Lawrence Kaplan (with
Irving William Kristol) selling The War over Iraq
The United States may need to occupy Iraq for some time. Though the UN, European and Arab forces will, as in Afghanistan, contribute troops, the principal responsibility will doubtless fall to the country that liberates Baghdad. According to one estimate, initially as many as 75,000 US troops may be required to police the warâ€™s aftermath, at a cost of $16 billion a year. As other countriesâ€™ forces arrive, and as Iraq rebuilds its economy and political system, that force could probably be drawn to several thousand soldiers after a year or two. After Saddam Hussein has been defeated and Iraq occupied installing a decent democratic government in Baghdad should be a manageable task for the United States. quoted here (pp19-20)
Lawrence Kaplan presenting “The Case for Staying in Iraq” in TNR
The administration intends to draw down troop levels to 100,000 by the end of the year, with the pullback already well underway as U.S. forces surrender large swaths of the countryside and hunker down in their bases. The plan infuriates many officers, who can only say privately what noncommissioned officers say openly. “In order to fix the situation here,” Sabre Squadron’s Sergeant JosÃ© Chavez says, “we need at least 180,000 troops.” Iraq, however, will soon have about half that. An effective counterinsurgency strategy may require time and patience. But the war’s architects have run out of both.
Maybe if Kaplan, Kristol and others had told us this in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a war.
Kaplan makes a pretty good argument that a pullout now would lead to disaster, and the latest horrific events strengthen his case. On the other hand, whereas Kaplan uses an admittedly isolated (and partial) success story to claim that the US is seen by Iraqis as an “honest broker, more peacekeeper than belligerent”, this is hard to square with a lot of evidence that suggests the opposite. As Kaplan himself says, the focus on massive military sweeps means that the “hearts and minds” strategy he favours would be starting from scratch, three years into the occupation. And the massive civilian casualties produced by military sweeps and a single-minded focus on “force protection” means that US forces have made many deadly enemies, going far beyond Baathists and jihadists.
Unfortunately, at this point, there are no good outcomes on offer. The US doesn’t have the 180 000 troops (“at least”) needed for Kaplan’s proposal, and no one else is going to supply them. If the troops were available, there’s no reason to suppose that they would be any more successful than they have been so far.
If there is a better option than setting an immediate timetable for withdrawal, ending some time next year, it isn’t on the table.