Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Question for Liberals

Suppose that Barack Obama keeps to his current plans in Iraq.  So far, he's cut the number of American troops there to just under 50,000, and American casualties have dropped: there were 108 American military deaths in Iraq in the last six months of 2008, 94 in the first six months of Obama's presidency (February through July 2009), 45 in the next six months, and 29 so far in the most recent six months, with a couple days to go in August.  So, suppose that American casualties continue to fall without quite hitting zero over the next year, and that Obama continues to withdraw troops, leaving very few ("guarding the embassy") troops but still a significant American civilian presence in Iraq at the end of 2011.  If that's the case, how will you grade Obama's performance on Iraq?  And, does anything other than the pace of American withdrawal and the numbers of American casualties figure in to your grading (such as the stability of the Iraqi government, the level of violence within Iraq, the degree to which Iraq is allied with either the US or Iran, or any other such information)? 


  1. Successfully mopping up that debacle is going to be an unquestionable high point of the Obama Presidency, a foreign policy bookend to Health Care Reform--if it happens. Overall, the performance is fine, if uninteresting; Chris Hill was probably not an ideal pick for Ambassador, things like that which only really matter in the end at the margins (I'd have preferred Zinni, frex), but for a crazy war of choice, this is a decent mop up. Iraq as the miserable, Middle Eastern Bangladesh isn't great, but, I guess it'll do.

    Once Sadr's party gets a sticking plurality and once we're gone, there's a non-trivial chance we'll end up allied against Iran. But the non-government formation crisis is a lingering problem that the Administration will have to consider, and the Iraqi Refugees (both internal and external). And the withdrawal will be marred with a bunch of quisling executions once we're gone.

  2. Frankly, getting us (mostly) out and Iraq not falling into a complete civil war would be an unqualified success, in my mind. If the region stays relatively stable (ie Iraq isn't divided up between Iran, Syria, etc with the Kurdish north starting a war with Turkey) I think you have to call it a "win".

    It has to be said, sadly, that much of this was put into action by the previous administration. Obama hasn't meaningfully changed our policy in Iraq from where Bush left it. The war was still a complete mistake to start in the first place, but Bush should get some credit for cleaning it up once it did turn to complete crap.

  3. Obama (and Clinton) promised a "responsible" withdrawal from Iraq. I think that is being accomplished. It would be good to see a working Iraqi government, a reduction in violence, indeed a thriving democracy in Iraq strongly allied with US interests. But that is up to Iraq to work out. I'm fine with the limited US troops and civilian presence. I think it would be preposterous folly to completely, precipitously withdraw. So, A Plus.

  4. Obama inherited a situation with no good options. The previous three comments illustrate how much bending you have to do to find success in this kind of a situation.

    The things you mention: "stability of the Iraqi government, the level of violence within Iraq, the degree to which Iraq is allied with either the US or Iran" are, of course, very important. Alas, it's difficult to impossible to rate Obama on these criteria, since 1) none of them can be realistically evaluated or even characerized in a short time frame and 2) how much credit/blame to give to Obama vs previously cast dies is unknowable.

    It seems to me that the great arc of foreign policy since WWII has been continuous, coherent, and fundamentally stupid, irrespective of party. In this specific instance there has not very often been a dime's worth of difference.

    Even in that context, though, the fundamental idiocy (and criminality) of a discretionary invasion of Iraq stands out as the unique low point of American Imperialism.


  5. Political stability in Iraq, including avoiding a descent into Shariah Law (kind've a loaded way to phrase that, I know) factors into my thinking on Iraq, but casualties and withdrawal are far, far bigger factors. The other stuff is important, very important for the world, but I don't know how much control Obama has over it. It's all up to the Iraqis, or it's a fait acompli from the initial, dreadful mistake of going into Iraq. So, continued withdrawal and continued drop in casualties would lead to a high grade regardless of anything else. But bear in mind that I already grade him highly on Iraq.

    What's more interesting to me is that an Iraq withdrawal is really why Obama's President (the economic situation was going to push the out-party's nominee no matter what, and Obama's anti-war cred pushed him over Clinton), yet it hasn't been a big factor in anyone's analysis of Obama. I'd like to say that that's because Bush really adopted the pull-out plan, but I wouldn't want to bet money that most people know that.

  6. The less we hear about Iraq the better. No news is good news because it indicates that things are relatively functional. I have lost track of the current political situation among the Iraqi's, and I'm glad.

    I have personal reasons for hoping for more autonomy for the Kurdish areas, but I will be happiest if this isn't an issue in 2012. I'll even give W. credit for success if that will get us out faster.

  7. Grade so far: B+

    The key consideration for me is us getting out of there without getting in MORE trouble for being there. Invading Iraq was simply creating a daily recruiting video for Al-Qaeda (and AQ-type groups). Every time US forces bust in some family's door and point a gun at grandma, that's a potentail moment we create another terrorist. Every time an old guy at a cafe tells a bitter, young unemployed guy about how many oil jobs there were before 2003, that's another potential terrorist.

    Obama can't undo the tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, or the waste of American blood and treasure. By pulling out, he can somewhat undo some of the diplomatic damage. But my grade of him on Iraq depends mostly on how good the outcome ends up, and it looks like it's kinda OK, but there's still open questions about how ugly it ends up, and how long "50,000 US troops in Iraq" is still a useful tool for further marginalizing angry young men.

  8. I believe that Obama did the best that he could with Iraq. What a lot of his base wanted was immediate withdrawal of every American trooper. This would have been a disaster in myriad of ways, including domestically at home. His liberal base would be pleased by conservatives and moderates would only view it as a sure sign that America lost and American's don't like to loose. It would have created a lot of anger.

    An orderly withdrawal prevents Iraq from looking too much like a defeat, especially if Iraq doesn't explode and implode too badly after we leave but its still a sign that we lost. Conservatives and moderates are still angry but so are many liberals because it hasn't been fast enough and we still have 50,000 soliders there. Meanwhile, an orderly withdrawal is the best for Iraq because a fast one would lead to a greater chance of explosion and implosion.

    Obama did the best that anybody could possibly do without the powers of a god.

  9. Obama gets an incomplete from me. If the circumstances within Iraq lend themselves to withdrawal next year, Obama will come under immense pressure from his national security establishment and the military to renegotiate the SOFA (so the US can maintain a strategic presence in Iraq at ostensibly no cost).

    If the situation within Iraq gets much worse during the next year the same advisers and generals will make the case that the US must come to the rescue.

    If Obama doesn't complete his withdrawal by 2012 and a GOP candidate wins the presidential election, I predict we'll go back to McCain's "fifty year plan". If Obama completes his withdrawal, indeed, and a GOP candidate wins I could see the US cutting a new deal with its dictator of choice and going back in.

    Think people are being very naive about all of this. Realpolitikers went to war for bases and oil. What has changed? Obama, no doubt, believes the US should withdraw, but if he can't complete this the vested interests which will want the US to stay are huge.

  10. With the withdrawal of bases in Saudi Arabia and the drawdown in Iraq, look for a new armed conflict to rear it's ugly head should a Rethug get elected in `12. The Neocons would push hard for it and no one in Conservative circles would oppose it vigorously enough to make a difference. If enlistments fall off and the overwhelming force school becomes ascendent in the Pentagon, alot of y'all will be seeing yer kids get shipped off as canon fodder in front of the volunteer army. The true lessons of Vietnam have been buried by the "success" of this war of choice. The lies that got us here will get buried under tons of Neoconservative flag waving again.

  11. Geoff (and others),

    Please try to keep comments and language civil. I'm fine with severe criticism of Democrats, Republicans, or me -- or other commenters -- for that matter, but I want everyone to feel welcome here, which means slurs are out.

    Thanks all.

  12. A bit premature for looking into Iraq's fortunes after the withdrawal. Violence is already up. The government may or may not be stable. I mean, when people say the "surge worked" they really mean the surge kept violence down while it was active. That's literally as far as you can go, and you can't say for sure what will happen with the violence after.

    That's why I'm not a fan of this "the surge worked" thing. Because we might still find out that we could have left in 2006 and gotten the same outcome, or maybe even 2004.

    Plus it lends credence to the idea that we can just add more troops to afghanistan, and magically we get to declare victory and leave, no matter what the dynamics of the place actually are. It's a politician's wet dream

  13. Until all non-Iraqi people are out of Iraq, the invasion by foreigners is not a success. As we're hearing, many of our "troops" are simply donning a new uniform and moving into new digs - in Iraq.

    This is a failure of my government's morals and calling this stage of our removal of our military a departure is simply a lie.

    So I give my entire goverment a fail on this. There is nothing to "celebrate", and we should be howling about the lies, not considering whether it's to Mr. Obama's credit or not.


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