Last month I said that by August 2007 we need to have our troops withdrawn on to bases in Iraq. One question raised by this idea is: What is the transition plan to pull that off? The answer is that we have spent years training the Iraqi forces, and it just hasn’t gone that well overall. It is time to move toward a sink or swim policy. We have to take some risks at this point. And we need to get our troops out of harm’s way.
If we think that we can wait to cleanly hand over each province to the Iraqi central government, we are kidding ourselves. They are going to do a really erratic job for years to come. Some places will not be secured well at all. Some will be like the wild west gone mad with various insane factions killing each other and civilians. But we can’t fix this perhaps even if we stay for another decade and let another 10,000 of our soldiers be killed.
Does withdrawing on to bases by August 11, 2007 seem fairly abitrary? Well, yes. Like I said, there can be no clean hand-off plan. Want to pick another arbitrary date? Perhaps August 2009. Well that just means another two years of more dead American soldiers.
We just have to pull the plug and throw the hot potato over the wall to the Iraqis themselves. Our troops can consolidate and withdraw on to a few large bases in Iraq to provide a significant supporting role - unlike in Vietnam where we just walked away from any supporting role. Nearly all of the ground patrols and ground fighting will be in Iraqi hands (our troops will only go after high-value Al Qaeda targets).
With no traditions of freedom and democracy and civil rights in Iraq, it is unrealistic to expect them to suddenly act how westerners act when on their best behavior. Consider this:
BAQUBA, Iraq — It did not take long for Col. Brian D. Jones to begin to have doubts about the new Iraqi commander.
At a city council meeting last month, the police chief of Abu Sayda in Diyala Province, center, gave American military officers a list of people said to be troublemakers who were involved in sectarian violence. The list was compiled by the city’s Shiite leaders. Sunni leaders did not take part in the meeting.
The commander, Brig. Gen. Shakir Hulail Hussein al-Kaabi, was chosen this summer by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to lead the Iraqi Army’s Fifth Division in Diyala Province. Within weeks, General Shakir went to Colonel Jones with a roster of people he wanted to arrest.
On the list were the names of nearly every Sunni Arab sheik and political leader whom American officers had identified as crucial allies in their quest to persuade Sunnis to embrace the political process and turn against the powerful Sunni insurgent groups here.
“Where’s the evidence?” Colonel Jones demanded of General Shakir. “Where’s the proof? What makes us suspect these guys? None of that stuff exists.”
To that, Colonel Jones recalled, the Iraqi commander replied simply, “I got this from Baghdad.”
George W. Bush was right before the 9/11 attacks when he used to say that in general nation-building is something to be avoided.