The drums for withdraw grow louder each day as more and more bad news comes out of Iraq. With 3609 dead and counting, politicians and pundits are calling for withdrawal. Whether named a “redeployment” or the great escape, it’s doubtful that the current level of US involvement in Iraq is politically sustainable. Just ask President Bush. Recently, A new government report on the progress of Iraq’s government has stirred up a lot of controversy in Washington. ABC News explains that

The Iraq progress report due out in the next week will state that none of the political benchmarks have been met by the Iraqi government.”Events are spinning out of control for this White House,” said former presidential adviser David Gergen. “George Bush’s presidency I think is in desperate trouble.”

Even worse, two prominent Republican Senators, Lugar (senior Republican on the foreign relations committee) and Warner(senior Republican on the Arms Services Committee) have already expressed deep reservations over the surge and are calling for a new strategy in Iraq. Lugar wants to hold a diplomatic summit with everyone in the Middle East and the withdrawal of the majority of our forces. Now, we all remember the political firestorm the “surge” generate under the leadership of General Petraeus but now many in Congress don’t want to give Patraeus that chance in September. However, Iraqslogger reported back in May that Patraeus’s assessment would not provide anything “definitive” by his own admission. So, politically, Iraq has officially dragged President Bush’s approval ratings beyond Carter-like-catastrophe.

Clearly, the White House is beginning to understand the political gravity of Iraq. Thus, Bush announced that

Fearful of a Republican rebellion over Iraq that his own aides believe could force him to change course, President George W. Bush said Tuesday that the United States would be able to pull back troops “in a while,” but called on Congress to wait until September to debate the future military presence there.

The only question now it seems, is when that “in a while is”.

But, it seems to me that our current debate on Iraq is a bit narrow-minded. After all, no credible vision for Iraq exists post-US involvement. Right now, a civil war is occurring and it will only get worse once we’re gone. There are multiple secretarian groups fighting amongst themselves and without US support the Maliki government will probably collapse.

In fact, I think the United States actually has a political obligation to make sure it doesn’t leave Iraq in worse shape than when it invaded. After all, at its most basic level, the United States military is the closest thing to a sovereign authority in Iraq. By any stretch of the imagination, sovereignty is defined as the ability to control one’s borders and one’s internal affairs. While Iraq’s borders are porous and insurgents run amok in the Anbar province for example, the United States is the only political actor with the resources, international support(albeit limited), and manpower to enforce its will in the country. For instance, the United States military is the only actor able to literally detain whoever it wants in Iraq and question them. It literally wields a monopoly(in conjunction with the Iraqi military/police) on legitimate physical force in the country (another characteristic of sovereignty). Thus, it’s morally reprehensible to just leave Iraq because “It is the Iraqi government which has failed to make the tough decisions that are important”(Hillary’s politically convenient analysis).

Let’s look at a brief/vague timeline of the war so far…
2001 – 9/11 attacks, world sympathy for the United States, Bush approval rating off the chart, every news anchor begins to wear a flag lapel on their suit.
2002 – Bush begins to alienate the international community. Drumbeat for invading Iraq begins.

2003 – Colin Powell goes to the UN, makes the case for war. WMD alleged to be in Iraq and we can’t trust Saddam with them. We invade Iraq, and Foxnews presents a lot of good footage of the shock and awe of the United States. Almost all critical voices are silenced.

2004-now – War in Iraq goes not go as planned. The capture of Saddam does not stop the violence. Coalition mistakes such as disbanding the Baathist army (gee, firing a bunch of surly men who need money and are adept at organizing military violence is real smart…) turning the corner in Iraq becomes the mantra of the Bush Administration.

We subsequently turn about 8 corners, so Iraq officially is an octagon. By the way, no WMD in Iraq says David Kay. Without WMD, Bush tries to make the world forget why the US went to war. Now, democracy promotion becomes the new black. Now, the United States is rhetorically committed to bringing liberty to the world…so Iran and North Korea, you’re on notice. Iraqi’s approve a constitution and vote. A lot of pictures of Iraqi’s with their finger tips wet with purple ink…peace does not follow. More Shi’ite religious sites are attacked. Moqtada al-Sadr becomes a US household name. media firestorm after US passes 2,000 dead. Now we’re at 1609 above 2000…continued firestorm. Public opinion turns against the war. General Patraeus, an academic super soldier is sent to save the situation on the ground.

Now, WE’RE GOING TO LEAVE?? Now, 3609 soldiers dead is a lot, but it’s war. War doesn’t just mean we lob missiles from long distance, use predator drones for lightning quick precision strikes and Navy Seals to assassinate enemy targets. War means to take control of an area, and destroy the ability of the enemy to fight. War demands sacrifice and like it or not, this country, the United States of America made a collective decision to support President Bush and go to war. Our faith in President Bush and the GOP to make America safer lead to a wave of GOP victories in the 2002 midterm elections (just ask Max Cleland how bad it was to be a Democrat).

Now, when the going gets tough and billions of dollars are down the drain, we suddenly want to get out. That’s a short term political victory over a long term security threat. There is Al-Quaeda in Iraq, not when we invaded initially, but they’ve slipped in since. So, it’s politically inconvenient but necessary to stay in Iraq and stabilize the country. Involving regional actors is a must. Lugar’s idea of a regional summit should be done. But setting a timetable for withdrawal will destroy the Maliki government and sabotage any chance at success.

According to Pentagon estimates, a minimum of 67,172 Iraqi civilians have died in the war so far. Even if we assume that the Pentagon tries to make sure its accurate in its counting (it’s not, it has a perverse incentive to understate the full extent of civilian casualties), 67,172 people is about the size of a small town in the US. We owe them more than a country where militias and terrorists rule in what can only be described as bloody anarchy.

Before the war started, the Washington Post recounts Collin Powell’s warning to President Bush

Before the war with Iraq, Powell bluntly told Bush that if he sent U.S. troops there “you’re going to be owning this place.” Powell and his deputy and closest friend, Richard L. Armitage, used to refer to what they called “the Pottery Barn rule” on Iraq: “You break it, you own it,”

Now, the US public has a mess on its hands and wants to return it with the receipt. Too bad Pottery Barn only gives store credit…

2 Responses to “The Pottery Barn Rule: Moral Reservations About Withdrawl”

  1. 1 christine

    good/interesting post, gary. (again.)

    completely random, but have you guys seen this? (i’m assuming you have because i’m slow on the news)

  2. 2 christine

    also, the octagon comment made me laugh, the end.

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