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Jan 14, 2007

The Case for Withdrawal

The rightists often ask about the consequences of a US withdrawal and if the liberals are aware of those consequences, which they normally describe as devastating. I would like to make the case for withdrawal by outlining best and worst case scenarios. Note that I consider these to be best and worst case scenarios no matter when we withdrawal, one or 15 years from now. So it has nothing to do with cut and run. Even if we hung around and the sectarian violence we see now improved enough for us to leave by even Bush's measure, I still think these are the likely consequences. Here are the scenarios:

Best case scenario: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Mahdi Army (Jaish al-Mahi or JAM) have some infighting, but eventually decide to work together to defeat Ba'athist and Sunni guerrillas. Nearly every neighborhood is divided on sectarian lines and armed to the teeth. Sistani at some point calls for peace. After some struggle, the Sunnis and Shiites come to some sort of agreement to hold the country together. The Kurds stay in place and don't announce independence. So-called "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is decimated by Iraqi militias for being a super violent foreign organization.

It should be remembered that most things are already set up to lead to this sort of best case scenario. Most neighborhoods are now cleansed (few mixed neighborhoods remain). SCIRI and Mahdi occasionally get in scuffles, but don't have all out tensions. Sistani is not invested in much of anybody at this point. The Kurds have been calmer lately, not wanting to get dragged into the violence.

Worst case scenario: SCIRI, JAM, their rogue divisions, Ba'athists, other Sunni rebels, "Al Qaeda in Iraq," and Kurds fall on each other in something of a total free for all that has more to do with militia loyalty than sect. Massive foreign intervention takes place: Iran gets in on the side of SCIRI and/or JAM, while Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and perhaps Syria join the side of the Sunnis. These foreigners would provide at least funding and weak border patrols, and may even intentionally send personnel to assist the guerrillas. The Kurds declare independence, prompting Iranian and Turkish invasions in the north of Iraq (which could invite those other foreign players to stick their hand in too). Iran steps up support for Hezbollah and Hamas, who also come in conflict with Israel during this time of heightened tensions. The consequences eventually lead to an all out regional war in the Middle East.

This total disaster of an outcome becomes increasingly likely the longer the Americans are around and attempting to break up these militias with force (this will only criminalize and fractionalize the guerillas, weakening their unity and their ability to talk to each other after the US leaves). Foreign countries will become increasingly worried and prepared to intervene.

Also consider the effectiveness of the insurgency. If we read Carlos Marighella's Mini-manual of the Urban Guerrilla, we find that the Iraqi insurgency and militias have done almost everything they were supposed to do. They are seen as protectors of local neighborhoods and get cooperation there (though obviously JAM in particular has units with a reputation for just being thugs); they have successfully hit the nerve centers of the government, crippling oil production, electricity distribution, gas distribution, and the financial sector; they have infiltrated the police to a very large degree and to the army to a lesser extent; they hit and run and live to fight another day; they use intimidation and kill anyone who they consider a collaborator, helping to move any fence sitters in the neighborhood over to their side; they are now self-sustaining in terms of funding. In other words, they've done a great job being an insurgency.

We, on the other hand, just came up with an anti-insurgency manual in late December or early January. This does not give one much confidence. I believe the longer we are in Iraq, the messier it will get and the less able local forces will be able to work something out for themselves. Given this situation, I'm all for a near-immediate withdrawal of American troops.

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