Thinking the Unthinkable: Time to "Cut and Run"?

Originally posted to another thread, in response to an entirely sensible post by Sam, but the subject is too big to squeeze into the other thread, I think…

I share your dread, Sam. Even more so, with the latest horrible revelations about American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. Whatever the truth of the situation, it simply couldn’t be worse for us, in the “hearts and minds” context.

It may be time to think the unthinkable. I have been supporting Kerry’s line, which is very similar to Bush’s in many respects. But it may be that they are both wrong. Kerry contends that we can finish the job with international support. I would very much like to believe that, I would very much like to believe that a respectable outcome can be salvaged from this debacle.

But I fear that the only way this is feasible is for the US to absent itself from the picture entirely. Mind you, I am not convinced, and would dearly love to think otherwise. But success depends entirely on the will and opinion of the Iraqi people, and that cannot be held to be anything but Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

What can we possibly do? We can make loud bluster about how we will sternly punish the troops responsible, but we know we really won’t. They’re our people. Remember Rusty Calley? We as much as convicted him of murder, and he did…what?..something like a year of house arrest. Certainly we are not willing to punish them to the extent that would satisfy even Iraqi moderates, never mind changing the minds of the ones who already hate out guts. (Nor do I suggest that I would be willing to make such a sacrifice. They are ours, after all.)

At least if we chuck this into the UN’s lap and run like hell, we can maybe pretend that they screwed it up.

Niether of our candidates has broached this question yet, and I certainly share thier reluctance: this would be or will be humiliation on a massive scale. Unthinkable. Until now.

I will cheerfully entertain opposing arguments, because, believe me, I want to be wrong. But I don’t really think that I am.

I haven’t seen the post of Sam’s you’re replying to, but I just think that if Iraq is abandoned, it won’t take long for it to become what Afghanistan was a few years ago - a haven for terrorists controlled by despots. The better alternative, so to speak, would be just chaos. Neither of those will win the US any love overseas anyway, and I don’t think anybody is helped by those outcomes…

I don’t think we’ve quite finished the job of creating a viable Iraq by uniting them all against us. One un-cover-upable massacre of a large number of civilians is what I’ve been waiting for to really make this disaster complete. The conditions aren’t ripe yet, but they’re close.
Regardless, next up as a result of this war and its consequences will be all out terrorist war on the West, Arab regimes, and of course, Israel. Should be fun.
As for cutting and running, well, it comes down to a cold-blooded calculation of whether staying or going creates more terrorist activity against the West than what has already been created by all that’s happened so far. I haven’t really decided yet. Could be it will make no diff at all, in which case we should just cut and run anyway.

The U.S. can’t cut and run. As the occupying power, it has a responsibility to enforce order and defend the borders of Iraq. International law, and all that. If the U.S. pulled out tomorrow, Iraq’s borders would become irrelevant. Syria and Iran would both begin massive operations in that country. Not an invasion per se, but certainly large numbers of ‘advisors’, agitators, suppliers of arms for factions who take their side, etc. The end result would be chaos.

The Kurds might survive this. The U.S. would still protect them, and they have their Peshmerga militias. But forcing them into a heavily defensive mode would probably inflame tensions between Kurds and governments in Turkey and Syria. Now we have Turkish troops involved in the north.

As for turning it over to ‘International troops’ - this has always been a pipe dream, because there are none. Who could provide troops in any quantity, even if they wanted to? France? France couldn’t even match the Brits’ 12,000. France’s military is a mess. Germany? Russia? Nope. The only ‘international’ soldiers you could possibly get would be Iranians, Egyptians, Syrians, and Turks. And Iraqis don’t want any of those on their soil. And the only reason they would possibly get involved in the first place would be for their own interests, and not the interests of Iraqis or Americans.

No, the U.S. has to thread this needle. It’s becoming increasingly difficult. We could go through the litany of mistakes the CPA made early on - the biggest being disbanding the Iraqi army.

Bush is right about the timetable - June 30 is an absolutely hard deadline for handing over power to some form of sovereign Iraqi government. Reconstituting the old command structure of the army, which is going on now, may be necessary to maintain discipline with Iraqi army forces and to put an ‘Iraqi face’ on the occupation.

The dilemma the U.S. faces is that it MUST restore order and security - polls show that this is the #1 concern of Iraqis. And yet, any attempt to crack down on violence inevitably leads to scenes of Americans killing Iraqis, both combatant and civilian, and this enrages the population. Perhaps we need a few Republican Guard units - those who cannot be linked to atrocities in the Saddam era - to be the ones to crack some heads. The scary part is that much of the insurgency seems to be coming from those very sorts of people. Can they be trusted?

I think what has to happen militarily is that they have to let Iraqi officers lead the security forces - under command of the U.S., but behind the scenes. Joint patrols with Iraqis and Americans have to look more like Iraqi patrols with American help than American patrols with a few Iraqis tagging along for show.

Put in a sovereign government (with some limits) on June 30. Make damned sure that elections happen in January, and accept the results. At that time, American soldiers can begin the slow process of being replaced by Iraqi units, and Americans can withdraw to bases and stay out of the limelight.

In the meantime, the military needs to very publically throw the book at the people who humiliated those Iraqis in prison, AND they need to make reparations to the prisoners and most especially their families. Blood money. Pay it. Apologize profusely and publically.

If the military attempts to whitewash this and paper it over, it’ll be a bad thing.

I really wish Bush had listened more to people who understood this was not going to be easy. Instead, he listened to Cheney and Wolfowitz who said that everything would be rosy. Rumsfeld blasted Shinseki when he said that we would need more soldiers than were planned.

However, I don’t think it’s time to cut and run. Rather, I’d like to see a true international force take over. It appears we are way in over our head and cannot continue to go at this alone. The UN needs to take a major role in creating the new government - I’m afraid our goodwill in Iraq is almost entirely used up. I think it’s also time to drop the June 30th turnover date. No one thinks that the date is realistic.


Not to mention the massive loss of international prestige at a time when US-world relations are rapidly approaching an all-time nadir.

We broke it, we own it. Didn’t Powell try to impress that very point upon fearless misleader before this entire debacle started?

(By the way, Sam, excellent post. I pretty much agree with everything you wrote, for once.)

I can see us doing a “declare victory and get out” like we did in Vietnam. Given the delusional thinking of the Bush administration, Dubya might actually believe it wasn’t our fault if the handover government in Iraq collapsed three months after we left.

I guess the moral is: It’s virtually impossible to fight a war in a country without making war on that country’s inhabitants.

The US has those responsibilities, yes, but to what extent does it retain the ability to uphold them? If we can no longer control, if we ever really did, the safety of the people there, if we are in fact now the *cause * of much of the violence and anger there, what’s left to do? If we’re seen as occupiers, even oppressors (thanks in no small part to the prisoner-abuse photos that everyone outside the US has seen, it seems), then what good are we doing?

It may not be at that point yet, there may still be some way to ensure a soft landing into the Iraq of the future, but there won’t be unless there is a clear vision of what that would be and a commitment by the Administration to it. But all this stumbling around, all this reacting to the crisis du jour, and no credible institution-building suggests it can’t happen with these fools making the decisions.

So, in all likelihood, yes, in the eyes of the Iraqis other than the Kurds to whom we’ve guaranteed their own state in all but name, we’re the enemy now. Somebody else might not be seen that way and might have a chance of bringing about the necessary soft landing. Even US forces, which would still be needed in some large numbers, might be acceptable if they were visibly *not * under Bush’s command.

Time for Bush to suck it up, admit he can’t do it, hand over the keys to the UN, paint the helmets blue, and do what we can to make sure we’re seen as putting Iraqis’ interests first. I wish there was a chance of that happening before January 20, though, but as it is we’ll just have to hold out until Kerry does it.

Oh, the date is entirely realistic, because no real change is anticipated. I suspect that the primary reason the Bushiviks cling so to the date is that so many Americans are under the impression that June 30 will be the date we start to pull out. Bush knows it isn’t so, I know it, and so do you. But he needs something meaningless to be firm about, something where he can jut out his widdle chin and look leader-like. (No, I can’t prove it - opinion entirely).

Sam, I agree that such a course of action has enormous potential for disaster. Trouble is, neither you, I, or Dick Cheney has any real facts to make a judgement with. We pretty much know for sure its going to be bad, we just don’t know how bad.

This most recent charade - putting the Republican Guard Lite in charge of Fallujah - is fooling nobody. It was clearly an act of utter desperation and our sworn enemies are dancing in the streets. Our soldiers are in a situation that they haven’t been trained to cope with, if such training even exists!

You dread the possibility of Iran and Syria intervening. Why would they? What have they to gain by putting themselves in the same miserable position tormenting us? Not saying you’re necessarily wrong, but again - there are no facts on which to base an opinion. They do have one thing going for them - they aren’t us.

Its also about to get a bit worse. Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker claims to have proof of a systemic pattern of prisoner abuse. Now, here is a man who has made a number of brutal revelations in the past (including My Lai) and I have yet to see him proven a liar.

However unpleasant the thought may be, and assuredly it is…we simply must be willing to ask the question: how much is too much? And even if we make the sacrifices necessary, will we succeed? Is the mission even possible any more?

Do you have any evidence that Iraqis would like the U.N. to be involved? Among many Iraqis, the U.N. is seen as an enabler of Saddam. It’s not a particularly respected institution. The breaking oil for food scandal is making that worse. Many Iraqis would see U.N. control as a thin veil for ceding Iraq’s interests to the demands of countries like Syria and Iran. And I’m not sure they’d be wrong.

But in the end, there are no perfect solutions. Greater U.N. involvement may be an improvement, even if an imperfect one. But forget ‘international troops’. That’s not going to happen. The U.N. may be involved in negotiations and helping form political institutions, but not as a force on the ground.

I’m sure Iran and Syria would LOVE to have an additional friendly government in the region, elucidator, for whatever purpose.

I pretty much agree with all Sam’s reasons that a pull-out isn’t a good idea.
I’d just add how much support it would give to Al Q’aeda’s cause, not just providing much needed bases in some lawless sector of a fragmented Iraq, but the huge morale boost and propaganda coup it would represent.

Al Q (AFAIK) isn’t one single amorphous organisation whose members all have exactly the same aims - it’s more of an alliance of previously existing groups Bin Laden managed to convince to pull together in a direction of his choosing.
One of his chief claims for authority in the eyes of those who followed him was his role in Afghanistan - he is seen as defeating one superpower, the Soviet Union - to let him be seen as humbling America (however big or small Al Q’s real role is doesn’t matter) will create a figure of mythical stature in a Muslim world desperately looking for any kind of success story.

In a recent program (I think on the BBC) called “I met Bin Laden” one of the journalists, who’d talked in the past with Bin L, was claiming that a major encouragement to the planning and execution of 9/11 was the US reaction to previous acts. He singled out America’s humiliating withdrawal from Somalia in particular.

Also,from here
Bin L :-
‘We also believe that our battle against America is much simpler than the war against the Soviet Union, because some of our Mujahideen who fought here in Afghanistan also participated in operations against the Americans in Somalia - and they were surprised at the collapse of American morale. This convinced us that Americans are a paper tiger.’
Running away isn’t an option, but staying is looking damn near impossible too

Also, any Al Q bases in Iraq would be nice and handy for de-stabilising Saudi - Bin L’s big prize from day one - and the US hasn’t a hope in hell of putting troops back into Saudi now.
Lose Saudi, and it’s game over

I’m with Mr. S, for once, I agree with Sam whole heartedly. This whole operation may be a complete farce, but we started it, and we can’t back out now and pretend it never happened. Our main problem is that we also can’t finish it how we want to, since we’ve flubbed up so much.

The problem with Kerry’s posturing is that by the time he could potentially be in office, Iraqi elections will have already been held, so bringing in the UN would be a little late. Since we have the Bush admin in until then, I feel pretty much like debating this topic is superfluous; it is like debating whether fish can swim. Nothing anyone says is going to sway the Bush position, and the best we can do is to, as Republicans gleefully put it, whine as loud as we can to make sure he doesn’t screw up too much until then (case in point, Fallujah).

Pfft. Name one instance where international law made Bush hesitate for half a second. This man pissed all over international law like a drunk fratboy. The only correlation between international law and the Bush admin is that our mercenaries aren’t technically mercenaries under it.

But with all due respect, 'luci, I can’t see that you have actually made an argument to oppose. You have only expressed an opinion backed up by, at most, this:

We have to ask ourselves: will the US and the world be better off if we stay in Iraq or if we leave? Unless you can make a case that leaving will produce a better overall situtuation, I don’t think it makes sense to do so. Certainly not yet. We need to get past the elections and at least the semblance of transfer of security to Iraqi police and military. Cutting and running now would almost certainly lead immediately to civil war that could easily spill over into Iran, Turkey, and even Syria; which would be much worse than the current situation. **Much ** worse.

Indeed. OK, lets ask. Do you think the occupation has gone well so far? To your eye, does it look like Iraq is on the path to a complacent parliamentary state? Or does it look, like it looks to me, as if the situation is going straight down the shitter in a big hurry?

Now if you are of the opinion that things are going along tolerably well then this discussion probably needn’t concern you. But simply claiming that we won’t “cut and run” because we mustn’t doesn’t get it. There is a burden too heavy, and there is a price too high to pay. I don’t suggest we have already reached that point, though I couldn’t prove otherwise. But the signs are already darkly ominous.

If things go to hell with the US right in the middle of it, how is that an improvement over bearing the humiliation of slinking away? How much is too much?

What amazes me is that anybody is thinking about cutting and running. In WWII, the U.S. lost 6200 killed in 36 days taking the island of Iwo Jima – which is about 2 x 5 miles in area. This was considered a GREAT VICTORY.

I think the corner has been turned in Iraq. Proof of that is that Kofi Annan wants the U.N. to go in:

I hope you are right TWO.

But, I have just three words: Russia in Afganistan.

I am very much afraid that we are in our own version of this. I feel that the powers that be, while they had a plan to win the war, did not have any plan to win the peace.

Geez, 'luci, my thread about this hadn’t even gotten to the bottom of the page!

Here was my semi-cut-and-run suggestion in that thread, which I think satisfies at least some of Sam’s objections, particularly regarding interference by Iraq’s neighbors, which is a responsibility we can’t shirk:

That pretty much sums up how I feel. Looking at it, the Fallujah solution might be the best way out. Find some reasonably capable people with some internal credibility (including former Baathists), put them in charge, get them some international recognition, then carefully but as quickly as possible get the f*ck out of there. The longer this goes on the more like the West Bank it’s going to look; indeed, to most Arabs, the resemblances are probably so striking as to make them indistinguishable. (on preview, something like what RT Firefly is suggesting, but his timing is a bit too quick, or at least that’s how it looks now; in a few weeks it might be a bit too slow. One needs to be flexible about this, as the Iraqi population is getting radicalized at what I’m sure is an accelerating rate.)
Which is to say that I’m taking the opposite tack to Sam (good post, as it helped me to figure out my thoughts on this damn nonsense): he thinks we can’t leave, but I think we can’t stay. We can’t leave right away, but we have to get out of there as fast as humanly possible. Somebody in authority has to come up with a realistic plan for getting us out of there very shortly after the Iraqi elections, if nothing else.

Meet the Press transcript (has interesting interview with Annan about the oil for food controversy as well):