Any Exit from
people have turned decisively against Bush’s
war in Iraq. The administration has been reduced
to pleading for more time (it has already had
over four years) to make things go right. But
nobody, except a hard core of Republican true
believers, thinks victory for the US is achievable
at an acceptable price. Bush no longer tries to
drum up support for victory, instead he now tries
to scare the public with the consequences of an
He even tries to convince people that we are primarily
fighting “Al-Qaeda” when in reality
the main sources of violence are Baathists, nationalist
Shias, and the general Sunni population that feels
it has been cut out of its rightful place in Iraq.
If we leave Iraq, it does not mean that Al-Qaeda
will take over Baghdad, instead it will be Iraqi
Shias, the exact opposite of Al-Qaeda.
It is not even clear what constitutes an acceptable
outcome for the US. Is there still some forlorn
hope that Iraq can be turned into a secular federal
democracy that is America’s closest ally
in the Muslim world? Or does acceptable now mean
merely a central government that has enough military
capacity to hold itself together and to prevent
its own overthrow once US forces depart? Never
mind its political or religious views, or even
if it is nominally allied with the US.
Bush seems to suggest that even achieving such
a minimum will require the long-term deployment
of US forces, implying another 10 years in Mesopotamia.
But that is not going to happen. Even if Bush
stays put to the end of his term, the next President
and Congress will begin departing from Iraq in
If Bush were wise, he would recognize these facts
and begin the withdrawal now under his own terms.
That will give him a much better chance to define
the long-term relationship between the US and
If victory is no longer possible then what are
the exit scenarios and their likely consequences?
Scenario one is the rapid withdrawal of all US
military forces leaving the Iraqis to sort out
their own problems. This will likely result in
another wave of Sunni-Shia ethnic cleansing, but
will end with total Shia victory as they have
numbers, the forces of the army, and the support
of Iran to back them up. Sunnis will likely be
completely driven from Baghdad and will be reduced
to the three Western provinces of Iraq. The Kurds
will likely secede, possibly sparking open conflict
with Turkey. The Iraqi Shia state will become
a theocracy strongly linked with, but not controlled
There will also be a struggle within the Shia
and Sunni communities, often very violent, for
supremacy. The victors will impose an autocratic
and Islamist government on their respective people.
This process will take two years to run its course,
and will likely end with the partition of Iraq
into oil-rich Kurdistan and Shia Iraq and an impoverished
and embittered Sunni Iraq.
Scenario two is a complete withdrawal of US forces
from the Shia and Sunni regions, but the construction
and maintenance of permanent bases in the Kurdish
regions. In this scenario the Shia-Sunni conflict
will play out similarly to the first scenario,
but the presence of US forces in Kurdistan will
keep the Kurds from declaring full independence
and they will continue to pretend to be part of
an Iraq that does not really exist anymore (as
they are currently doing). This will keep the
Turks in check, but US forces in Kurdistan will
actually have to rely on supply lines from Turkey
as supplies coming up from Shia Iraq will be problematic,
especially in the first few years before the civil
The third scenario is a major draw-down of US
forces with the retention of a small but highly
potent combat arm in Baghdad to protect the central
government and maintain some order in the capital.
Instead of 160,000 troops, perhaps 25,000 mostly
combat troops will be left to act as a heavy strike
force kept in reserve to back up the Iraqi government.
Day-to-day military actions would be carried out
by the (essentially Shia and Kurdish) Iraqi army,
while the US forces would spend most of their
time confined to large bases, only venturing out
during emergencies. In this scenario Iraq remains
a single country and the US continues to use its
influence to slowly bring the three factions back
into a real single state. This process may take
10-15 years, and the US forces will likely suffer
a slow trickle of casualties. But it would be
a far more tolerable burden on the federal budget
and the soldiers who would be spared multiple
tours of duty.
There is no feasible way the US can end this war
in the near future in a satisfactory manner. And
there is a clear time limit to how long the heavy
commitment of manpower and dollars can be continued
in the face of overwhelming public disapproval.
This leaves the US with few good options. If Bush
wants to shape the final outcome of his adventure
he should start withdrawing on his own terms now.
The surge has not, and will not, work. Comments
can reach me at Nali@socal.rr.com.