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Friday, April 13, 2007

Timetables for Iraq

Posted by: Hammer / 9:05 AM

Robert Parry takes a look at timetables in Iraq:

It has become a standard part of George W. Bush’s litany for why he will veto a congressional plan for setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq: “Why would you say to the enemy, ‘Here’s a timetable. Just go ahead and wait us out?’”

Well, there’s a logical answer to Bush’s rhetorical question. If a timetable encourages Iraqi insurgents to silence their guns and to stop planting roadside bombs – even temporarily to wait the Americans out – Iraq might get the breathing space it needs to begin healing its sectarian divisions.

Indeed, one could argue that Bush’s “surge” plan and Bush’s fear about letting the enemy “wait us out” offer essentially the same opportunity: to achieve enough peace and quiet in the short term for reconciliation and reconstruction to begin.

That's my thinking exactly. The best argument for a timetable is, the reason Bush uses to argue against a timetable.

Clearly, there's more at work here. Take a look at McCain's latest speech on Iraq:

America has a vital interest in preventing the emergence of Iraq as a Wild West for terrorists, similar to Afghanistan before 9/11. By leaving Iraq before there is a stable Iraqi governing authority we risk precisely this, and the potential consequence of allowing terrorists sanctuary in Iraq is another 9/11 or worse. In Iraq today, terrorists have resorted to levels of barbarism that shock the world, and we should not be so naive as to believe their intentions are limited solely to the borders of that country. We Americans are their primary enemy, and we Americans are their ultimate target.

A power vacuum in Iraq would invite further interference from Iran at a time when Tehran already feels emboldened enough to develop nuclear weapons, threaten Israel and America, and kidnap British sailors. If the government collapses in Iraq, which it surely will if we leave prematurely, Iraq's neighbors, from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Egypt, will feel pressure to intervene on the side of their favored factions. This uncertain swirl of events could cause the region to explode and foreclose the opportunity for millions of Muslims and their children to achieve freedom. We could face a terrible choice: watch the region burn, the price of oil escalate dramatically and our economy decline, watch the terrorists establish new base camps or send American troops back to Iraq, with the odds against our success much worse than they are today.

I don't think McCain's got it right, either. Iraq is not Afghanistan. Afghanistan featured a strong, geographically limited government. The Taliban's rule did not stretch to the borders of the country, but it did provide resources and support to terrorists within its sphere of influence. The Afghani model, then, includes a functioning government supporting terrorists. The McCain forecast for Iraq is a collapsed state. This is a striking difference.

McCain argues that Americans are the ultimate target for Muslim extremists. I think he's incorrect. Sunni extremists such as those in al Qaeda view Shiites as the primary enemy. I'm willing to be educated on this point, but I do believe the senator misunderstands the stated objectives of al Qaeda.

The Sunnis clearly do not want us in Iraq (though they should). Thousands -- perhaps millions -- of Shia want us out of Iraq, as well. The increasingly irrelevant minority that wants the U.S. to stay in Iraq continues to lose credibility and support. If there comes a time when no Iraqis want American forces in Iraq, will we stay even then?

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