With the Democrats taking both Houses of Congress, the chances that we might have to pull out of Iraq on a set timetable is notably higher. I don’t like that idea, but I’m enough of a realist to recognize the possibility — and to start thinking about just how events might unfold.
So, with that in mind, I’m going to game out a scenario that I think could happen if the US were to announce that after a certain date, we would start reducing our troop levels in Iraq, with a set time for the removal of all US forces in that nation.
This is entirely speculative, with very little solid research and absolutely no access to any kind of inside information or intelligence.
The first thing that would happen would be the internet would be flooded with Islamist videos proclaiming their great victory over the United States. Also, there would be a lot of “spontaneous” demonstrations and a heightened level of attacks on US forces, as various and sundry factions would be trying to establish that they were the group that “drove out” the Americans.
Then, after the initial rush, the terrorists would step up their attacks on Iraqi security forces and government officials. Pretty much anyone who has served in the government since the US invasion can count on being killed or having to flee into exile.
Actually, a few might stick around. Those will be the ones who attach themselves to whichever group they think will come out on top, because they will be the “face” of the new government. Th puppets. Of course, the other terrorist groups will be trying to bump off each others’ puppets, so that won’t be much good, either.
In northern Iraq, our one shining success will rapidly come undone. The Kurds will see a second President Bush throwing them to the wolves, and we can kiss goodbye any and all goodwill we fought so hard to win. After the first Gulf War, Saddam wanted to brutally slap down the Kurds to make damned certain that there would be no rebellion against him — and we permitted it. The Kurds will most likely try to strike out on their own, secede from Iraq and establish their long-promised homeland.
Which will get the Turks involved.
The Turks are quite adamant about there NOT being a homeland for the Kurds, and are more than willing to take whatever steps they think necessary to stop it. And how far will “whatever steps” go? Just ask the Armenians.
Meanwhile, in the South, Iran will see our withdrawal as license to move in and try to dominate Iraq. They see what Syria had with Lebanon for decades — a puppet nation that can be used to stage deniable attacks and launch proxy wars against their enemies — and wouldn’t mind having that for themselves. A good chunk of the terrorists in Iraq already have ties to Iran, so the groundwork is already laid.
Syria would probably like to get in on the action, too. They can’t really enjoy being the junior partner to Iran, so grabbing a good chunk of western Iraq (if not formally, then simple dominance like they exert over much of Lebanon) would be seen as a plus. It would help their leader, Bashar Assad (“The Dorktator,” as others cleverer than I have dubbed him), assert some strength in the region and improve his image as one to be feared.
So much for our formal adversaries. How about those who tend to be considered allies, if of dubious reliability?
Kuwait, for lack of a better term, is screwed. They’ve counted on us to keep them safe from the region’s instabilities ever since 1991. That faith will take a heavy blow once we announce our withdrawal. Kuwait just might start looking into the appeasal track in order to buy its own safety. And if they need any help in how that can work out, all they need to do is ask advice of their other neigbhor, the region’s expert on appeasement of the crazies…
…Saudi Arabia. They’ve spent literally billions on paying off the whackos and sending them out of the country to cause their mischief elsewhere. But sooner or later, that’s going to bite them on the ass. The main motivating factor behind the psychotic terrorists is religion, and Saudi Arabia is home to two of the most sacred sites in Islam. Eventually, the nutjobs currently wrapped up in fighting The Great Satan (that’s us folks) will figure it’s long overdue for those holy sites to be in the hands of the “righteous” and free from the corrupt House of Saud. At that point, all hell will surely break loose.
Another concern is our withdrawal will put a hefty damper on our perceived ability and will to project power. Right now, the Persian Gulf — through which roughly a quarter of the world’s oil supply flows — is kept free and navigable and usable by the United States Navy. Iran is geographically positioned to shut that down, at the Straits of Hormuz, and is pretty well equipped to give it a try should they wish. Small submarines, mines, anti-ship missiles, even well-positioned scuttlings of large ships would wreak havoc on the world’s oil supply — and, consequently, the world’s economy. Right now, Iran isn’t interested in doing so. But flush with victory after chasing the US out of Iraq, would they be more likely to give it a try — or, at least, threaten it? I think so.
A lot of people have had derisive things to say about the “flypaper” theory — that by placing a sizable US force in Iraq, we give the terrorists a very tempting target for their fury, and instead of attacking our civilians and infrastructure like they did on 9/11, they rather go after those best equipped to defend themselves and make the attacks very, very costly for the attackers. I happen to believe in it, but either way once we withdraw, what will those terrorists still in Iraq do now that they’ve been deprived of their favorite targets?
Some, I am sure, will focus more on killing more civilians and rival terrorists. One or two might even give up terrorism altogether and “retire.” But some, motivated by revenge for fallen comrades or still angry at the US or simply “hooked’ on killing Americans for whatever reason, just might decide to pack up and find someplace where their chosen prey is more commonplace. Americans around the world will become likely targets.
Also, in other places where the US presence is sometimes not seen as welcome, the possibility of terrorist attacks against US targets will be increased. For example, Indonesia.
Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population. President Bush just visited there, and there were many large protests that threatened to turn violent. Imagine how much bolder they protesters would have been had the United States just admitted defeat in Iraq and was sent packing?
Another consequence that is often overlooked is that Iraq is, among many other things, a laboratory for our military. For better or for worse, we are not very likely to face a massive, conventional force like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan in direct combat any time soon — we are just too damned powerful and intimidating to challenge so directly. Instead, we are going to deal with the ticks and ants of terrorists and insurgents and other groups not directly affiliated with traditional nation-states. Oh, they will have backing and support from such bodies, but they will never be directly answerable to them. We need to learn how these things work — and, more importantly, how to fight them.
The current plan appears to be to protect and nurture a native security force, a combination of military and law enforcement, and then turn it over to a democratically-elected government for direction. (I say “appears to be” because I am not sure of the details, and I prefer it that way — spelling out exactly what one intends to do, and how, in the face of fierce opposition is essentially giving your opponent a chart showing how to defeat you.) This is certainly not guaranteed to succeed, but it has the potential to do so — and has the added advantage of being consistent with our own ethics and philosophies.
Over in Israel, the only true democracy in the middle east, how will this be seen? Most likely as a lack of resolve on our part, and a willingness to abandon allies when the going gets too tough. They can cite for examples Viet Nam, the Shah of Iran, the Kurds, and now the Iraqis. They will see that as a weakening of our support and protection, and take that as an indicator that they need to do more to stand on their own. That could mean a more forceful response to aggressive moves by their neighbors, heightened tensions and more bloodshed.
In the Palestinian Territories, the Hamas-led government will see that a western-style democracy can be beaten by terrorism. Expect an increase in “rogue” terrorist attacks, coupled with increased pressure on Israel to “compromise” with the Palestinians and make more and greater concessions.
Lebanon could go either way. If given a freer hand in Iraq, Syria might turn its attention eastward and ease up on its hold over Lebanon. But I think it far more likely that they will want to secure their western flank and consolidate their hold over Lebanon. They just killed (through their proxies) Pierre Gemayel, another popular anti-Syrian government official, “pour encourager les autres.” That’s the kind of signal Western Union doesn’t deliver.
So, if we do pull out of Iraq before that security force is strong enough to maintain the security and protect the government, what lessons have we learned? More importantly, what lessons have our enemies learned?
1) Kill enough people (not even Americans) and the Americans will cut and run. The American people can be convinced to lay the blame for all casualties in a war at the feet of their own leader, and are willing to absolve their enemies of any guilt.
2) The United States has no stomach for a long, drawn-out conflict. If they can’t win quickly and win decisively, it’s just a matter of “running out the clock” on the patience of the American people. Winning becomes not a matter of defeating the US, but rather simply not losing — hanging on and staying in the fight long enough.
3) Terrorism works. If you’re fighting a Western power, you don’t have to kill their troops to win. You don’t even have to kill their civilians. All you have to do is kill enough innocent people, and the enemy will simply let you win in hopes of stopping the killing.
Right now, in Iraq, most of the deaths seem to be pretty much random. There is no rhyme or reason behind the attacks, beyond simple targets of opportunity. Who knows the political leanings or family ties of a group of day laborers standing on a street corner, looking for a day’s pay? Who cares? They’re there, they’re together in a group, they’re unprotected, so let’s blow them up — the Americans will get the blame for it anyway.
We are dealing with people that, when judged by Western standards and mores, would be classified as utter psychopaths — killers without conscience who kill and maim pretty much at whim, without conscience, because they believe that in the end, this will bring about their goal.
And god help us — god help the world — if we affirm that belief.