Monday, July 7, 2008

Why Would We Leave Iraq?

Andrew Sullivan:
I think McCain was probably right on the surge (although we'll never know for certain what might have happened if we had begun to withdraw last year), but wrong on the initial invasion. Obama was wrong on the surge but right about the invasion (although we'll never know for certain how the world would look if we'd continued (or been able) to contain rather than depose Saddam). So we're left with long-term strategy and medium term diplomacy. And there's the rub. McCain doesn't talk about "winning", then leaving. He talks about "winning", then staying.
I think the first part of this is right. McCain and Obama go 1 and 1 in terms of prescience, although it would be a more interesting record if Obama hadn't been playing AA ball when he had to make the call on the invasion.

However, all of these opponents to a long-term combat presence in Iraq--albeit a small one--are going to have to explain where we garrison ground forces to protect the oil, if not in Iraq. Kuwait? Works for the southern oilfields, but how do we protect the Kirkuk fields from the Iranians--or the Syrians, for that matter? Qatar? Where do you put them? And, once you answer that question, how do you stage them back to the head of the Gulf when something bad happens?

Get over it, folks. We invaded because our strategic position in the Gulf was deteriorating--from institutional terrorism, from Saddam, from a resurgent Iran. It's the reason we'll be staying. The Gulf is the vital US interest in the world today. Only an idiot would be talking about evacuating completely.

I await eagerly Obama's final morphing to see whether he's an idiot or not.


trilobite said...

Although I agree that oil was the reason for the war, and a vital national interest, I don't entirely agree with your post, for two reasons.

First, do we need troops in Iraq when we already have airbases all over the Middle East, carriers we can put in the Gulf, the proven ability to smash through any likely-sized army on that territory in a very short time, and, if need be, ICBMs? We are hardly without resource should Iran make a territorial grab -- which is not all that likely anyway. Our nominally American corporations already got their contracts, could anyone doubt we would kill to protect them? Besides, political control, not outright takeover, has been Iran's MO. Stationing troops a little closer to the oilfields won't help with that sort of attack. I'm not a military expert, so feel free to explain why I'm wrong, but it seems to me that troops actually stationed inside Iraq are at best convenient. Yes, military convenience is measured in lives, but so is the cost of keeping them there indefinitely. For all the victory talk, it's not exactly post-war Berlin over there, nor is it likely to be any time soon.

2) Less substantively, McCain deserves no credit for prescience here. Has he ever met a war he didn't like? Did he give any intelligible reasons for his unwavering support of this one? He still says we could have won Vietnam if we had only stayed the course. A broken clock is right twice a day, but I'd rather have a President who doesn't see every problem as a nail.

TheRadicalModerate said...


Thanks for the comment.

I'll disagree with both of your points.

First, airforces and navies are great at denying an enemy logistical and strategic support, but only a ground force can defend territory. Adding to that is the problem of the physical plant surrounding the oil industry. A ground force can protect wellheads and pipelines. An air force can't. (Of course, nothing will protect an oilfield from a nuke, or even sufficiently accurate conventional missiles.)

I'll agree with you that ground forces in Iraq are somewhat a matter of convenience and I'll agree with you that convenience is measured in lives, although I don't think you'll agree with why I agree with you: You can always fight your way to an objective. If you've got troops in Kuwait or Qatar, you can always fight your way to Kirkuk. If you have no troops at all in the Gulf, you can land them ambphibiously. But those kinds of operations are vastly more expensive--in lives and treasure--than a defensive operation with troops already where they need to be.

On McCain's prescience, it's certainly not the case that he never met a war he didn't like. He was lukewarm on the first Gulf War, initially opposed the Bosnia operation and only supported it following the Dayton accords, which committed the US to certain responsibilities. (He did support the Kosovo operation, however.) He opposed the Haiti and Somalia operations.

Now as for the initial invasion, he certainly deserves to have his support hung around his neck. But it's also true that there weren't a whole lot of supporters of the surge. They may only have been lucky rather than prescient, but I'd certainly give McCain more credit for prescience in his support of the surge than I would Obama in his opposition of the invasion when there were no political consequences for that opposition.