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Thinking About the British Withdrawl

February 22nd, 2007

The big news the past two days is that the British are withdrawing forcing from Iraq. There has been a lot of political back-and-forth about this development, with the White House calling it a “good-news story” and the anti-war movement asking why the British get to leave and the Americans don’t. Obviously this is all very complicated, but I want to focus on a particular quote out of the Washington Post.

Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary, is quoted as saying

The fact that they have made some progress on the ground is going to enable them to move some of the forces out, and that’s ultimately the kind of thing that we want to be able to see throughout Iraq.

The paragraph right before the quote, which is not sourced, reads

The White House argued that comparing the British situation in Basra and the U.S. position in Baghdad fundamentally distorts reality. The south, where the British have been in charge, has no Sunni insurgency and far less violence than Baghdad or Anbar.

Anyone else find that very interesting?

Why is the one populated area where the British forces are most concentrated the one populated area where there is “no insurgency and far less violence?” Strikes me as there are two critical differences between the areas: the occupier and the occupied. But do we really think there is some great difference between the Iraqis in Baghdad and the Iraqis in Basra? Or, could it be that the demoralizing events of Abu Ghraib and the slow response to the evolving situation by the American military leadership have engendered such ill-will towards the U.S. that our troops are simply incapable of being effective in the way the British troops have been?

I am reading a book on Iraq right now, and I’m learning a lot of interesting things about the situation… but at the moment I am far from an expert. But the one thing that bother me vary much are claims from the right about how we must stay in Iraq in order to win the fight… but what if it’s not possible to win the fight? What if the window where all the troop increases in the world has already passed? To use a poker analogy, you don’t stay in the game when all your holding is pocket 4s and the flop came down all face cards. Sure, you can try and bluff your way out… but this is international warfare against a player with nothing to lose. It’s true, if you fold you cannot win… but this is not the ideal time to be bluffing.

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  1. Karl Smith
    March 11th, 2007 at 20:10 | #1

    Point well-taken. The poker analogy fails, however, in that on our situation there are options beyond bluffing and folding. While I am certainly not in the Bush cheerleading squad (“we stay until we win”) I find more deploring the knee-jerk reaction of many of both sides of the political spectrum (“we leave now because we can’t win”). If I were convinced our leaving would bring greater stability, I would be all for it. But that does not seem to be the case at all. The Iraqi military is not exactly ‘up to speed’ – indeed, certain actions so far have shown that the ‘rule of law’ may not be the motivating force for all the units.

    My point is, we have to create a sustainable situation before we leave. The status quo is clearly no sustainable, but it seems to me pretty clear that an arbitrary withdrawal will lead to far more dire consequences. What does a solution look like? I don’t know, but I think the summit involving Iran and Syria is a start.

  2. Sean Kellogg
    March 23rd, 2007 at 02:08 | #2

    I think your critique, while well intended, does not consider the full utility of the situation. Yes, leaving will create a vacuum which could threaten to destabilize not only Iraq, but the entire region. And yes, I would say we have an obligation to do whatever we can to fix the mess we made in Iraq. But neither of these admissions suggest that keeping a military presence in Iraq acheives our shared goals.

    Consider the elephant who goes into the china shop. Upon breaking a priceless set of dishes, the elephant declares, “I have made this mess so it is my responsibility to clean it up.” And so he tromps about the shop, looking for glue, all the while breaking more dishes. The shop owner pleads with the elephant, “please, leave my shop before you make it any worse,” and the elephant responds, “I have a moral obligation, I must repair the damage I have done to you.” So the shop owner flings himself in front the elephant, “please, just leave,” he shouts and the elephant, single mindedly focused on his goal of fixing the broken china, crushes the proprioter’s head beneath its giant feet.

    Can you guess who the elephant represents here?

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