Friday, January 12, 2007

Troop Increase for Iraq?


To tell the truth, I don't know how I feel about a troop increase.

If called out, to make up my mind and set aside the (many) reservations I have about my own opinion and the limitations of my knowledge, I would say I support a troop increase, but only as one aspect of an extensive overhaul of our relationship to the Middle East. I would cut my losses, buy out the contract with Halliburton and offer it to our allies as incentive for their involvement. We might even have to go beyond that for broad European support.
I would engage Iran and Syria diplomatically on the grounds that establishing a stable Iraqi govenment would put less economic strain than funding a sectarian war-by-proxy with an uncertain outcome. I would offer them targeted economic support in exchange for their strategic support.
I would draw a line in the sand for troop withdrawal, but it would be a distant line. Say, 2012. A deadline years away would work against the insurgent momentum and, more importantly, their foreign sponsors, but a definite date would give both Iraqis and Americans a concrete goal and a more objective understanding of their own resources and what is expected of them. During that time I'd take my lumps by restricting American intervention elsewhere so that we could give Iraq more support without reinstating a draft. This could be partly accomplished by ceding some of our operations in the Pacific and Europe, largely symbolic relics from World War II. But most of the transfer would mean scaling back operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, which would mean taking more creative, non-military approaches to, say, terrorism around the world.
This is the best solution I can think of, and you probably disagree, and that's fine because, frankly, it's completely infeasible from a political perspective. There's no way the White House would ever propose such a plan, and if it ever did, there's no way either party would back it in Congress.

I've been opposed to this war from the very beginning, and I was out on the streets in Chicago on the night that 500 people were arrested. So I fully expect many people here to disagree with me now, but if I dissent from my friends, that is my right too.

Now to the "many" reservations:

I certainly feel that a troop increase or even stablizing Baghdad is not sufficient. The only scenario in which I can see long term success in Iraq requires almost unilateral international support. We didn't only mess up in disrupting a stable (if despotic and genocidal) regime and thereby its region, but we haven't given our allies any incentive to invest, and we refuse to engage with regional interests for political and ideological reasons. So my problems with a troop increase is that I cannot see it helping without international support bought with embarassing (for the U.S.) political and economic concessions.

On the other hand, once we've disrupted the status quo of a sovereign power by invading and bombing its cities and infrastructure to oblivion and igniting sectarian strife, I object to our own expedience as the strict motive for withdrawal. Which seems to almost exclusively inform the phased reduction arguments.

We've reached a point where all major religions and philosophies argue that human is human is human, whether an Iraqi or an American. While it is inevitable that our political institutions will and must act first on the interests of their constituents, I also think there is a point where common sense requires a sort of override.

I would argue then that when we invaded Iraq, when we drove our allies away by giving out undeserved exclusive contracts, and when we refused to engage with regional powers, we sacrificed the right to either stay or withdraw at our convenience. Our 3,000 casualties are a tiny fraction, maybe as low as 1%, of civilian deaths in Iraq. This number does not count civilian casualties due to economic sanctions under the Clinton administration (responsible for 2 million deaths), or resulting from Desert Storm.
It is worth pointing out that number now represents now almost 10% of the entire population of Iraq. 16 years have passed since Desert Storm, meaning that maybe half of Iraq's population has been born during a period when they have witnessed uninterrupted harship connected (if not caused, directly and indirectly) by American intervention.
It is worth pointing out that most casualities today are not connected to the insurgency, but are what we would call (I hate this phrase) "collateral damage." Iraq, like America, is a complex society with a variety of political and religious views. You would be as hard pressed to find a "typical" Iraqi as you would a "typical" American. So claims identifying Iraqis unilaterally as pro-isurgent or pro-Western-style-democracy are equally misinformed.
It is finally, and ultimately, worth pointing out that despite four years of reading about Iraq in the news, I have encountered only a handful of articles about how a the Iraqis feel about our presence. None of these articles were systematic or statistical. None were surveys. They were anecdotes that typically offered up a pro- and/or con- of our occupation. I think almost every American overestimates their knowledge of how the "average" Iraqi feels. We should be an experts on this subject. We should know, for example, in a survey of 10,000 Iraqis X% want the Americans gone now, Y% want us gone by next year, and so on. Not only do we not know, but we can't. The work has either not been done, or if so, it hasn't been picked up by the mainstream media.

By and large, Democrats and Republicans, pro-war and anti-war camps are not concerned with the interests and perspective of the Iraqi people. They enter our arguments only occasionally, and then only to bolster whatever opinion we've already formed. So while I agree that a troop increase is not *the* answer, I don't buy the rhetoric of a phased withdrawal as either party has presented it. I want to talk about the Iraqis and hear from them, and know what they believe is the best route for their country. I'm sad both because I think that's a dialogue that won't happen, and because I think it's a dialogue that most Americans don't really care about.

I should finally say, though, that unlike the choice the go to war in the first place (which to me seemed an obvious mistake, and one only attributable to recklessness and arrogance), we are at a point there is much information that conflicts. Predicting outcomes, long term, seems to be a lot like predicting the weather.

I don't disapprove of anyone who disagrees with me, however vigorously, about the addition of more troops. I could be completely wrong about that, myself.

The present lack of and need for an fuller Iraqi perspective? That, I feel quite strongly about.



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