Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Point of Clarification for the Youngsters Out There [UPDATED]

Obama will speak tonight about the combat troops leaving Iraq.  To be clear, the 50,000 guys left behind (trainers, whatever) will still be folks in uniform who can kill and be killed.  They will still be at risk, but there will no longer be folks whose primary mission is to engage in combat.  I don't know how the troops will be organized, but if some do training anything like they do in Afghanistan by serving in Observer/Mentor/Liaison Teams (our friend, the omelet) embedded in Iraqi units, they will still engage in fighting and face some significant risks.  The others, who maybe doing logistics, coordination and other stuff, will still be possible targets of suicide bombers, improved explosive devices and the occasional rocket.  Iraq is not as peaceful as ... Denmark, so the troops will still be in harm's way.

I am not saying that this step is not an accomplishment.  It certainly is, but there is the danger of setting expectations to the point that any violence will be seen as a betrayal.  That would not be the case.   I hope the big O does a good job of making that clear, but whether he does or not, I have no confidence in the media to get it straight now or when the inevitable happens.

UPDATED: To be clear, there is something between 50k and 0.  This piece suggests that all troops will be gone by the end of 2011.  Certainly, the left wing fears of permanent big bases in Iraq will eventually be dispelled.  But one could imagine some kind of agreement, either open or not, that would allow a small number of American soldiers/Marines/airfolk (even Navy because they would hate to be excluded) to keep on training, but focused at bases and at higher level headquarters--staff positions, not fighting positions.  Sort of Vietnam in reverse?  From 50k to 1k-2k or something like that.  Plus the possibility of Special Forces having some access.  This might not be very visible as Iraqi nationalism might demand no Americans around, but, on the other hand, it might be possible to have a very minimal number of American uniforms without risking the nationalist credentials of the Iraqi government. 

In sum, thinking of absolutes here is probably not a good idea.  Oh, and, if folks are listening to Paul Wolfowitz who had a NYT column on this issue, then I am completely befuddled. Wolfy did nothing right on Iraq thus far, so why listen to him now, other than to increase the number of people that get media attention despite being near total failures.

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