  4. first, many thanks for your interest, ben. great argument, but there seem to be so many opportunities for the battle you mention to flare up again. perhaps power vacuum is the wrong term.

    i also worry about the idea that the Saudis/Pakistanis might protect the Sunnis. Doesn't that suggest that Iraq would become the Middle East's football just at the point where we're seeking stability in our dealings with Iran, Syria, etc.

    as far as the US being spectators, it seems to me that by removing us from combat operations we change our role substantially.


    February 27, 2009 at 3:19 pm

  5. I disagree that there'd be a power vacuum. The Shi'ites are firmly in control of Iraq now. Neighborhoods are divided by ethnicity. The Sunnis need protection and will probably get it from the Saudis/Pakistanis who are concerned about the new Shi'ite member, Iraq, along with others (Iran).

    In short, the US is standing in the middle of a battle between more involved, motivated, and knowledgeable contestants…Middle Easterners themselves. We're just dumb spectators. We're also blocking moves for regional stability by neighboring states.


    February 27, 2009 at 2:56 pm

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