Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Q Day 5: Iraq

Couves, a great commenter, asks:
Leon Panetta recently said that the US would be open to leaving troops in Iraq after this year. Given the increased levels for violence against our troops this past month, would Obama face any political fallout by choosing to not withdraw our forces?
I think the question gets it right. If US casualties are at the level that they were at for the last months of 2010 -- five deaths, three of them classified as combat deaths, over three months -- then I think the administration could keep a relatively small number of troops there indefinitely without any serious political cost. A few disgruntled liberals would be seriously unhappy, but almost everyone else would forget all about it. I'm sure if you asked liberals, they would be opposed, but the odds that very many of them would actively care about it would be small.

However, at 10-20 dead a month, that's a lot harder to sustain.

Or, to put it another way: at least in my view, what matters as far as domestic politics is concerned are entirely the casualties, not the troop numbers or the policy, or even the results.


  1. Jonathan,

    Thank you for the answer and for the compliment. I agree that there may be no political fallout if our troops stay relatively safe. But the troop numbers certainly do matter if it means that we continue to send our national guard overseas. There’s also a possibility that the budget battles could push the issue to the forefront. Ron Paul phrases his top issue as: “look, we’re spending way too much, but we should end the wars before we touch any other part of the budget.” Gary Johnson has an anti-war message that’s just as strong and Huntsman joins them with a more tepid opposition. It probably won’t be enough to actually win the nomination, but a strong anti-war Republican campaign may change the debate on this issue and force Obama to act in accordance with his progressive base. He's already walking a tightrope, it wouldn't take much...

  2. Obviously the troop number matters to us policy wonks, but the body count (and probably the total body count for the conflict) matter more. Libya is a perfect example: no US casualties and the conflict couldn't be farther from most people's minds, it only gets referenced in passing with our other two wars.

    The Iraq war has grown sour in the public's mind, and they wont tolerate further casualties, but it'll take a death to get the wars back in the news, so as long as the deaths are spread out enough people probably wont notice.

  3. Jason,

    Putting a lot of troops in combat requires new mobilizations of the National Guard (as well as the regular forces, who also like to spend time with their families). I know a Guardsman leaving for Afghanistan next week. Yes, casualties are by far the most politically incendiary part of war, but repeated troop deployments are not merely an academic concern.


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