Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Should We Stay or Should We Go? Iraqi Variant

Tom Ricks has an op-ed at the NYT that sums up his blog conclusions about the Iraqi unraveling.  I think Ricks is nearly right on everything but this: there is simply no political will in DC or in Iraq to keep a sizeable American force around. 

Ricks argues that the US forces could serve as a deterrent to civil war after the upcoming and perhaps fatally flawed election.  Agreed.

Ricks argues that the surge and Petraeus and all that just bought breathing room for the Iraqis to make the big decisions, which they have entirely avoided.  Agreed.

What Ricks fails to mention is that the Status of Forces Agreement already restricts the US from doing much besides hanging out in bases.  On the other hand, SOFA's can be twisted or played so that 100k soldiers can still have a meaningful impact. 

I do worry that there will be a rush to get from 50k to 0 just as the Canadians are going from 2.8k to 0 in Afghanistan.  Small numbers can have outsized effects, so an agreement that keeps some number of Americans in Iraq could have a positive effect on training and even on the questions of civil wars, coups, and other things that might spin out of control.

But Obama is facing a huge deficit, an outraged base, and limited resources.  At this point, I cannot imagine any other attitude than "screw Iraq, we need to get our own house in order."  I may not think this is the best course of action (I am not sure it is not), but it is certainly the most likely, even before one considers the nationalism in Iraq that makes it hard for any politician to say out loud "I'd like the Americans to stick around."

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