Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What If We Leave Iraq? Nobody Can Be Sure, But I Don't Trust the Administration's Predictions

At least 250 people were killed today in suicide bombings in Iraq. That's approximately eight times the death toll of the Minneapolis bridge collapse and about 40 times the number of miners trapped in Utah, the two news stories that have dominated news coverage the last week or two. And yet, the Iraq story has barely registered in news coverage.

Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, told CNN that the bombings, which targeted the Yazidis, a small Kurdish sect that has ticked off Muslim extremists (they think the Yazidis are blasphemers), were "an act of ethnic cleansing." He also said that the attacks were a "trademark al Qaeda event" meant to "break the will" of the American people and show that the surge is not working.

The point that Gen. Mixon seems to be missing is that the will of the American people, as demonstrated in opinion polls and the biggest survey of all, the 2006 elections, is for America to get out of Iraq. Not to mention that the surge is not working, when you consider that any solution in Iraq has to be political. The Iraqi government is falling apart (with nearly all of the Sunni legislators gone), and what's left of the parliament is on a month-long vacation. So, even if the surge has brought about a slight decrease in violence (a point that is certainly up for debate), that minor victory is meaningless if the Iraqis can't agree on a way to govern themselves, live in peace together and divide up the country's resources.

The drumbeat coming from the administration of, Hey, if we go, there is going to be chaos in Iraq, including maybe a full-scale genocide, is really starting to bug me. I feel like the media isn't doing its job (big surprise) in taking a critical look at this argument, especially in three regards.

First, as Gen. Mixon himself pointed out, the factions are trying to wipe each other out right now, even with the U.S. in Iraq. Since al Qaeda's goal is to drive the U.S. from Iraq, it seems fundamental that, political consequences and realities aside, since our presence is inciting violence, our absence would cut back on at least some of the violence. The administration never seems to recognize and account for the simple fact that most of the world, including virtually the entire Muslim world, views the American invasion of Iraq as being wrong (and, in most cases, criminal). So, while our absence won't stop the clashes between the Iraqi factions, it will stop the violent activity aimed at ejecting us from the country.

Second, why is it that nobody questions the predictions of an administration that has been 100% dead wrong in every single aspect of the Iraq war? We were not treated as liberators. The war did not pay for itself. The Iraqis did not put their liberation from Saddam Hussein above their centuries-old factional divisions. The number of occupying troops was not sufficient for the job. The insurgency was not in its "last throes." It was not a good idea to disband the Iraqi army. It was not a good idea to purge the Baathists. And, it was not a good idea to leave weapons storage facilities unprotected in the early days of the invastion.

So when the people that have been wrong at every turn tell us there will be chaos, why does that conclusion go unchallenged? If the weather forecaster on your morning news show of choice got the weather prediction wrong every single day, you would start watching another network's news. If a CEO was wrong about every prediction of success for the company's new products, that CEO would be fired. And yet, when these incompetents speak, the media bows its collective head and says, "Yes, master, we will print your pearls of wisdom as if they were presented to us directly from a supreme being." No, they are being presented by people with a lower batting average than the 1962 New York Mets.

McClatchy reported on Monday that the U.S. Army conducted a day of war games (in the safety of a Virginia conference room) and determined that while it would be easy to withdraw U.S. troops, once they were gone, Iraq's government would collapse and the country would descend into chaos. As if the government is functioning so great now? And all is calm and peaceful? What really got me about this story was a paragraph buried in the middle of the article. It read:

"The Army staged the one-day exercise earlier this month at a Hilton hotel in suburban Springfield, Va ., and invited 30 Iraq experts, among them serving and retired officers and Iraqi exiles."

Iraqi exiles. Really. Um, aren't they the ones that provided the bad intelligence that was relied on for all of the awful decisions made in the early days of the war? Asking an Iraqi exile about potential outcomes in current-day Iraq is like going to the starters on the 1952 Boston Celtics to determine how a ban on baggy shorts would go over in the NBA next season.

Another thing that made me smile is that an anonymous participant, in making the argument that the troops would not face much fire in leaving the country, noted, "Why would they stop us? They have been telling us to leave." Right. So, if the administration knows this, why is it so hard to fathom that our presence inspires violence?

Of course, the panel went on to conclude that once we left, the Shiite militias would drive the Sunnis to Anbar, the Sunni and Shiite factions would fight each other for power in their regions, Turkey would be pulled into a conflict with Kurds in the northern part of the country, and the Maliki government would fall unless it was propped up by Iran. Basically, the country would be facing a fate worse than a legion of Britneys and Lindsays liquored up on the roads of Iraq.

It's true. They said so. Because the exiles told them. Uh-huh. Based on the track record of these "experts," forgive me if I don't take them at their words.

Finally, the whole argument of the U.S. having to stay in Iraq to prevent genocide is essentially circular. The world told Bush not to invade Iraq. He ignored all warnings and invaded anyway, only his reasons for going in were shown to be wrong, and his predictions for the course of events proved to be way off the mark. Al Qaeda, which wasn't present in Iraq before the war, then flooded into the country, thanks to our invasion. Then, Bush goes to Americans and says we have to stay because we have to fight al Qaeda there. Uh, Mr. President, you allowed it to happen in the first place. That's like collecting mice in your yard, setting them loose in your house, and then asking for a government grant to bring in an exterminator to kill the mice infestation in your home.

I'm not saying that everything will be peachy if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq. What I am saying is that just because the administration says things will be bad, it doesn't mean it necessarily will be. They have no credibility left. It is agreed on all sides that for Iraq to survive on its own, its Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions need to find a way to agree on how to divide the country's assets, and a method of governing that they can all live with.

By taking out Hussein and propping up the government for several years, right or wrong, the U.S. gave the Iraqi people an opportunity to get past their divisions and find a way to come together. Instead, the Sunnis got so frustrated they dropped out of the government and the legislature took a month vacation in August. The Iraqis in power showed that they were way more interested in acting strictly in their self-interest and avenging wrongs from the past under the cloak of American protection, rather than making any meaningful concessions to get to a political solution.

Well, it's time for the American gravy train to be decommissioned. The U.S. has done enough (too much, most would say) to provide the Iraqis with a chance to save their country. We have given thousands of American lives and billions of American dollars. As importantly, we've let the enemy in the "real" war in Afghanistan gain in power. The people that not only did attack us "here," but who want to do it again, have been allowed to plan freely, while the might of the U.S. has been squandered in a war in Iraq we had no business starting.

With all due respect (which is very little) to the experts in the Bush administration, I don't believe you. And, if you turn out to be right, well, then the situation was created by your mistakes of the last four plus years, and the blood will not be on the hands of those who supported a pull-out (as the White House likes to say), but on your hands for starting and bungling the war, and on the hands of the Iraqis that didn't sacrifice to save their own country. Either way, your credibility is gone, and you need to shut up.

It's time to start challenging the proclamations from "experts" who are never right. At the very least, it's time we at least hold them to the standard of weather forecasters. Although for these guys, that might be a stretch.

[Note: After reading this article, a friend emailed me this link to a 1994 interview with Dick Cheney in which the future vice president explains why it would have been a bad idea to depose Saddam Hussein at the end of the Gulf War. Too bad the modern Dick Cheney didn't listen to the 1994 Dick Cheney.]