A Question of Strategy

Today's Washington Post editorial on Iraq dedicated to slamming Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is really baffling. Their big point is that Democratic plans to withdraw troops from Iraq are somehow unrealistic or based on "fantasy" which seems to simply miss the contours of the argument. Expeditious departure of American forces from Iraq isn't some counterintuitive plan to stabilize Iraq; rather, grounded in recognition that an open-ended U.S. military presence isn't stabilizing Iraq either, it's based on the strategic calculation that the nation's resources and manpower should be deployed elsewhere.

That's a point you could dispute, but Hiatt & co. don't even acknowledge that this is the debate we're having. You also get weird assertions like this "U.S. commanders and diplomats in Iraq don't hesitate to say that if American forces withdrew now, sectarian conflict would probably explode in its full fury, causing bloodshed on a far greater scale than ever before and posing grave threats to U.S. security." One gets weary of pointing this out, but over and over again we see withdrawal plans being judged by worst-case scenarios whereas staying scenarios are judged by best-case scenarios. The truth of the matter is that no matter what we do with the American military, the course of events in Iraq will ultimately be determined by decisions made by Iraqis. If we leave, they might choose poorly with disastrous results. But that can happen if we stay, too. Or they could choose well. The purpose of the surge was to use our military power to try to alter the decision-making of Iraqi leaders, but it hasn't worked -- there's little-to-no evidence that us having 150,000 troops in Iraq is fundamentally affecting the political situation in a positive way.