What Happens in Iraq When America Leaves?

October 26th, 2011 at 11:46 am | 41 Comments |

| Print

I have praised President Obama’s willingness to kill our enemies but his refusal to support our friends may be the undoing of the Middle East. I have spent a few days reading articles and cogitating on the announcement that we are leaving Iraq at the end of the year.

There are a few strains of thought on this. One is that it is a diplomatic failure that is a mark of losing the peace. Another is to wait and see. Of course Democrats and Paulites are thrilled.

I am betwixt and between the “wait and see” and those who think it is losing the peace. When we toppled Saddam and the Taliban I was hopeful that they would be platforms for destabilizing the Iranian and Syrian regimes. Inexplicably the Bush administration after 2005 and the Obama administration always failed to use our presence in either country to put pressure on these two rogue regimes. Instead, Iran was able to target our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan without retaliation. Syria is vulnerable yet we exert no pressure.

The Iraqi public is ambivalent about our presence there. What they really want is for us to stay but to vilify any pro-U.S. political parties. I think the Obama administration is absolutely right that we can’t stay without immunity from Iraqi law for our troops. They would simply stay as pawns for the worst sort of politicians without it. Whether more skillful diplomacy could do that I’m not sure, but it would be more doable for a more committed administration.

Those troops would likely have helped to stabilize Iraq. Now she will be vulnerable and more easily influenced by Iran. We will lose the possible pressure of troops on Iran’s flank, but as far as I know we were not using that pressure. Moreover, ground troops are the least of Iraq’s military troubles. It needs credible air and sea power to contest with Iran and hold its territory and influence. Those will have to be provided by the U.S. so some deal will likely be worked out in that area.

Which comes to the last point. President Obama may believe that ex-military “contractors” who act as privatized advisors to Iraq can take the place of ground troops for most duties. After all, with a weak economy President Obama can not survive Iraqi “boat people” or the like. No matter what you think of the President he will not want Iraq imploding during his term.

Therefore he may very well have a “contractor plus” strategy in the works. I think we should have stayed in Iraq another five years as its civil institutions took hold, but given that our troops are an expensive target and we were not using them to pressure our main enemies in the region, the argument for removing them is not trivial.

In the end no one knows what will happen in Iraq. But we do know that in Iraq, Americans lead and the dictator was found, tried and executed. In Libya Americans followed and the dictator was killed like a mad dog by a baying mob. I’m indifferent to how dictators die but those who are applauding the American pull out ought to reflect on how messy and violent even welcomed outcomes are likely to be without a U.S. presence.

Recent Posts by John Vecchione



41 Comments so far ↓

  • Watusie

    If you were to pause and reflect for a moment, Vecchione, you would see that you are conflating the messy and violent end for one individual in Libya with the messy and violent ends suffered by hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq.

    Now matter how many novel ways you employ to spin it, at the end of the day Libya is the perfect to foil to illustrate what a fiasco Iraq was.

    And, BTW: you moan that Iran will have more influence in Iraq after American troops leave. Was that not always going to be the case? Would not President McCain or President Palin have withdrawn the American troops at some point, thereby enabling Iran to exert more influence? Or was it your idea that we should occupy Iraq permanently?

    • Fart Carbuncle

      It’s premature to compare Libya to Iraq.

      Libya has a chance to become an Islamist anarchy like Somalia.

      Iraq has a chance to become the same, or, benefit from the American post-war civil-military affairs operations.

      We’ll see.

      • Watusie

        No matter what happens in Libya were aren’t going to expend the lives of 4,000 soliders there, or burn $1 trillion dollars there. So no, it isn’t too early to make a comparison.

        • Fart Carbuncle

          More Bush hate.

          He’s been gone for years. Calm down.

        • ottovbvs

          “He’s been gone for years.”

          The evil that men do lives after them
          Julius Caesar

          I realize this may be a concept beyond your understanding brain fart.

        • Watusie

          Interesting that the statement of two brief quantifiable facts = Bush hate.

  • ottovbvs

    “One is that it is a diplomatic failure that is a mark of losing the peace.”

    Err…we’re leaving under the terms of a treaty that was negotiated by the Bush administration! We’d have been willing to keep a small number of trainers in the country but they’d have had no legal immunity which obviously would have been acceptable to Vecchione. Finally I’d say what peace? The country remains deeply sundered; hundreds of Iraqis have died this year in bomb incidents; and a govt that has been in office for two years has still not been able to appoint either a defense minister or a minister of the interior (both of whom control security forces of course) so claims of diplomatic failure are completely fatuous. It is a huge debacle in whatever terms you measure it (although Vecchione has supported it all the way) and the majority of Americans realise this which is why over 60% are very pleased to see Obama bringing all these guys home.

  • Graychin

    Shouldn’t the Iraqis have a say in how long American troops remain in their country?

    As far as Mr. Vecchione is concerned – no. He fails even to mention the Iraqi civil authorities. A telling omission.

    It’s why Americans are often described as “ugly.”

  • gmat

    With the US gone from Iraq, Turkey and Iran will compete for regional influence.

    Iran will get a nuke, followed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

    And the Gulf States will keep shipping oil, which is the only valid strategic concern that the US has in the region, so it’s all good.

    • Bingham

      “Iraq” is an artificial construct which the Brits created in the 20′s to justify their hegemony. If the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds want to remain in a union, it will be a very loose one.

      And yes, America’s only valid concern in the region is to keep the oil flowin’.

  • Rabiner

    ” What they really want is for us to stay but to vilify any pro-U.S. political parties.”

    It’s pretty impressive for you to write this without any evidence of the sort. Iraqi’s are doing fine without us in such a large presence and will do just fine when we aren’t there at all.

    • Fart Carbuncle

      Yes, they’re doing fine without us…because we overthrew and hung Saddam, which they couldn’t do.

      • ottovbvs

        “because we overthrew and hung Saddam, which they couldn’t do.”

        Yes brain fart…and it was so cheap. Only 4400 Americans and 200,000 Iraqis killed, 30,000 Americans and god knows how many Iraqis wounded, and $1.5 trillion down the drain…..you’ve got great value judgement there brain fart….mind you you didn’t know hispanics were originally from Europe so perhaps it’s not too suprising.

  • budgiegirl

    That region will never be 100% stable. Right now it is stable-ish. Mr. Vecchione, for how much longer would you be willing to stay to reach 100% stability? Another 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? The law of diminishing returns kicks in, in fact has already kicked in.
    We are not free to leave our men and women in other countries indefinitely – for financial reasons (i.e. it costs money), military reasons (i.e. it uses up our resources), and diplomatic reasons (i.e. lengthy occupations tend to breed ill-will). I think we have about done what we can do. It’s time to move on.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “Whether more skillful diplomacy could do that I’m not sure, but it would be more doable for a more committed administration.”

    Nonsense. In fact, the more we pushed the more they would have pushed back, what I found more likely to be true was our reluctance would have scared them enough into asking us to stay on our terms since they would have been the ones doing the asking and not us doing the pressuring. It didn’t work out that way. So be it.

    “Now she will be vulnerable and more easily influenced by Iran.” This is way overstated. Iran is Persian, they speak Farsi, Iranians view Arabs the same way northerners view southerners, as ignorant boobs. And Arabs have no love for Persians either.
    The US made the exact same mistake with Vietnam thinking they would fall under China’s influence when it was the US prescence that made Vietnam an unwilling ally of China, after they won Vietnam and China had its own brief, bloody war.
    While I don’t think that will happen with Iraq and Iran, they will never be allies and Iraq sure as hell will never be under the thumb of Iran.

  • balconesfault

    When we toppled Saddam and the Taliban I was hopeful that they would be platforms for destabilizing the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

    That was the fantasy, wasn’t it?

    We’d roll over Saddam … and quickly redeploy for taking out Syria … and after that we could waltz right into Teheran and complete the neocon dream.

    Except the people who came up with the neocon dream were too damn stupid to forsee an Iraq where deBaathification would lead to an insurrection that would tie down our forces for almost a decade, sacrificing thousands of good young men and women, and forcing us to borrow enough money to help send our economy into a tailspin.

    I’m surprised that there’s anyone left who isn’t too ashamed to admit that they were one of the dumbf***s who thought that whole plan was going to be easy.

  • LFC

    “When we toppled Saddam and the Taliban I was hopeful that they would be platforms for destabilizing the Iranian and Syrian regimes. Inexplicably the Bush administration after 2005 and the Obama administration always failed to use our presence in either country to put pressure on these two rogue regimes.”

    It’s amazing to see somebody come to FF and write about Iraq when he can’t even remember what the state of our occupation of Iraq looked like just a few years back (like 2005). Somehow he doesn’t know that the U.S. military was near the breaking point. The Sunni Awakening hadn’t even occurred yet and we were completely tied in knots. The “surge” (minor compared to the Sunni Awakening that preceded it) hadn’t occurred yet. Syria and Iran weren’t afraid of us because they knew we were stupidly bogged down in Iraq.

    This is an unserious piece by a person who either doesn’t know or refuse to acknowledge the reality of the situation we were in. This is the kind of person who would gladly talk us into yet another war without even a minute’s reflection on what went wrong in our past failures.

  • think4yourself

    JV, not one of your best.
    1. Your previous article was not in praise of Obama, it was sarcasm aimed the weak GOP.

    2. “the Obama administration is absolutely right that we can’t stay without immunity…Whether more skillful diplomacy could do that I’m not sure, but it would be more doable for a more committed administration.”

    So first you agree the President was right about immunity, then say if he had been committed he could have gotten it. Um, wasn’t this the President who ran on getting out of Iraq? Wasn’t the original deal negotiated by the Bush Admin? If GWB wasn’t committed to this, you think Obama should have more committed?

    3. ” in Iraq, Americans lead and the dictator was found, tried and executed. In Libya Americans followed and the dictator was killed like a mad dog by a baying mob.”

    As said by other commentators; if Americans had been given a choice of 10 years in Iraq, 4,400 US servicemen killed, 30,000 wounded (plus killed amongst our allies and US Contractors – 6,000+ total) a trillion dollars and counting (wait till we add up the VA bills over the next 50 years). The result being a killed dicator and unstable democracy. Or 8 months, no US deaths and a 1% of a trillion spent, for a killed dictator and possible unstable democracy –

    Which do you think the American public would choose?

  • wileedog

    “But we do know that in Iraq, Americans lead and the dictator was found, tried and executed. In Libya Americans followed and the dictator was killed like a mad dog by a baying mob”

    Great. 4400 American families will never see their sons and daughters again so we could determine how neat and tidy an evil dictator could be killed.

    If that’s “leading”, show me the back of the line.

  • Rick123

    What we should have done was establish a military dictatorship in Iraq to keep the Iranians occupied. Then, perhaps, Iraq and Iran could go to war with each other and we could sell Iraq weapons to fight the Iranians, in exchange for Iraqi oil. We would just have to hope that this new militarized Iraq doesn’t invade other countries that sell us oil like Kuwait, because then we might have invade Iraq to overthrow the military dictatorship.

    Nah…that would never happen.

    • balconesfault

      You forgot the part about also selling the Iranians weapons, so you could use the proceeds to fund terrorism in other parts of the world.

  • jjv

    I’ll comment quickly here. If we could not get immunity we had to go-my comment is just that I think we would have a better chance of getting such immunity if possible with a more committed administration. I am not for war against Iran. But there is pressure that can be exerted such as propaganda, intellignece gathering and even CIA disruption within certain communities in Iran so that the Mullahs are kept hopping and on defense rather than us being the targets. In Syria its even more the case with a minority regime. There are ways to keep up border pressure and keep an enemy off balance that does not require invasion. If you are going to keep troops abroad you should get maximum advantage for the blood and treasure. I think by leaving Iran and Syria alone we did not do that.

    • balconesfault

      But there is pressure that can be exerted such as propaganda, intellignece gathering and even CIA disruption within certain communities in Iran so that the Mullahs are kept hopping and on defense rather than us being the targets.

      Thanks for replying, John.

      First, I’m convinced that propoganda is close to useless in Muslim countries. They’re so used to bullcrap being spread by their own dictatorial regimes that they largely become immune to it.

      Second, I’m not sure how bases in Iraq facilitate information gathering in Iran. I need a logical connection there.

      Third, there’s as good a chance of CIA disruption being harmful to our interests as being positive. Iranian leadership already blames anything that goes wrong inside their borders on either the US or Israel … if we’re actually responsible for some of those things, the chances of that being discovered and just being used to reinforce in the minds of many Iranians that the US is a great Satan determined to harm their country.

      If you are going to keep troops abroad you should get maximum advantage for the blood and treasure.

      You are familiar with the term “sunk costs”, right?

    • ottovbvs

      “But there is pressure that can be exerted such as propaganda, intellignece gathering and even CIA disruption within certain communities in Iran so that the Mullahs are kept hopping and on defense rather than us being the targets.”

      I wonder what world Vecchione lives in. Essentially here he seems to be suggesting one of the principal reasons (more likely the principal reason) for staying in Iraq is to use it as a staging post for conducting an undeclared war against Iran. As if this was going to be remotely acceptable to the Iraqis who are clearly destined to become a satellite of Iran as the reasonably informed said all along would happen if Hussein were removed. Few people have been more consistently wrong about the entire Iraq debacle and yet this guy continues to promote new and ridiculous adventurism.

    • wileedog

      “But there is pressure that can be exerted such as propaganda, intellignece gathering and even CIA disruption within certain communities in Iran so that the Mullahs are kept hopping and on defense rather than us being the targets.”

      So if we must play Tom Clancy novel, last I checked we are still in Afghanistan. Why can’t we do all of this from there?

      Although I will point out, I don’t think this is really a good use of our time or resources for reasons balcone astutely pointed out above.

  • Houndentenor

    When we leave Iraq it will likely dissolve into a civil war between Shiites, Sunni and Kurds. That would have happened if we left 5 years ago, the end of this year or 20 years from now. Nothing will be gained from staying on. What will be will be. Someone should have asked these questions before we invaded. Oh wait, some of us did and we were accused of treason.

  • Primrose

    You are not really going with this narrative are you? Trying to tell the American people that Mr. Obama is at fault for not extending the Iraq war?

  • Frumplestiltskin

    One last thing, I don’t believe that Iraq will be such a disaster that JJV thinks, Venezuela has more civilian deaths a year than does Iraq and no one is advocating invading there. Nor do I think Iraq will devolve into another oligarchy, at least one that is not broadbased and has support of the leadership of enough Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. Think more a quasi corrupt council of elders with rotating leadership which is far better than before.

  • dugfromthearth

    I am impressed with this article that makes it clear the author and neocons care only about the 1%. The issue in wars is not what happens to the 99% of the population, but just the dictator. Spend $1 trillion or $1 billion, kill hundreds of thousands or not. Lose thousands of American lives or none. None of that matters – those are issues for the 99%. What really matters is how the dictators died.

    I admire your bold and honest disregard for humanity, money, and morality.

  • LocalGroup

    Thanks for your in depth article.

    John V: “The Iraqi public is ambivalent about our presence there.”

    LATimes: Iraq eager to see U.S. troops leave
    Though some Iraqis fear that the withdrawal could lead to greater instability, others seem to think a quick U.S. departure is most preferable.

    October 23, 2011|By Raheem Salman and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, Reporting from Baghdad and Beirut — More than 1 million Americans have served in Iraq, and almost 4,500 lost their lives there. Now the Iraqis have given the U.S. military an unequivocal message: Go home.

    Eight years after U.S. troops overthrew Saddam Hussein, there is little
    enthusiasm among people on the street for a sustained U.S. presence.

    And although some Iraqis undoubtedly fear that the U.S. withdrawal could lead to greater instability, others — notably the lawmakers elected after the U.S.-enabled democratic transition — appear to think that a quick U.S. departure is about the best thing that could happen.
    In the United States, the debate over Iraq focuses on the possibility of greater
    insecurity once U.S. troops leave. Advocates of sustaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq argue that even a limited number of troops could act as a counterweight against Iran’s growing influence in the country in the wake of Hussein — who was an implacable foe of the Islamic Republic — and since the emergence of a Shiite-dominated government with close ties to Tehran.

    In Iraq, however, many associate the U.S. presence with instability, violence and suspect motives in a conflict that is believed to have cost at least 100,000 Iraqi lives. These critics view U.S. troops as a lightning rod for militia attacks.

    A representative of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Shiite-led ruling coalition said Iraqis were “thankful” for the role of the U.S. and other nations in ousting Hussein, but another official added that the Americans “put the country on the brink of civil war.”

    “They were part of the reason behind the ethnic and sectarian tension,” said Saad Muttalbi.

    The Shiites have long been cool to U.S. troops in Iraq. But leading politicians from Sunni and Kurdish blocs who once welcomed the American presence now also agree that the U.S. must leave.

    The largely Sunni Iraqiya bloc headed by Iyad Allawi has gone on record against extending the stay of U.S. troops beyond the end of the year.

    Omar Jubbori, a member of the Iraqiya bloc, said Washington would be better off supporting Iraq through economic and “other channels, rather than a military presence, about which Iraqi public opinion is clear.”

    Even lawmakers from Iraqi Kurdistan, where U.S. forces were warmly received in 2003, no longer seem enthusiastic about American boots on the ground.

    “An American presence is not a condition to solve our problems,” said Mahmoud Othman, a member of the Kurdish coalition. “They’ve been here for years, and there are still problems in Iraq.”

  • zephae

    As to the comparisons between Iraq and Libya, call me when the ethnic cleansings begin in Libya as they did in Iraq under our watch.

    • ottovbvs

      Nice photoshop Dante. One other sidebar to this. Many commenters have said the procession of foreign policy successes over the last year or so (Republicans would be erecting statues by now) are not going to be of much benefit to the president. I’m not entirely sure this is true although they’ll be benefits in a negative sense. There’s no appetite in the US at the moment for more Iraqs or Afghanistans and there’s a general sense that Obama is not going to do anything stupid on the foreign policy front so to this extent I think it’s a benefit even if it’s operating in a negative way. The Vecchione worldview is totally discredited and if the Republicans start beating the foreign adventure drum or whining about bringing guys out of Iraq or Afghanistan it isn’t going to help them.