Why It Isn't Time for the U.S. to Leave Iraq Yet
From the January 9, 2007 Chicago Sun-Times
January 9, 2007
by John O'Sullivan
Wednesday's national address by President Bush marks the start of the "end game" in Iraq. By this time next year, we will almost certainly know whether the United States has won or lost its gamble on a new stable democratic Iraq. We will certainly know this on the morning after the next U.S. presidential election, which is now only 22 months away.
Not that fighting will have ended in Iraq by either date. Insurgency and counter-insurgency operations may then be even more intense. In particular, if U.S. troops are withdrawing, Sunni and Shiite militias may perhaps harry the retreating forces. They will certainly devote more effort and ruthlessness to killing each other in the battle to control post-American Iraq.
When the British left India in 1947, they did so in good order and without fighting. The estimated million Indian casualties were slaughtered by other Indians in ethno-religious pogroms by both Hindus and Muslims.
Democrats argue that the present Sunni-Shiite fighting is caused by the U.S. presence. Withdrawal, they argue, would compel all Iraqis to settle their differences by compromise. This argument is so spectacularly at odds with the facts -- principally the fact that the U.S. presence restrains rather than provokes Sunni-Shiite warfare -- that it has to be an argument made in bad faith.
The truth is that there can be no political solution until someone establishes a clear military predominance in Iraq generally and Baghdad in particular. Neither Sunni nor Shiite politicians will reach compromises if they are certain to be murdered by the militias of extremists on their own side. Peace and stability require both a military and a political solution -- but the political rests on the military one rather than vice versa.
There are only three politico-military forces that could plausibly win the kind of military victory that would determine the political shape of Iraq. The first is a "national unity" Iraqi government supported by U.S. and other coalition troops. In other words the status quo -- though one that can and should be marginally improved by ditching some extremists to make the government and its armed forces more genuinely "national."
This force remains by far the strongest one in Iraq and, if the United States remains in the mix, it could not conceivably be defeated by either of the other two forces. Bush's speech is expected to outline a new approach that aims at actually defeating the insurgents: some combination of more troops, more money for reconstruction and job programs, a new U.S. military leadership, and a different set of tactics to "hold" troubled areas after they have been "pacified."
These policies are reasonable. They build on the current position of strategic dominance -- troubled certainly but dominant nonetheless. And they have a good chance of success, but only if the Bush administration makes clear they are not a temporary surge designed to accelerate an early withdrawal but represent a firm U.S. commitment to establish a friendly stable government in Baghdad.
Without that commitment, the terrorists will fight on until the deadline, official or imagined, even if they are losing badly. On the other hand, unless the coalition obtains some early success against the insurgents, domestic American pressure for a U.S. withdrawal will eventually become overwhelming. And once Americans start withdrawing, the Iraqi "national" army will disintegrate into ethnic factions, and a battle would begin between the two other forces -- the Shia and Sunni militias.
In these circumstances the second force, the Shiite militias, would be the heavy favorites to emerge victorious from the brutal civil war following withdrawal. They are more numerous -- the Shiites are 60 percent of Iraq's population. They would have the backing of an increasingly Shiite-dominated government and thus favorable access to heavy weapons. Because the Shiites would enjoy their victory due to militias rather than to the ballot box, they might end up with an outright Shiite dictatorship rather than with a democracy weighted toward Shiite interests as now.
The third force, the Sunni militias, has no realistic prospect of victory. If they were being massacred following withdrawal, however, some of the neighboring Sunni Arab regimes -- Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia -- might feel compelled by their own public opinions to intervene militarily. That would at best secure a small Sunni enclave while inviting all sorts of unpredictable disasters.
The other disasters include massive ethnic cleansing on the Indian model, vast refugee incursions into Jordan and surrounding states as a result, serious threats to friendly pro-Western regimes there as a further result, the collapse of U.S. power in the region, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Egypt and the Saudis deprived of the American nuclear umbrella, a renewed Islamist threat to Muslim regimes as far afield as Pakistan, and finally a revival of morale in al-Qaida as battle-hardened terrorists become available for terrorism in the Mideast, Western Europe, and . . .
What are the powerful reasons for risking these dangers? If the Democrat leaders were put on a truth serum and asked why we should leave Iraq, they would probably reply "because we have lost." If America and its allies have lost, however, then who has won?
They cannot answer that question. for a good reason. No one has won as yet. No one is actually winning unless it is the United States. So why surrender?
John O'Sullivan was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.
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