all i know to do is go
Unsurprisingly, the Iraq study group's recommendations have been leaked a week before their scheduled release, and with the unfortunate (for Bush) timing of being at the same time as the President's summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. They call for a major pullout of most combat troops by 2008. I'm sure we'll learn much more about the report in the leadup to its release next Wednesday.
The problem with a scheduled pullout, as I tell my students, is that it creates an opportunity for those who want to destabilize a country, and a huge problem for those who are leaving. If you don't have a political settlement to a security problem, and the a faction/rebel group/whatever knows that an occupying force (or a peacekeeping force) is going to leave by date x, they have an incentive to abide by peace agreements only up to the withdrawl date. In the case of Iraq, it doesn't look like there will be any peace agreement (it's hard to arrange a ceasefire when you're denying there's a civil war), but nonetheless, the people who are causing trouble have an incentive to bide their time, build up weapons caches, and just wait for American forces to leave so they can cause chaos.
This is why the Bush administration is so concerned with building up the capacity of Iraqi security and police forces. As well it should be. Whether it's possible to do just that by 2008 is up for debate. I doubt it.
The professor for whom I TA spent today talking about the Bush administration's reasons for going to war. He thinks that it was about the oil, but not in the way you think - not to ensure big profits for American oil companies. Rather, he thinks it was about ensuring long-term American access to Middle Eastern oil in order to ensure our geopolitical security in the decades to come.
I tend to agree with that assessment. I've never been convinced by the conspiracy theories about Haliburton and Dyncorp (although there's no question they're getting richer off the war), and they clearly cherry-picked the intelligence in making the argument about WMD's. In November 2001, when the shock of 9/11 was still very much on our minds, the professor for whom I TA'd at Yale (who was a former Reagan administration official and is one of the smartest people I know) observed to the class that the Bush Administration had ordered the Strategic Petroleum Reserves filled. "They'll go to war in Iraq," he said, more than 18 months before the fact, and six months before they even started to build a case, and he was right. There's an argument to be made that our long-term access to oil was worth a war that established a presence for the U.S. in the Persian Gulf. If we don't have an assurred petroleum source, our economy will crash and our military dominance over the world will be in serious jeopardy.
I see the logic. But the human cost is too high, for the American public, and for the world.
Three weeks ago on the flight to Seattle, I sat next to an American soldier. Our plane was full of soldiers - they'd flown into Dallas from Iraq, and people gave up their seats on the flight so the soldiers could get home for two weeks of leave. The guy I sat next to told me about life in Mosul, where they're based, about how hot it is, and how long their 36-hour flight home had been. He told me about the people in Seattle who hassle him for being a soldier. "They don't understand that I don't want to be there anymore than they want me there," he said. He told me how he'd been waking up the whole trip home, reaching for his weapon only to remember that he's not in the desert anymore. "I don't want to go back," he said, but they had to be back by Thanksgiving.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Nathan made it home. Nathan is the older brother of one of my childhood best friends. I don't have a brother, but Nathan was willing to let his sister and her friend tag along with his friends to explore the woods behind their house from time to time. Nathan's been in Iraq for a year, leading a National Guard unit. While he was gone, his high school sweetheart Dianne had to take care of their two preschoolers on her own.
Andrew is still in Iraq. I worry about Andrew; he's a translator, and the army doesn't have enough translators. He has to work hard all the time, and go to the places where split-second understandings of someone's meaning could be the difference between life and death.
This war is so awful. We've asked hundreds of thousands of young men and women to fight an unnecessary war that appears to be unwinnable. We've set them up to suffer from a lifetime of post-traumatic stress syndrome, and to be part of a war that will go down as America's second major military defeat. We've killed thousands and thousands of Iraqi civilians, and destroyed their country's security infrastructure without adequately repairing it. And before this is over, we will leave the Iraqi people to suffer through a full-scale civil war. And for what?