An unnecessary gamble in Iraq
President Barack Obama plans to . According to , Obama will remove about 90,000 combat troops of the current 140,000 soldiers in country, leaving 50,000.
While it's nice to see a politician try to keep a core campaign promise, the decision is an unnecessary strategic gamble that will play with both American and Iraqi lives.
For one, the United States has already set a gradual timeline for its withdrawal from Iraq. Under the (SOFA) with the Iraqi government, the United States military will pull out of Iraqi urban areas by this July and completely withdrawal from Iraq by 2011, although residual forces will remain in non-combat roles, such as training and counterterrorism missions. From the American side of things, the SOFA is a good compromise between the proponents of immediate withdrawal and perpetual occupation.
What's particularly important about the SOFA is that July deadline. By mid-summer, American troops will largely be out of Iraqi cities, leaving it to Iraqi security forces to perform counterinsurgency across Iraq's divided cities. By pulling back from the cities, American troops will be, for the most part, safe from the deadly urban warfare that led Americans to abandon their faith in the war.
Fewer US soldier deaths should temper the calls for rapid withdrawal from the American public and allow a strong presence of American soldiers on the periphery to give Iraqi security forces the cushion and confidence they need to slide into their roles as Iraq's rightful defenders.
When Iraqi forces can maintain a modest sense of security in a particular city, then American forces in the wildernesses surrounding them can go quietly home. But most importantly, if large-scale violence once again breaks out across the country, Iraq's security forces will know they have the US military to back them up if they are not up to the task.
Proponents of withdrawal always say its time for the American military to step down so the Iraqi military can step up. The SOFA does this in the most responsible way possible because it doesn't foolishly risk the security gains of the surge and the Sunni Awakening. Too much blood has been spilled by both Americans and Iraqis to have the country slide again into anarchic violence, especially after relatively safe provincial elections in January brought more secular and progressive officials into the Iraqi government. These newly elected officials may be the seedlings of something approximating a liberal democratic Iraq in a generation or two and they deserve to be protected as much as possible.
Obama plans to leave a residual force of 50,000 American troops in non-combat roles after August 2010, which is hardly a complete withdrawal and unnecessarily accelerates the pace of withdrawal mandated under the SOFA. But why 50,000 troops? It's a curious number, and both parties are rightfully questioning it.
House speaker says if a withdrawal is to be believed, 15,000 to 20,000 American troops should remain in Iraq for non-combat missions. On MSNBC on Wednesday she said: "I don't know what the justification is for the presence of 50,000 troops in Iraq."
That number of troops seems too large for strictly non-combat missions and way too small to guarantee security if violence once again erupts.
In December, Iraqis will once again brave bullets and bombs to cast ballots in the country's parliamentary elections. It's not hard to sympathise with representative John McHugh, ranking Republican on the House armed services committee, who believes that committing to a 2010 withdrawal before seeing how December's elections go is unwise, especially since the US has already committed to vacating Iraq by the end of 2011. It just doesn't make sense to jeopardise the powerful symbol of another free and secure election and give Iraq's petit tyrants more opportunities to eviscerate any hope of political reconciliation within the country.
Finally there's always the most important ethical question facing Obama and the US if a withdrawal of too many troops leads to spiralling violence: Will we once again send the troops we withdrew back to re-establish the security gains lost or will we leave Iraqis to butcher Iraqis? If it's the former, then Obama will be guilty of a strategic blunder equal to George Bush's decision to invade and occupy Iraq in the first place. And if it's the latter, then Americans, both left and right, will be smeared with the blood of innocents. The right for triumphantly blundering into a war that has callously killed hundreds of thousands and the left for not recognising our responsibility now to tighten the tourniquet so Iraq doesn't haemorrhage more lives.
According to Agence France Presse, there's word President Obama will "" his withdrawal plan if violence escalates before 2010, which should leave anyone concerned about Iraq's future stability asking: Why risk a return to violence when the US has already agreed to return sovereignty to Iraq 16 months later?