Monday, December 12, 2005

# Posted 10:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BEST POSSIBLE ARGUMENT FOR WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ: Barry Posen is both a professor at MIT and unquestionably one of the foremost experts on international security in the United States if not the world. In the current issue of the Boston Review, Posen has a long and sober essay on why it is in our national interest to withdraw almost all of our soldiers from Iraq in the next 18 months.

For adamant supporters of our mission Iraq (such as myself), Posen's essay is eminently readable because it traffics in none of the partisan cliches and holier-than-thou rhetoric of so many of the war's critics. More importantly, it confronts head-on the most powerful argument against a premature withdrawal from Iraq, namely the prospect of both a bloody civil war and the establishment of Al Qaeda sanctuaries under Sunni protection.

Although I won't pretend to be truly open-minded about the situation in Iraq, I think that being able to process the arguments made by Posen and respond with meaningful analysis is an important challenge for all those who continue to support the war. That said, I would like to comment on Posen's essay in the traditional manner of the blogosphere, by taking on its main arguments paragraph by paragraph.

I think the best summary of Posen's essay is its second sentence:
The war is at best a stalemate; the large American presence now causes more trouble than it prevents.
The first subpoint under this heading is Posen's assertion that the American presence in Iraq provides an incentives for the Iraqi government to let America solve its problems. Hence:
Iraqi politicians will not apply sustained pressure to their security forces to improve themselves so long as they know that the Americans will remain to protect the state from the insurgents...

[And] how do the insurgents do so well with no large training bases, no safe place to organize, no secure electronic command-and-control network, and only the weaponry they can obtain covertly? The answer is almost certainly motivation. The insurgents care more about ejecting the United States than Iraqi politicians and soldiers care about stopping the insurgents—in part because the Iraqis can rely on the United States to do it for them.
The argument that American patronage creates an incentive for irresponsibility on the part of its clients is grounded in a fair amount of historical evidence. Yet I am concerned that Posen assumes that this pattern has held true in Iraq even though he does not provide much evidence.

No less important is the absence in Posen's essay of one of the most important indications of just how serious the Iraqis on our side our about fighting the insurgency: the number who continue to die, day in and day out, fighting at our side. Even though suicide bombers repeatedly target police and military recruiting stations, young men continue to congregate there in impressive numbers to volunteer for service.

To a certain extent, Posen might welcome such indications that the Iraqis on our side are already willing to fight. Such evidence would justify Posen's remarkably optimistic conclusion that:
An interval of 18 months provides ample time for the United States to help the Iraqis complete the project of training and organizing an army capable of maintaining internal security...if Iraqis—especially the Shiites—are motivated by the knowledge that they will soon be on their own, they can achieve such a capability with a year’s hard work...

In wartime, Western armies have forged new units in a year or less for much more demanding tasks. Even the Iraqi army under Saddam grew at a furious pace under the pressure of the war with Iran...Necessity and threat are powerful motivators.
Yes they are. Yet I am very much concerned that Posen's implicit comparison between the new Iraqi army and the old -- let alone any comparison to Western forces -- fails to take into account the fact that the new Iraqi army simply does not have the human infrastructrue necessary to train a viable force. Established armies can forge new units because they have experienced an officer corps that can both train new recruits and then lead them in battle.

Imagine the change in tenor if Iraqi recruits knew that their American instructors would abandon them once 18 months had passed. Would such recruits want to stay and fight knowing that they would suddenly be left to battle the insurgents on their own, without American support in the field? No less importantly, would the Iraqi recruits trust their American instructors?

All in all, the motivation provided by sheer necessity would be a poor substitute for the confidence that comes from being well-trained and well-led.

To be continued...
(10) opinions -- Add your opinion

The terrorists and insurgents don't need an elaborate infrastructure to disrupt the fragile social structure in Iraq because they can hit and run, they can seek out weak spots and count on the element of surprise. They get to choose their battles as long as they can hide amoung the populace. Fear and intimidation amoung the people keeps many from talking about what about what they know because the government cannot protect them from reprisals. A small group of about 150 terrorists in the Red Brigade tied up the Italian army and police for years and Italy is an established democracy. It's not motivation at all. It's the type of battle that is being fought.
I am worried about this need to remove our troops from Iraq.

The suggestion that we need to get out completely as if we never were there falls into the trap of believing everything our detractors say about the US.

It is as if we have learned nothing from the lessons of the past. The US has been a force for good.

If the Iraqi government wants the US to stay in limited numbers then we shold stay.
I realize you cherry picked these passages and they don't represent the essay as a whole. Yet still it's remarkable to me that I, with no particular expertise or in-depth knowledge, can look at these passages written by a foremost expert and published under his byline, and see right away their obvious flaws (I didn't see as many as you did, but I saw enough).

Is this really the best the pro-withdrawl side can come up with? And if he's such an expert, why doesn't he realize what's wrong with these points?
It's been obvious that the US presence could be a crutch. However, that is only a possibility.
The resounding success of the effort to increase the size and competence of Iraqi forces seems to indicate that a good many Iraqis aren't thinking of the US as a crutch.
In addition, the US is not preventing a certain level of carnage, anyway, and the Iraqis may well consider it their duty to reduce it further by virtue of their ability to deal more skillfully with the Iraqi population.
This is a partial crutch, if a crutch at all, and not so successful, it seems to me, to cause any complacency on the part of the Iraqis.
We sometimes think that being liked is why people want us around, but that seems not to be the case in Iraq. Most folks, as far as I can tell, want the US gone most pdq but not until it would work. Thus, doing the work themselves advances the day when the US goes home.

One poster mentioned the Red Brigades in Italy. I would suggest the example of the Symbionese Liberation Army, of whom there were never more than a dozen and who kept California hopping for several years.

The Iraqis will be able to manage eventually. The crutch argument is logical, but not necessarily applicable in all circumstances.

The link to the Boston Review article seems to be broken. I get Posen's bio OK, but not the article.
The link should now be fixed.
Among other things I am astounded how often I see military affairs analysts from the left side of the spectrum make the same elementary mistake. They continuously point to the growing insurgency. But it is not the absolute numbers of enemy that are relevant, only the relative distribution of forces on both sides. I am beginning to wonder if Posen and others (O'Hanlon comes to mind) suffer from a congenital case of analyzing everything in a vacuum. Using their flawed logic, the Germans must have been on the verge of victory in late 1944 since they had more men under arms and were producing more armaments than at any other time in the war.
Buck: the link should be to bostonreview.net (not".ne").

I agree with the other posters - this sentence "But how do the insurgents do so well with no large training bases, no safe place to organize, no secure electronic command-and-control network, and only the weaponry they can obtain covertly?" is utter crap.

What the hell does "do so well" mean? The insurgents can set off some IEDs and assassinate some minor officials? They can kidnap some westerners and show them on al Jazeera? That's "so well"??? What an idiot this Posen guy is.
Posen may not be an idiot.
He may be pretty sharp.
The terrs are doing "well" by doing all they need to do to win the only battle that matters, that of US public opinion.

Given a Viet Nam-style paradigm, the terrs could be said to be doing well, considering the MSM is doing as bid, as they did during the Viet Nam war.

IMO, it's a different paradigm, missing which doesn't make Posen an idiot. A wishful thinker, maybe, but not an idiot.
Mr Posen clearly states that he bases his understanding of the situation in Iraq on press reports which we all know to be "somewhat" politically biased. It is no surprise that his conclusions parallel those of the Democratic Party which uses the same starting point for its analysis. I cannot help but wonder about the relevance of conclusions based on false premises....regardless of the fact that these are the conclusions of "unquestionably one of the foremost experts on international security in the United States if not the world".
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