Escalating exit strategies

Michael Gerson:

HISTORY seems to be settling on some criticisms of the early conduct of the Iraq War: Force levels were reduced too early, security responsibilities were transferred to Iraqis before they were ready and planning for future challenges was unrealistic. "Victory in Iraq," one official of the Coalition Provisional Authority told me a couple of years ago, "was defined as decapitating the regime. No one defined victory as creating a sustainable country six months down the road."

Now Democrats running for president have thought deeply and produced their own Iraq policy: They want to cut force levels too early, transfer responsibility to Iraqis before they're ready and offer no plan to deal with the chaos that would result six months down the road. In essential outline, they have chosen to duplicate the early mistakes of an administration they hold in contempt.

The Democratic debate on Iraq has become an escalating contest of exit strategies: Sen. Hillary Clinton's "three-step plan to bring the troops home starting now Sen. Barack Obama's pledge to "have all our troops out by March 31 ex-Sen. John Edwards' "timetable for withdrawal."

No one can confidently predict the outcome of a precipitous withdrawal, but the signs aren't good. Experts such as the American Enterprise Institute's Fred Kagan believe a full-scale civil war would result in massive sectarian cleansing that "might not leave a single Sunni in Baghdad." Hundreds of thousands or more, he expects, would die.

Nearby powers in that nasty neighborhood would be tempted to intervene in favor of various Iraqi factions, raising the prospect of a regional conflict. Ken Pollack of The Brookings Institution notes that even "proxy fights can be ruinous to countries around it."

Pressed to address these consequences, most of the Democratic candidates offer a response similar to Edwards': "As we withdrew our combat troops out of Iraq, I would not leave the region." So America would defend its interests from a safe distance in Kuwait. But how effective has it been to fight terrorist networks in Pakistan from a distance? How effective has it been to fight genocide in Sudan from a distance? This is less an argument than an alibi.


One is tempted to call these policy positions on the war idiocy, but I will stick with calling them profoundly ignorant of military history and logic. The enemy is not winning in Iraq. The only place he appears to be winning is in the hearts and minds of Democrat politicians and a few squishy Republicans. We got more idiocy/profound ignorance from Richard Luger in recent days declaring the surge a failure only days after the troops got in the country and int he middle of a new offensive that is destroying al Qaeda's infrastructure in its last bastion in Iraq, Diyala.

For the military history challenged politicians, I will repeat that the average counterinsurgency operation last around 11 years and most insurgencies fail. It appears that Democrats and Republicans like Luger are not even willing to give the strategy 11 weeks. This is what happens when you have senatorial group think that is ignorant of military history and strategy. We know that the course of the counterinsurgency campaign can be long and will likely be successful. We also know that the course of escalating exit strategies will be disastrous and those responsible for the disaster will never take responsibility for it. In fact the many Democrats want it to be a disaster that they will blame on the Bush administration.

Lugar and other politicians in Washington need to educate themselves about counterinsurgency warfare. There have been links on the subject in this blog. Wretchard quotes from a recent post by David Kilcullen on what it is going to take to finish the job in Iraq.


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