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That Novak Thing

David Adesnik's interesting, though wrongheaded remarks inspired by Bob Novak's "pullout" column remind me that I should give this some further analysis. Novak's column itself, I think, can be 100% discounted as disinformation aimed at shoring up Bush's support among elite inside-the-beltway conservatives who are, in the aggregate, considerably more dissilusioned with the war (said elites being less entrapped in the bubble of happy talk emanating from the rightwing press) than are the conservative rank-and-file. Nevertheless, the issue of what four more years would look like in Iraq is an interesting one.

I think what folks are missing from the analysis is that the opinions of George Bush and his advisors are not the key causal variable here. What David's missing is that a democratic outcome for Iraq in the medium term is off the table. The question is how long will US forces continue to be engaged on Iyad Allawi's side in the Iraqi Civil War not whether or not we'll stay the course until we generate a democracy.

Soon after the January 20 Inauguration Day we're going to have some fraudulent elections in Iraq which will return a National Assembly composed of roughly the same elements as the present Interim Government -- i.e., Baathists who became dissilusioned with Saddam before the war, a couple of varieties of Shiite fundamentalist, the Kurdish parties, and a smattering of Communists. These folks will face, throughout 2005, the following dilemma. The longer US forces remain in Iraq the more dissilusioned the Iraqi populace will grow with their regime and the more support the armed opposition (i.e., the Sadr Movement and whatever we care to call the Sunni insurgency) will gain as the authentic voice of (Arab) Iraqi nationalism. On the other hand, the sooner US forces leave, the sooner the government (along with the militias of pro-government parties) will need to stand on their own against the armed opposition.

One possibility is that in early 2005 the Iraqi government will decide that the balance of considerations favors asking the Americans to set a date to go home. If this happens, Bush will happily comply as doing so at the request of the sovereign, "elected" Iraqi government will provide him with an ideal opportunity to "declare victory and go home" thus gaining political capital which can then be applied toward objective nearer and dearer to the hearts of the GOP's financiers. The interesting question at this point is whether or not the Iraqi government's calculation that it can survive without US military support was an accurate one.

The other possibility is that the Iraqi government decides it does need US support. Bush would not be in a position, politically speaking, to declare victory and go home over the objections of the sovereign, "elected" Iraqi government, as victory could not be plausibly declared under the circumstances and he would need to eat his lumps. Moreover, at least some non-trivial number of people inside the administration are bound to think that continuing US participation in the war for an extended period of time is a good idea on the merits. The result would be a cycle from which I don't see a clear way out. US force can keep the Iraqi government in power for an indeterminate amount of time, but the presence of the US military and the inevitable collateral damage it inflicts would make the perpetuation in power of the Iraqi government without US support ever-less-likely. Thus the war would limp on until we elect a president (of either party) who is not so personally identified with the decision to go to war (i.e., not Dick Cheney and probably not Jeb Bush).

The Iraqi government will try to hew to an intermediate path between an "immediate pullout" scenario and an "endless quagmire" scenario. The idea would be to get US forces to accomplish one or two key goals, thus strengthening their hand, before leaving. Unfortunately for us, the incentives are a bit misaligned here. From the US point of view the greatest threat is the presence of jihadis in the Sunni areas of Iraq. From the perspective of the Iraqi government, however, it would be easier to reach a modus vivendi with these forces than with those of Muqtada al-Sadr. Hence there will likely be some dispute as to where we focus our firepower.

September 22, 2004 | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 23, 2004 11:39:38 AM


What if they ask us to leave and it isn't in our national security to have one of the few groups attempting to stablize a disjointed, completely disorganized state leave?

I'm asking as one who opposed the Iraq war. Seems to me that governments with little control over the populace -- or governments that eventually need the support of various warlords who get their money from terrorists -- are a breeding ground for terrorists (Afganistan, Sudan, Somalia).

It might be a worse threat to us than, say, Saddam-led Iraq (and I think Saddam was a national or regional security threat, just not one that was imminent -- thereby requiring a pre-emptive strike).

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Sep 22, 2004 7:54:28 PM

Your scenarios have at their heart the idea we are leaving. And want to leave. Did we leave Germany? No, and I don't think the idea is to leave. Whoever gets elected.

The goal is a drawdown of forces. Replace drawdown with out IMO. With a drawdown the Iraqi government will always have us as a military options. But we have to get to the situation where they only need is for missions and not securing the entire freaking country.

Posted by: Chad | Sep 22, 2004 7:56:31 PM

Once upon a time, we were building some 27 permanent US military bases in Iraq. Whatever happened to that? I have this vision of our elusive SECDEF, NSA, and Ambassador to Iraq striding around in hard-hats supervising the Haliburton constuction workers. If we are building or have built the bases, why are we talking about leaving? If we haven't, what happened? It seems to me that having those permanent bases, to protect the oil and to threaten the surrounding countries, was a large part of the reason for the invasion.

Posted by: Bob Munck | Sep 22, 2004 8:00:54 PM

I see little evidence that national security plays a significant role in Bush administration decision-making. I am not ready to discount the idea of Bush pulling everyone out the moment the election is in the bag (since doing so earlier would lose it for him), should God forbid the unthinkable happen, declaring victory and watching Iraq go utterly (i.e. even more) to shit while vanishing from the media outlets his supporters tend to favor. The NYT can print what it wants.
Everybody wins. And the Iraqis aren't going to be selling nukes the way Musharraf does, or making them like North Korea.

Posted by: John Isbell | Sep 22, 2004 8:05:39 PM

There is at least one possible scenario in which Novak is accurate. There is at least one major offensive planned in early November. There may be others. We don't know that much about them, i.e., what level of collateral damage has been determined acceptable.

These offensives could be so brutal, with high civilian casualties, that Sistani and Allawi would be forced to ask us to leave by summer. Whether they would be secure enough at that time is doubtful, but not impossible depending on how much enemy capability we can destroy.

And in any case, whatever the realities on the ground, you must read what Novak said, and ask the important question: What does Bushco believe?
Which does not necessarily have any relation to reality.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 22, 2004 8:12:19 PM

Novak...? Novak? When did he get out of jail?

Posted by: Lugbolt | Sep 22, 2004 8:26:48 PM

The wierdest, the absolutely strangest thing to me about Iraq during this past year, is the inexplicable nonspending of the $18 billion reconstruction monies allocated by Congress almost a year ago. I'm starting to wonder if nothing is left. There is talk right now about the military asking Congress to use $4 billion or so for security for the reconstruction rather than pure reconstruction, but I read months before Bremer left that that was going to be the case. I've read that Bremer and Co borrowed heavily from the UN monitored Iraq Oil Fund for monies because of bureaucratic footdragging regarding dispersal of the $18 billion. This money was to be paid back. And I keep seeing references to "the missing $8 billion." Does anyone know where its missing from?

Posted by: Abigail | Sep 22, 2004 8:47:37 PM

I see a different scenario emerging: the central government plays good cop / bad cop, using the Americans as bad cop, to negotiate with local powers. Local powers, who can keep some kind of order, are given exemption from the American occupation in return for a nominal loyalty to the central, federal government. The Americans withdraw to their 14 permanent bases, as far from population centers as possible. I think this is what the Bush Administration is hoping for, because it gets them what they most wanted out of the war, a permanent military base in Persian Gulf region.

The inability of Halliburton, Bechtel, etc. to deliver reconstruction aid combined with the lack of a disciplined Iraqi security force, with large numbers available and excellent intelligence, however, foredooms this scenario. There are no local powers, able to keep order outside of Kurdistan, and the Kurds are determined to change that for the worse, by trying to take over areas occupied by Arabs and Turkmen. The Americans will keep intervening militarily, with bad intelligence and less wisdom. The reconstruction money -- what hasn't been siphoned off already by Bush's corporate friends -- will be depleted to fund "security".

Someone smarter than Sadr will secure the backing of Iran, and with a carefully orchestrated "uprising" of mass protest across Iraq as backing, that smart leader will assume power and tell the Americans they have to go.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Sep 22, 2004 8:52:23 PM

I was watching Fox today. It is still wall-to-wall coverage of Rathergate. I have no doubt that Bush could declare victory and get out at any moment and it would have no, zero, negative political impact on him. His base (35-40-45% of the country?) would find other stuff to talk about. It would be like Iraq didn't even happen. So if the only motivating concern of Bush is politics (I think it is), he can do pretty much whatever he wants.

Posted by: Brian | Sep 22, 2004 10:49:46 PM

The Iraqi government will try to hew to an intermediate path between an "immediate pullout" scenario and an "endless quagmire" scenario.

Which, all things considered, not only makes sense, but should be the policy of the American government as well. Nobody, I think, wants 150,000 American troops in Iraq in 2014. But I think it would be disastrous to beat a hasty retreat in, say, early '05.

If, alternatively, it were announced shortly after the Iraqi elections in Janurary that the U.S. has scheduled a pullout (at the request of the government of Iraq) to begin, say, on July 1, 2006, it might help take some of the steam out of the Sunni/Baathist/Jihadist sails. But at the same time it would give us 18 months to help get their government up and running (which really means, more than anything else, training and equiping home grown security forces as fast as humanly possible).

More likely than not, the pullout would/should be gradual, phased in, and orderly. And both the U.S. and Iraqi governments would need to reserve the right to deviate from the plan if need be. Moreover, there is obviously some risk that any such pre-announced U.S. withdrawal runs the risk of providing our enemies with not only valuable information as to our plans and intentions, but a time line they can use for goal setting ("just hold out until the crusaders leave next July").

Still, a public declaration that the U.S. is not planning to make Iraq the 51st state could pay dividends in undermining the forces of nationalism and anti-americanism that help feed the insurgency.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Sep 22, 2004 11:07:55 PM

In the future I see 9/11 and Kristallnacht viewed as similar seminal moments in two different nation's descent into fascism and self-immolation. I wonder what Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Monroe and Franklin would think of the coming tragic end to their glorious experiment in representative governance?

Posted by: STEVE DUNCAN | Sep 22, 2004 11:08:20 PM

Abigail, the CPA was a wash. Very little was accomplished because of the security situation. No one will give up his or her life to paint a school.

MY, withdrawing from Iraq is not withdrawing from the Gulf. It would not be an unreasonable scenario for troops to end up redeployed to Qatar, Turkey, Kurdistan--and the Saudi border. After withdrawal, there is a distinct possibility of jihadis staging raids into Saudi territory from western Iraq, which we would have to be there to prevent.
Our troops stationed there and nearby, with support from a carrier group in the Gulf, could easily return at short notice (as in, less than an hour) to deal with specific instances, and hold territory for a period of time until the specific mission objective is accomplished.
In other words, there is withdrawal and there is withdrawal. The troops are not coming home just because there are far fewer of them in Iraq.

Posted by: Kiril | Sep 22, 2004 11:59:16 PM

many of the comments above make a lot of sense, but what if our pres is really as much of a stubborn moron as he seems to be and rather than change course and do something intelligent in response to the situation he just lets it keep going as it is, and like Bagdad Bob (Bush), continues to proclaim all is going well, we are making great progress ...

Posted by: kydd | Sep 23, 2004 1:02:34 AM

what do you think about this possibility:

Pull out if bin Laden is captured.

That would be a perfect way to declare victory in the WoT, no? And the ensuing media hubbub might drown out Iraq...

Posted by: alpha | Sep 23, 2004 2:23:29 AM

Chad is right about troops remaining in Germany. We kept them there for decades, not for the purpose of propping up their government, but as a bulwark against the Warsaw Pact countries.

Something similar holds true in the Middle East, where a military presence in Iraq theoretically allows us to apply pressure on other countries, like Iran.

That's the theory anyway. One key difference, of course, is that in Germany our occupying troops didn't get attacked 2700 times a month.

Another difference is that our troops in Iraq are taxed enough with occupying the country. They're not just stationed there so they can, say, invade Iran.

Posted by: more_human_than_human | Sep 23, 2004 5:28:20 AM

The "rand and file" of which you speak represent the heart and soul of the conservative movement. As such, we realize this war is necessary to hasten the Rapture.

Posted by: Admiral B.D. Afternoon | Sep 23, 2004 8:54:56 AM

So the elite conservatives can be spun by Novak. That doesn't sound very elite, except relative to the average conservative being spun by Pat Robertson and Bill O'Reilly.

Posted by: Zizka | Sep 23, 2004 9:39:13 AM

So the elite conservatives can be spun by Novak. That doesn't sound very elite, except relative to the average conservative being spun by Pat Robertson and Bill O'Reilly.

Posted by: Zizka | Sep 23, 2004 9:41:05 AM

"One key difference, of course, is that in Germany our occupying troops didn't get attacked 2700 times a month."

And we didn't lose only 100 of our soldiers taking Germany, either, as I recall. We "bought" this victory on the installment plan, instead of cash on the barrelhead. We're fighting now the people we would have killed during the invasion, had we been so fortunate as to have Saddam's army stand it's ground and be slaughtered.

This will doubtless sound cold blooded to you, but we could lose people at this rate for the next ten years, and the war in Iraq would still have to be considered a cheap victory by the normal standards of warfare.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Sep 23, 2004 9:57:50 AM

I think that Novak's trying to counter Kerry's and Murtha's revealing Bush's plans to call up the Individual Ready Reserve should he win in November.

Posted by: Phoenix Woman | Sep 23, 2004 10:05:37 AM

The best outcome, it seems to me, would be for us to get Zarqawi, who even the Sunni insurgents hate, have Iraqi forces built up enough to be able to allow us to pull out of the bigger cities and reduce troop numbers while keeping substantial numbers on a few bases to prevent all out civil war. Allawi ought to be able to bring many of the Sunni insurgents into the political process against the more extreme terrorists after we reduce our visability. Each town and area seems very unique though.

Posted by: Reg | Sep 23, 2004 11:20:07 AM

Another possibility is that religious leaders completely bypass the US and our puppets -- as suggested by swopa and haydar at needlenose:

and comments on

I'm not sure the US could afford to allow that, but it is a way to set up a government with fairly widespread popular support for at least a short term.

Posted by: tinman | Sep 23, 2004 12:59:37 PM

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