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November 19, 2005

Time to Cut and Run in Iraq?

Congressman John Murtha, a senior Democrat well-respected on defense matters and himself a decorated Marine Vietnam veteran, touched of a renewed debate about the war in Iraq this week by calling for an immediate withdrawal of US forces.

Leaving aside the politics (were such a thing possible) and leaving aside whether or not we made a mistake by invading Iraq, let's consider our current options.

  • We can withdraw immediately (as the Moore/Murtha faction advocates). (Presumably this is what Murtha intended when he spoke of a six month withdrawal process. It took six months or so to get the troops into the theater with no armed opposition, it will take at least that long to pull them and their equipment out in an orderly fashion in the face of potential guerrilla attacks.)

  • We can establish a timetable for withdrawal, with clearly defined dates (the mainstream Democratic party position).

  • We can continue the Administration's current policy committing US troops to stay in Iraq until Iraqi forces are able to take over responsibility for maintaining (or establishing) civil order.

There are many critics on the right who view the Murtha/Moore position as irresponsible. While I think adopting this policy would be a mistake, I don't agree that there is any impropriety in advancing this view. As Tigerhawk wrote in his essay on "dissent and limited war," the right to dissent is one of the things we are fighting to defend in Iraq, even if there is a price to be paid in providing aid and comfort to the enemy by encouraging them to believe that a US withdrawal is imminent. But make no mistake, there is a price to be paid -- in American lives and treasure, not to mention Iraqi lives -- for giving the Iraqi insurgents hope that their jihad against occupation is making progress towards precipitating a unilateral US withdrawal.

Nearly a year and half ago, critics of the Iraq war on what might be called the "isolationist right" called for a prompt withdrawal of US troops in Iraq, arguing that there were no vital US security interests at stake in Iraq after the fall of the Baathist regime. The Cato Institute's Special Task Force on Iraq published a short monograph (click here to buy a copy at Amazon) advancing this view in June of last year. I wrote a brief summary of their argument last July. Essentially, they argued that long term US self-interests would be best served by a prompt troop withdrawal, even if this resulted in a civil war or a less then democratic government in Iraq.

I disagreed with this view then and continue to believe it would be a mistake for the US to commit to a troop withdrawal on any fixed timetable.

  1. A premature US withdrawal might well result in a bloody civil war between Shia and Sunni in Iraq. There is also the risk that this civil war would expand to become a regional conflict if Syria or Iran were to enter the conflict to prevent the defeat of the Sunnis or Shiites, respectively. The most likely outcome, however, is that Iraq's Shia majority would crush the Sunni insurgents. While this may not be a bad thing in itself, my fear is that radical militias affiliated with Iraq's Shia parties would assume control of the Iraqi government. Since many of these militias are believed to be supported and influenced by the Iranian government, this would result in Iran becoming the dominant military and economic power in the region. (The combined oil reserves of Iran and Iraq would be nearly equal to those of Saudi Arabia.)

  2. A nuclear armed Iran in tacit control of Iraq would be a strategic nightmare for the US and the west in general. Iran has been the preeminent state supporter of global terrorism since Libya decided to get out of that business. With nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of reaching most of continental Europe and all of the Mideast, the religious fanatics controlling Iran's government could try to make good on their recently renewed pledge to "wipe Israel off the map." Since Israel is widely believed to be a nuclear power, there would be the very real possibility of a war using nuclear weapons being fought in this economically vital region. Were this to occur, the potential loss of human life and economic damage to the global economy might well rival that of WWII.

  3. More worryingly for the US, religious fanatics in Iran might supply Al Queda, Hamas, or Hezbollah with nuclear weapons for use in terrorist attacks.

If we can prevent any of these outcomes by continuing our efforts to support the Iraqi government, we would fools not to do so. While we all love peace and want to see our troops return home safely to their families, closing our eyes to the possibility of Islamist radicals armed with nuclear weapons is not an alternative. If we learned anything from 9/11 it is that you cannot ignore religious fanatics seeking world domination in the hope they will go away. Perhaps, as Nofit Amir wrote in yesterday's NY Sun, this may be too simple a concept for us to understand:

It might be the sheer simplicity of Islamic fundamentalism that confounds journalists. To the refined Western intellect it seems unbelievably crude to think that anyone would truly seek to dominate the world. . .

Unfortunately, the price of our lack of imagination and understanding may prove to be truly staggering.

November 19, 2005 at 11:23 AM | Permalink


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Why are you taking it as 'Moore/Murtha'? When Congressman Murtha who is a vetern suggested this? I don't understand you people who are tagging someone who is NOT an elected official with suggesting policy. Unless you are willing to admit that is what your president does. Is it not true he & cheney showed the plan to invade Iraq to the Saudie prince but not Mr. C. Powell? Is it not also true they (Bush/Cheney) got their marching orders from Alawawi (sp)?

That person who later sold information to Iran is still a 'friend' of Bush&Cheney and it is because of him and J.Miller who has gotten our people killed.

Also this stay the course crap is just that crap. It is costing use billions, that is BILLIONS OF DOLLARS A WEEK/MONTH for this police actions (not declared a war by Congress) but you want to stay the course.

You have not convinced me that is right thing to do.

Posted by: Brenda | Nov 19, 2005 5:45:55 PM

Sorry I didn't convince you. I agree that this war is costing us a lot of money. However, the point I was trying to make (evidently unsuccessfully) is that the future cost (in lives and well as dollars) in pulling out now would be much, much greater.

For example, consider what a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran might cost us. . . How many innocent people on both sides would be killed? What would happen to oil production in Iran and in Israel's neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iraq? Would other nations become involved? How many would ultimately die?

Or, even worse for us, how much would it cost if Al Queda were able to buy or receive a nuclear weapon from Iran and smuggle it in a cargo container into the port of New York, or Baltimore, or Long Beach? How many Americans would be incinerated? How many would die from radiation poisoning? How much property and economic infrastructure would become permanently contaminated?

Of course, these things would not inevitably ensue if we were to withdraw from Iraq. And they may happen even if we stay and are able to help support the new, elected Iraqi government. But my guess is that these bad outcomes become more likely if we pull out. Other reasonable people may (and do) think precisely the opposite.

As for Moore/Murtha, you are right, that is a cheap shot. Murtha is a far more honorable person that Michael Moore. I only meant that they (along with the Cato Institute) share the same policy recommendations with regard to getting our troops out of Iraq pronto.

Posted by: Spartacus | Nov 19, 2005 10:51:41 PM

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