Tuesday, December 13, 2005

# Posted 6:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ARGUMENT FOR WITHDRAWAL, PART II: Yesterday, I responded to the first half of Barry Posen's argument about why the American presence in Iraq is a liability rather than an advantage. This post will respond to the second half of that argument, which entails a defense of the often heard notion that our soldiers' very presence in Iraq strengthens the enemy. Posen writes that:
Every killing or arrest produces more insurgents...Were the United States not in Iraq, not only would fewer rebels with to come, but the incentives of neighboring governments to capture such people would rise...

The American presence in Iraq seems to have strengthened Al Qaeda politically -- hardly a victory in the global war on terror.
The first sentence in the passage above is one of the very few in which Posen waxes rhetorical in an unfortunate way. If even arresting an insurgent produces more insurgents, then no meaningful response to the insurgency is possible at all.

Perhaps more importantly, does Posen expect that arrests and killings will become less provocative once they are carried out by the Shi'ite soldiers he wants to replace the Americans? Since Posen acknowledges that ethnic fissures are a very serious issue in Iraq, such a proposition would simply not be plausible.

Now what about the idea that if the United States were not in Iraq, fewer foreign fighters will come? This argument rests on the assumption that if we declare victory and go home so will they. But as Posen himself clearly states, the war will not be over if we go home. It will simply be carried on by our Shi'ite allies. Since we know that the foreign fighters are rabidly anti-Shi'ite and hope for the establishment of a new Caliphate, there is little reason to think that they will go home if we leaves the Shi'ites to fight on their own.

On a related note, Posen never confronts the hypothesis that victory will embolden the insurgents, both the foreign fighters and the Ba'athists. As the insurgents themselves explain, American withdrawals from Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia over the past thirty years provide the best available indication that America lacks the resolve necessary to win the war. As a student of history and politics, I think Posen would acknowledge that victors often go on take greater risks. This is not just the case for conquerors such as Napoleon and Alexander, but for democracies such as the United States and Britain. Should we expect any better of the Ba'athists and Al Qaeda?

In other regards, Posen is very good about directly confronting the strongest arguments for staying in Iraq. Thus Posen acknowledges that:
The major strategic problem for the United States with a stalemated civil war is that Sunni Arab areas of Iraq—in particular the vast and lawless expanses of the Anbar province—may become safe havens for al Qaeda. But...Even General George Casey and General John Abizaid, the two most senior officers responsible for the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq, agree that the large American presence stokes the insurgency. Once U.S. ground forces have left Iraq, the nationalist political energy will probably leak from the insurgency. Many Sunni Arabs who have tolerated the presence of foreign fighters may no longer do so.
First of all, I think Posen slightly misunderstands the statements of Generals Casey and Abizaid. They acknowledge that our presence has a provocative effect, but they don't pretend that it is the only effect.

More importantly, I think Posen and others must provide much more evidence in order to substantiate the notion that the insurgency is driven by true nationalism rather than by a narrow Sunni agenda that sees Shi'ite rule as intolerable. Earlier on, Posen himself acknowledges that
Sunni Arabs almost surely see the United States as the agent of their fall from the top of the social order and the American presence as an obstacle to restoring their power and resources.
Exactly. In fact, I might even suggest that if the United States withdraws, the Sunnis will become more tolerant of the foreign fighters because they will recognize their contribution to the insurgents' victory over the United States. Regardless of whether the Sunnis actually want the foreign fighers in Iraq, they will also need as many allies they can get in order to fight the war against the Shi'ites and Kurds, which they will have a chance of winning if we withdraw.

The second major argument against withdrawal that Posen acknowledges is the idea that if we leave, the conflict in Iraq may well escalate from insurgency into a full scale civil war, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis paying for it with their lives. Posen writes that escalation is probable but observes that
The most likely military outcome of this civil war is a stalemate, and this is what the United States should aim for. Though there may be considerable bloodletting, it is unlikely that any group can conquer the others...

The United States can and should act militarily and diplomatically to produce a stalemate. This strategy would essentially mirror the one used to end the Bosnia war: first building up the weaker parties, the Croatians and the Bosnians, and assisting their military efforts against the Serbs; then restraining the first two parties when they became too greedy and recommending to all three a de facto partition of the country reflecting the military stalemate that the United States (and NATO) had engineered. A military stalemate in Iraq would similarly be the stepping stone to a political settlement based on a loose federal structure.
This analogy to Bosnia strikes me as ironic, since the settlement of its civil war depended on the continuing presence of a NATO-led occupation force that put approximately four times as many troops, per capita, on the ground as the United States has so far in Iraq.

In other words, the lesson of Bosnia is not that stalemates work, but that only Western arms can prevent a horror of almost genocidal proportions.

In summary, I respect Prof. Posen's commitment to a sober and non-partisan discussion of the most critical issue facing America today, but strongly disagree with his arguments. A timetable for withdrawal will neither ensure the rapid improvement of the new Iraqi army nor pacify the insurgents. And a premature withdrawal runs the very serious risk of both facilitating the establishment of Al Qaeda safe havens and initiating a mass-casualty civil war.

There is no question that America is paying a terrible price to fight this war. But the cause is necessary. And I would even say that it is noble. Just two days from now, the people of Iraq will go to the polls once again. Let us hope and pray for the best.
(9) opinions -- Add your opinion

DA - thanks for another thoughtful analysis highlighting the weaknesses in Prof. Posen's article.
You have a long way to go to convince me.

"But the cause is necessary."

These are crusading words.

1) How is it in the American interest?
2) Were there other choices?
3) Is it possible to 'win'?
4) Were we spreading ourselves too thin and losing sight (interest) in Al Queda?
5) Are we safer?

"And I would even say that it is noble."

These are more crusading words.

It would appear that the nobility is lost on the world and the majority of Americans.
The primary "lesson of Bosnia" was that the nearby Western European nations were utterly worthless and would do nothing militarily without the United States, despite our lack of proximity. A secondary lesson is they are still at each other's throats (in Kosovo) and our forces are still there a good ten years later.

C.S. -- Here are your answers:
- Cause is necessary - because
we had to try something different; bribing all parties for 50 years had led to nothing but child suicide bombers and more carnage than ever.
1) In American interest to drain the swamp, stamp out wahaibi training schools, etc. Must be there.
2) No other choices. Allies would not come with us. They let us handle the no-fly zone, too.
3) Possible to win? Iraqi people now believe the election is not a farce, that the new Iraq govt will soon have all the power.We did win.
4) Iraq is as big as California. We could deploy twice as many and still be "too thin"--if all Iraqis arose. The way it's worked out, with 2,150 killed, a better case is that number sent was just right.
5) Of course we're safer. Something like 45 of that 52 card deck of al-Quaeda leaders are gone.
-Is it noble? Yes. Spreading kindness, freedom, prosperity and self-government is very noble.
"1) In American interest to drain the swamp, stamp out wahaibi training schools, etc."

You are right in finding an enemy in Wahhabism, however Wahhabism is Saudi. It is Saudi. in origin and Saudi. in funding. In fact, it is properly referred to as Wahhabi al-Saud. It began as an alliance between radical clerics and the Saud family and continues. The modern evangelizing of Wahhabism is funded by the Saud family. 15 of the 19 9-11 hijackers were Saudi.. Osama is Saudi., essentially a Saudi. royal.

"2) No other choices. Allies would not come with us. They let us handle the no-fly zone, too."

Plenty of other choices. First, as we know after the fact, sanctions were working. Second, look at Libya as an example.

"3) ... We did win."

If we did win, great. Bring our troops home to celebrate.

"4) a better case is that number sent was just right."

I subscribe to the Powell doctrine. Overwhelming firepower. Or none.

"5) Of course we're safer. Something like 45 of that 52 card deck of al-Quaeda leaders are gone."

The 52 card deck referred to Iraqi leaders with Sadaam as the Ace of Spades:


It had *nothing* to do with Al Qaeda just as Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Nothing.

"Is it noble? Yes. Spreading kindness, freedom, prosperity and self-government is very noble."

When will the Right Wing start singing Kumbaya? Is it noble or is it an excuse?

Imagine yourself as an Iraqi. Hopefully you aren't a Kurd because Saddam used to gas Kurds while the US turned a blind eye and provided him with satellite intelligence data during the Iran Iraq war. Perhaps you recall that picture of Rumsfeld and Saddam in 1983. Then there was the USS Stark in 1987. What did Reagan do? Then Sadaam oversteps and invades Kuwait. The US rallies the world and evicts him but that weak knee'd liberal, George Bush leaves Saddam in power to gas a few more Shiites. I hope you're not a Shiite either. At this point you've figured out that maybe Saddam isn't such a good guy but you're also a little confused by the US. Then after 10 years of sanctions, no wars and functional autonomy for the Kurds, suddenly the US decides to invade. For your own good.
My less elegant commentary here.
-- The US rallies the world and evicts him but that weak knee'd liberal, George Bush leaves Saddam in power to gas a few more Shiites. --

Lay this on the doorstep where it belongs - the UN - the World.

They pray to the altar of stability. We needed to finish the job, like Korea and Iran, but we didn't and they're all biting us in the rear at the same time.

They didn't want him removed. They got what they wanted and tens of billions more.


--You are right in finding an enemy in Wahhabism, however Wahhabism is Saudi. It is Saudi. in origin and Saudi.---

Now why in the world would you want to get 1 billions muslims mad at us all at once?

Sometimes you have to go around the wall.

--If we did win, great. Bring our troops home to celebrate.--

I'd love to, but for some odd reason, we still can't bring them home from Germany. we've been there longer than I've been alive. Wall fell almost 20 years ago.

Sandy P.
"Lay this on the doorstep where it belongs - the UN - the World."

Actually, it was Brent Scowcroft. But you were close. You can read about it in his book, A World Transformed.

"Sometimes you have to go around the wall."

There's that nuance I keep failing to get. Radicalizing Iraq and kissing up to Saudi Arabia.
So, it's Mr. Scowcroft's fault, eh?

Now that would have been an interesting interview.

Since you didn't let us finish the job in 91, Mr. Scowcroft...... here we are today - Do you think you might have made a teeny, tiny misjudgment??????

Sandy P
Scowcroft was the architect of the 1991 war. He was opposed but resigned to the 2003 invasion. And he doesn't see this as 'finishing the job' at all.


When GHWB's National Security Advisor is openly critical of W, it should give some pause for thought.

Following uprisings by the Kurds and Shiites, no fly zones were established, with the US bombing Iraq almost daily all through the 90's. This helped the Kurds considerably, but sadly it wasn't enough for the Shiites. Saddam started draining the marshes to starve out the rebels. This happened in 1992 on Scowcroft and GWBH's watch.
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