And then what?

President Bush is planning on vetoing the Iraq funding bill, citing the presence of a deadline for withdrawal. So, just what would happen if the United States withdrew from Iraq?

Initially, I think it would be fairly calm. There would be some attacks against our forces, as the various and sundry factions would each try to get the “final” attack on us that gives them the bragging rights for “driving out the infidels.”

After that, though, there would be a brief calm period, as the factions work out their strategies.

It would be the calm before the storm – or, as a certain French monarch said, “le deluge.”

“Bloodbath” would be a bit of an understatement.

The first victims of the carnage would be those people who had the foolish audacity to trust in the United States, who were a part of the current government and cooperated with us. I’m just pulling numbers out of the air here, but I’d speculate that 80% would be executed – probably in as grisly a way as possible. Another 10% would flee the nation, but 10% or so would be kept as figureheads and tokens to provide a “beard” or “fig leaf” for whatever form of government emerges.

The next thing that would happen would be a withdrawal of nearly all the Kurds into their home region for self-defense. This would be merely the latest in a long, long string of betrayals, abandonments, and blind eyes that the West has given the Kurds.

After this betrayal (after all, it’s not that different from what we did to the Kurds after the first Gulf War, except this time we made even more grandiose promises), I would not be surprised if the Kurds decide that enough’s enough; it’s time for their own independent state of Kurdistan.

Which would not sit to well with its neighbors.

Both Iran and Turkey have sizable Kurdish populations, and neither has a great record of tolerance for them. Turkey has openly said that it will not tolerate an independent Kurdistan, and would take action to prevent it.

(Recall that was one of the elements behind Turkey’s refusal to allow us to mount our initial invasion of Iraq from their territory, a move that left about half our invasion force in ships schlepping around Africa when the invasion kicked off, ruining the planned pincer movement.)

And Iran? Won’t they be too busy meddling in the south of Iraq to worry about the north?

I think not.

The one advantage of a US withdrawal from Iraq would be that it would keep Iran too busy for a few years, too busy to cause trouble outside its immediate area.

The downside of that, however, is what will happen to Iraq.

Iran’s best interests are served by a weak Iraq. Preferably, one ruled by Shi’ite theocrats, much like itself, but ones subservient to Iran’s mullahs. Their ideal situation is Iraq as a client state, with the Shi’ites in control, the Sunnis an oppressed minority, and the Kurds… well, they can just go away. Maybe go to Turkey and be their problem.

This would give Iran access to Iraq’s oil reserves, as well as a good look at just what the United States is capable of militarily – and not. They’re already using Iraq as a way to study our hardware, our troops, and our doctrine.

Finally, the worst long-term consequence of an American pullout would be to our international standing.

Folks say that right now, the United States’ reputation is pretty much in the toilet, and we couldn’t be more reviled and disliked and loathed around the world. I don’t think it’s quite that bad, but one thing that is hard to dispute is our capacity to declare our intent – and carry it out. That reputation would be severely battered, if not shredded — and the consequences would be tremendous. We would find ourselves challenged on many fronts, and in each case we’d have to decide whether to let that perception stand, or refute it — at a very expensive price.

One frequent criticism of the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq was that they didn’t do enough planning ahead. Well, that can be laid at the feet of the “pull out” advocates as well. I’ve been looking for plans and ideas and notions and schemes for what happens afterward, and haven’t seen a damned thing. As far as I can tell, our troops pull out of Iraq (mostly deploying to nearby areas, such as “coming home” or just around the corner in Okinawa) and then everything is just sunshine and daisies, because now pretty much everyone agrees that it was that awful, icky George W. Bush who started the whole problem.

The best I can discern, the “cut and run” crowd’s strategy is this:

1) Get the troops out of Iraq, rendering the whole argument about whether the war has been lost moot.

2) Blame the war and the loss on Bush and the Republicans.

3) Hang Bush around the necks of the Republicans, and use that to win more seats in Congress, as well as the White House, in 2008.

That’s pretty much where it ends. To describe that as “short-sighted” would be a grotesque understatement. It makes Mr. Magoo look like a Marine sniper.

There’s far, far more at stake here than the political balance in the United States — but you’d never know that from listening to the “cut and run” crowd. In the old days, it was said that politics ends at the water’s edge. Now, it’s foresight that stops at the oceans.

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