What would be the effects on Iraqi domestic politics of an American announcement of a full withdrawal from Iraq over a 16-18 month period? For the purposes of this memo, I consider the precise timeline of the withdrawal less important than the firm, credible, public commitment to withdrawal.
First, any plausible withdrawal scenario must consider how the major actors will respond to a coming US departure and try to pre-empt most likely flashpoints. A US withdrawal should not seen exclusively as the removal of a barrier between otherwise unchanged Iraqi actors. A US withdrawal would change the identities, interests, expectations, and behavior of all actors. These transformative effects are a major reason why a firm and credible commitment to withdrawal on a clear timetable is necessary to achieve an acceptable outcome. Without such a commitment, Iraqi and regional actors alike will continue on their current course, while recent security gains will crumble as the political window closes. Without it, a Maliki-led or Maliki-like government will not be likely to deliver substantive political accommodation. Only faced with the loss of an open-ended U.S. commitment would its calculations would change. The same is true for every other actor in the Iraqi arena: Shia and Sunni, Green Zone and local, pro-US or insurgency. [complete article]
Imagine it’s early 2003, and President George W. Bush presents the following case for invading Iraq:
We’re about to go to war against Saddam Hussein. Victory on the battlefield will be swift and fairly clean. But then 100,000 U.S. troops will have to occupy Iraq for about 10 years. On average, nearly 1,000 of them will be killed and another 10,000 injured in each of the first 5 years. We’ll spend at least $1 trillion on the war and occupation, and possibly trillions more. Toppling Saddam will finish off a ghastly tyranny, but it will also uncork age-old sectarian tensions. More than 100,000 Iraqis will die, a few million will be displaced, and the best we can hope for will be a loosely federated Islamic republic that isn’t completely in Iran’s pocket. Finally, it will turn out that Saddam had neither weapons of mass destruction nor ties to the planners of 9/11. Our intervention and occupation will serve as the rallying cry for a new crop of terrorists.
It is extremely doubtful that Congress would have authorized such a war or that the American people would have shouted, “Bring it on!” [complete article]