2006 December 02 Saturday
Iraq Exit Debate Shifts To Vietnamization

The emerging consensus in Washington DC outside of the Bush administration is that it is time to start pulling out US combat units from Iraq in 2007.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group plans to recommend withdrawing nearly all U.S. combat units from Iraq by early 2008 while leaving behind troops to train, advise and support the Iraqis, setting the first goal for a major drawdown of U.S. forces, sources familiar with the proposal said yesterday.

The commission plan would shift the U.S. mission in Iraq to a secondary role as the fragile Baghdad government and its security forces take the lead in fighting a Sunni insurgency and trying to halt sectarian violence. As part of major changes in the U.S. presence, sources said, the plan recommends embedding U.S. soldiers directly in Iraqi security units starting as early as next month to improve leadership and effectiveness.

Note this is the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The Republicans want out of Iraq. Bush's position is still that US forces should not leave until the Iraqis are ready to take over the fighting. But in spite of Bush family ally James Baker as co-chair of the group they are still going to issue a report which will recommend a US withdrawal. The report might have caveats about Iraqi readiness. But part of the purpose of the report is to put pressure on the Shia-dominated Iraqi government to get government security forces ready more quickly.

Why the desire for exit on the Republican side? The Republicans do not want to get a another wupping from the electorate in November 2008. Bush wants to stay in Iraq. But he's not running for reelection whereas a third of the Senate and all of the House is and so will the Republican nominee for President. These people are going to put their collective careers ahead of Bush's desires.

Iraqi government forces do not need to get ready in any case. The Shiite militas could take on the Sunni insurgency groups right now.

The US will leave a large contingent of Vietnamization-style advisers working with Iraqi units.

Pulling out combat units would not mean the end of the U.S. military involvement in Iraq, which could continue in a different form for years. The withdrawal would be partially offset by an influx of advisers, trainers and embedded troops. The number of such troops now stands at roughly 5,000 and should be quadrupled to about 20,000, the group's plan says, according to a source. The commission envisions leaving at least several thousand quick-strike U.S. combat soldiers to protect all those other American troops.

Who still thinks the US can accomplish any of its goals in Iraq? Perhaps a few faithful in the White House and some neocon warhawk bloggers. But even the major neocons are now focused on sniping over who caused the Iraq intervention to fail so badly. Those neocons are still in error because their arguments erroneously assume there was a correct way to invade Iraq and produce a beneficial outcome.

Meanwhile, the internal policy debates in the Bush administration center around whether to tilt toward the Shias and give up on attempts to form a consensus with the Sunnis.

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is re-evaluating its efforts to unite Iraq's fractious sectarian and political factions in an attempt to preserve U.S. options in Iraq no matter what happens, officials familiar with an internal administration review of Iraq policy said Friday.

A senior U.S. official said that as part of that examination, the administration has debated whether to abandon U.S. efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process to stabilize Iraq and instead leave that outreach to the majority Shiites and Iraq's third major group, the Kurds. No decision has been made.

The Bush administration can't try to make deals with the Sunnis because the Shias have already decided they want to fight it out. Maliki isn't going to rein in the Shia militias which are killing not just Sunni insurgents but also any Sunnis they get their hands on. The Sunnis have so enraged the Shias that they're way past negotiation.

The Washington Post's editors wonder if the study group and Bush administration proposals are built on false assumptions.

The study group proposals, like those being developed by the Bush administration, assume that the army and government of Mr. Maliki are worth a continued, if slowly diminishing, commitment of U.S. military support -- with an inevitable cost in American lives. But are they?

Yes, their assumptions are still erroneous. No, the Iraqi government is not worth continued American support. But the Bush administration isn't going to admit that.

If the Bush administration decides to ally with the Shias against the Sunnis then Bush's spokesmen will face a lot of questions about how can the US line up behind factions that are causing all sorts of atrocities. Well, since no major Iraqi faction is morally virtuous the only other option is total withdrawal. US policy in Iraq has failed and Humpty Dumpty is shattered.

Update: When trying to figure out the eventual outcome of the Iraq civil war my main question revolves around how far away from home either Sunni or Shia fighters will be willing to travel and fight. Already Shias from the south of Iraq serving in the Iraqi military have been unwilling to travel up to Baghdad to fight against Sunnis there. Baghdad is far from their clan relations. Why go fight for other tribes? Meanwhile, the Kurdish project to create a separate Kurdish nation proceeds apace.

If the Shias remain unwilling to fight for distant Shia tribes (let alone for control of non-oil areas populated by Sunnis) then the most likely outcome is either an outright split of Iraq into 3 separate ethnic territories or a confederation with a weak central government. As the US withdraws will Shia willingness to travel increase at all? Will the Shia government be able to form a large Shia military willing and eager to fight over the entire range of Arab Iraq?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 December 02 10:26 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate

Stephen said at December 3, 2006 1:10 AM:

Randall says, "Note this is the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The Republicans want out of Iraq." and "Why the desire for exit on the Republican side?..."

If Baker's group is truly bipartisan, then what might be the Democrat's motivation for participating? Surely allowing this fiasco to continue would guarantee a Democrat winning the Whitehouse.

crush41 said at December 3, 2006 7:12 AM:


Are you sure? With a Democratically controlled Congress, the opposition party has more responsibility. Two years is a long time in the collective short-term memory of the US public. If the GOP had retained both houses, I'd agree with you. But by running from Bush and Pelosi, Republican hopefuls like Mitt Romney and Giuliani are in pretty good shape.

crush41 said at December 3, 2006 7:16 AM:

How will Saudi Arabia react? With the rise of the Mahdi Army, its offshoots, and other Shia militias that are threatening to give the majority Shia domination of the country, the Saudis are apparently ready to stand up for the minority Sunnis:

USING money, weapons or its oil power, Saudi Arabia will intervene to prevent Iranian-backed Shiite militias from massacring Iraqi Sunni Muslims once the United States begins pulling out of Iraq, a senior security adviser to the Saudi government said yesterday.

Diplomats and analysts say Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbours, led by Saudi Arabia, fear that the sectarian violence could spill into large-scale civil war between Shiites and Sunnis and set off a political earthquake far beyond Iraq.
Saudi Arabia doesn't want to see Persian influence expand into Iraq. The kingdom has a sizable Shia minority in the east where much of its oil wealth lies. Any Iranian ambitions on controlling the Persian Gulf might be met with support in cities like Qatif. Iraq's Baathist minority under Saddam served as a buffer for the rest of the Sunni world from Islam's minority Shia in Iran and Central Asia. The House of Sa'ad already faces threats from groups like Al Qaeda and from discontented, unemployed masses (with an unemployment rate of up to 25%) and an ever-expanding number of costly heirs (in the thousands) living it up in plush places all across the globe. They don't want an Iranian marionette in Iraq to deal with on top of all that.

The Saudi official warns that his country might greatly increase global oil supply, driving down the price and ending Iran's gravy train:

Nawaf Obaid, writing in the Washington Post, said the Saudi leadership was preparing to revise its Iraq policy to deal with the aftermath of a US pullout, and is considering options including flooding the oil market to crash prices and thus limit Iran's ability to finance Shiite militias in Iraq.

This would give the global economy a short-term boost, but it wouldn't be good for alternative energy research. The threat of drastically lower oil prices always hangs over the heads of alternative energy pioneers like the Sword of Damocles.

But how much can the Saudis do? Currently, the country is producing around 9.5 million barrels a day. The Department of Energy believes that the kingdom's total capacity is between 10.5-11 million barrels per day. A million more barrels might bring the price down $5 or so, setting Iran back $20 million in revenues per day. A couple of years ago, Saudi Arabia pledged to have a 12 million barrel per day capacity by 2009, so the DOE's estimate on current production seems plausible.

Supplying Sunni groups with cash and weaponry is something the Saudis should be able to do, however. They faced budget deficits going into 2004, but the run in oil prices has left the country with a budget surplus approaching $100 billion. Along with the CIA, the Saudis were able to embarrass the Soviets in their war in Afghanistan for less than $200 million a year [in the early eighties--that combined amount topped $1 billion annually as Gorbachev contratcted Soviet forces from the country in the latter part of the decade].

Will the quixotic neocons and liberals balk at what Obaid's Saudi Arabia is considering?

Mr Obaid listed three options being considered by the Saudi government:

providing Sunni military leaders (ex-Iraqi officer corps, now the backbone of the insurgency) with funding and arms.
establishing new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
choking off Iran's ability to fund the militias by flooding the oil market.

We're whining about how Iran and Syria are failing to plug up porous borders letting in all kinds of nasties into Iraq, but our 'allies' in the House of Saad are considering (and probably already are) doing the same thing.

Wolf-Dog said at December 3, 2006 7:44 AM:

But after the United States leaves Iraq, gradually the pro-Iranian groups will gain possession of the Iraqi AND the Saudi Oil. Note that the Eastern part of Saudi Arabia (which is the oil-rich region), is populated by a lot of Shias. Very soon, Iran will gain total control of all the oil in the Persian Gulf. This is a chicken and egg situation, in in the sense that although it may appear as if the Iranian nukes are initially "only" to gain possession of the oil in the Gulf, this will inevitably expand and fuel the Islamic revolution worldwide. The question is: can the scientists in the world gang up together to invent news way out of the oil addiction before the new Islamic empire can strangle the Western civilization? It seems that we have less than 5-10 years to implement the latest scientific innovations... What I am saying about oil and science, might seem like a digression from the main subject of this discussion, but it is not.

Randall Parker said at December 3, 2006 7:57 AM:


Great stuff.

Certainly the Sunni insurgents can get plenty of money. Saudi Arabia won't be the only country chipping in with cash.

US influence is going to decline rapidly as every government and militia starts plotting what to do in the post-US Iraq.

Stephen said at December 3, 2006 2:40 PM:

Crush, interesting comments. I think SA is just posturing when they talk about pumping more oil. Abandoning OPEC (a necessary pre-condition to pumping more oil), plus the consequent immediate drop in revenues for the extended Saudi families will represent too much pain, so it won't happen. Also, the remaining OPEC States can share a cut in their volumes that would off-set SA's increase, but having to do that would upset the other Sunni OPEC States. In any event, there are persistent rumours that SA is already at capacity.

If neighbouring countries do start playing an active role in Iraq, then I think it more likely that the Saudis will limit themselves to funding the Iraqi Sunnis, whereas the Iranians will provide funds to the Shia AND actively destabilise the Saudis AND they'll put their own people on the front line. That said, the Saudis would probably pay the bus fare so that poor Sunnis from other countries can go to Iraq and fight - they'd never fight themselves of course, they prefer to have the peasants do the work while they stay home and play with their falcons and racing camels.

That said, I think the most likely course is that SA and Iran will agree with each other to limit their involvement in Iraq - which by default becomes a likely win for Iran.

In any clash (direct or indirect) between Iran and SA, I'd put my money on Iran - as a people, the Iranians are vigorous and have a strong belief in State, while the Saudis tend to be averse to personal sacrifice and are really very tribal. As I've said a million times before, its the Iranians, not the Saudis, who are natural allies for the west.

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