Quiz: How many people have been killed and wounded in Iraq since Hillary Clinton said that an immediate full-scale withdrawal would be a “big mistake”?
Answer: She said that on Nov. 22, 2005. Not really that long ago, but since then 1,600 American soldiers have been killed and 11,000 wounded, and about 32,000 Iraqi civilians and security forces have been killed and untold numbers wounded. The numbers of dead and wounded are graphic illustrations of just how badly the situation there has deteriorated in the 20 months since that pronouncement.
Hillary Clinton wants to end the war and bring the troops home from Iraq. Last month she told Iowans that she wants to start “ending this war — not next year, not next month, but today,” and she told a labor gathering in June, “We need to bring our combat troops home from Iraq, starting right now.”
But – and this is a big fat but – she also wants to keep some there. Not permanently; just, you know, to train Iraqis on how to be non-partisan security forces rather than promoters of sectarian murder; to keep an eye on the Kurds so they don’t get any ideas about independence, which Turkey wouldn’t appreciate; to prevent Iran from making Iraq into a client state; and to pursue terrorists (that would be the ones we created).
Barack Obama wants to bring the troops home from Iraq. In November 2006 he called for withdrawal to begin in 2007. “I refuse to accept the possibility that I will have to come back a year from now and say the same thing,” he said.
Well, November is coming up fast. Since he said those words, the number of troops in Iraq has increased by 30,000, and another 800 American soldiers have been killed and over 4,400 wounded, and 17,000 Iraqi civilians and security forces have been killed and untold numbers wounded.
But despite this clarion call for withdrawal, Obama also wants to keep some troops in Iraq:
Senator Obama introduced legislation in January 2007 to offer a responsible alternative to President Bush’s failed escalation policy. The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 — a date consistent with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s expectations. The plan allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces. If the Iraqis are successful in meeting the 13 benchmarks for progress laid out by the Bush Administration, this plan also allows for the temporary suspension of the redeployment, provided Congress agrees that the benchmarks have been met.
Yes, for all the sniping between Obama and Clinton, their positions on withdrawal sound remarkably similar: Withdraw, but not exactly. And notice Obama’s added caveat: If Iraq meets the 13 “benchmarks,” the withdrawal could be suspended. Temporarily. Whatever that means. Probably has the same definition as Clinton’s “not permanently.” Words emanating from the mouths of politicians take on acute degree of indefinablity. Contrast the substance of Obama’s grandly titled The Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007 with the words he used to introduce it:
“The days of our open-ended commitment must come to a close.”
The only other major candidate, John Edwards, also differs only in the details. Like Clinton and Obama, he wants all combat troops withdrawn; Edwards specifies immediate withdrawal of 40,000-50,000 troops, and ending the war by 2008. Yet he, too, wants some troops to stay:
After withdrawal, Edwards believes that sufficient forces should remain in the region to contain the conflict and ensure that instability in Iraq does not spillover and create a regional war, a terrorist haven, or spark a genocide…He also believes the U.S. must intensify its efforts to train the Iraqi security forces.
“We’ve got to be prepared to control a civil war if it starts to spill outside the borders of Iraq,” Edwards said during the Chicago AFL-CIO debate.
“Contain the conflict,” control a civil war, prevent a regional war and genocide and go after terrorists – but not with combat? There goes the language again.
Ol’ Joe Biden wants to withdraw the troops except for those he wants to keep there for the above-stated reasons, plus divide the country into three regions and keep the various factions from each others’ throats until the central government can do so by itself.
This is a fool’s game, which means it’s fools who play it. Bring the troops home, but keep some there to do all sorts of things that aren’t combat, like contain a civil war, patrol the borders, prevent genocide, fight terrorists. Not combat.
The British are trying that. Down in Basra they’ve pulled back most of their remaining 5,000 troops (from a peak of 40,000) to a base outside of town. The troops focus on training Iraqi security forces and do a little counter-insurgency stuff. There are 500 British troops in Basra Palace “surrounded like cowboys and Indians.”. The police forces the British are training are completely infiltrated by Shiite militias, the militias and criminal gangs have already staked out their territories and their government agencies, assassinations have increased, and fighting – much of it over oil money – is raging. And all this is happening in a place with virtually one sectarian group – the Shi`a, who aren’t into self-genocide, just factional murder – and without any major Al Qaeda activity. A British version of The Surge had little effect. “The British have basically been defeated in the south,” is how an American intelligence official puts it.
The British in effect have told the Iraqis they’re not there to fight anymore, just to help maintain order and train Iraqi police and soliders. This has not stopped Iraqis from attacking them. Who could expect anything but the same reaction toward an American withdrawal of combat forces while some as yet unspecified number stays for an unspecified amount of time (that would be until the Iraqi central government manages to act like a government) doing all those non-combat things? Again, according to the three leading Democratic candidates, those things include fighting terrorism, containing civil war, patrolling the borders, controlling the Kurds, preventing genocide, and training the Iraqis to do all these things themselves.
Bush and the neo-cons have created an intolerable disaster that can have no good conclusion any time soon. The Democrats seem to think they have a choice that could only be called a Hobson’s Choice: continue to have troops in Iraq, or have no troops at all. All or none: That’s not a real choice, given the mess we’ve made of Iraq. It’s morally indefensible to say we can just leave – pull out everybody and tell the Iraqis,”You’re on your own.” We have a responsibility there now we didn’t have before Bush. We’ve decimated the population, trashed the economy, destroyed the infrastructure, and obliterated the political system.
At the same time, we cannot keep enough troops there to do the things the leading Democrats say have to be done without them engaging in combat, and if they’re engaged in combat who’s doing all the other tasks? The British experience is a test case that shows this plan is doomed to failure.
A New York Times editorial today said essentially the same thing, but termed it the futility of “trying to continue the war on a reduced scale. It is folly to expect a smaller American force to do in a short time what a much larger force could not do over a very long time.”
The Times limited its definition of what “[t]he United States cannot walk away from” to the brand-new “international terrorist front” Bush’s misbegotten policies have made of Iraq. Yet while apparently denouncing the kinds of plans the Democratic candidates are coming up with, the Times virtually advocates the same thing. America, the paper says, “will need to keep sufficient forces and staging points in the region to strike effectively against terrorist sanctuaries there or a Qaeda bid to hijack control of a strife-torn Iraq.”
The Times is playing the same fool’s game as the Democratic candidates. Like them, it wants to bring the combat troops home but leave some troops there to handle terrorism. The Times stops there, doesn’t include all the other duties the candidates say these troops would undertake, but how is the result any different? How can anyone tell if it’s a Shiite militia, a Sunni insurgent group, or some form of Al Qaeda that is attacking people, buildings, pipelines, Iraqi police, Iraqi troops, or American troops? Would the language be changed again to call vicious fighting between American troops and an enemy force something other than combat? It’s obvious that the non-combat troops would be involved in combat from Day One of the Great Withdrawal of Combat Troops.
A Hobbesian choice is maybe more what we need to think about. That kind of “choice” can be described as a robber saying, “Your money or your life.” Not much of a choice, and certainly no free choice. People will readily give up their money and remain alive, but they still lose. In our situation, substitute “help” for money, and you might find a way out that will still cost us but might save a lot of lives. That way would mean the military help of surrounding nations of the Islamic Middle East, maybe with U.N. participation, and financed by America and Europe, for the Europeans have an enormous economic stake in a viable, oil-producing Iraq.
Each nation bordering or near Iraq is watching with alarm the distintegrating situation there. They know a stable Iraq, in whatever form it eventually takes, is essential. The United States has to approach them and the U.N. on bended knee, accept responsibility for what has happened there, and ask for help in exchange for financing. We don’t even have the luxury of demanding a democratic Iraq, though we can sweeten the pot in that direction. Iraqis are much more likely to accept the assistance of fellow Muslims than they are that of Americans and Europeans.
There’s no guarantee, of course, that these countries would agree to help, or even to agree with each other on a course of action (Turkey, for example, would be … umm .. difficult), or that their help would be effective. This is the Hobbesian choice part of the deal. We don’t know. What we do know, however, is that the path we’re on – the path these Democrats want to take – shows little promise of anything but more death and destruction.
Edited to include New York Times editorial.