|IS IT JUST me? I keep hearing reported that the Baker Report calls for
"all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by 2008". That is NOT at all what it
says. Nor is this the strategy that underlies the Report. The U.S. may be
going in a very different direction.
1) In the Report's view all U.S. "combat brigades" (i.e. as self-contained
units) would merely be administratively dissolved by 2008. But after 2008
about half the "combat troops" would remain - *indefinitely* - either
reflagged as "embedded" in Iraqi combat brigades, or operating in free
standing units focusing on combating al-Quada (see pp 71-72). About half
the troops not directly in combat would also remain after 2008 -
indefinitely - for "training, equipping, advising, force protection, and
search and rescue" as well as "intelligence and support". This is
estimated to amount to 70,000 to 80,000 troops (as compared to 140,000
today). See New York Times:
The Study Group opposed ANY timetable for the withdrawal of this half of
the U.S. combat troops (p.67).
2) There appears to be a clear strategy behind this approach. The U.S.
troops will hunker down and wait out the Iraqi civil war. Their
justification for their inaction/ineffectiveness will be that they are
"embedded" with those elements of the Iraqi national army that do not
dissolve into the civil war - and these remaining Iraqi brigades troops
firmly intend to remain mostly in their barracks during that war. At the
same time, crack U.S. combat troops, operating independently, will continue
to try to keep al-Quada in check (but without the need to take casualties
by holding territory or restoring control).
By implication it is anticipated that, at some point, the warring sides of
the civil war will simply wear themselves down, and be resigned to an
accommodation that reflects the balance of forces - also accepting, in
their exhaustion and horror at the massacre, the Pax Americana. The
smaller footprint with far fewer U.S. casualties should buy enough time in
the U.S, for the extended wait.
[This is, in fact, similar to the scenario that was played out in the
first 10 years of the Lebanese Civil War - a core of the Lebanese Army
remained intact (and mostly in their barracks) from 1975 until February
1984. The army remained largely neutral and despite the dominance of
Christian officers, Muslim and Druze troops stayed in the Lebanese national
army until the same month as the final the withdrawal of the U.S.
Marines. A further blow to the Army's neutrality came in 1987 when its
Christian Commander (General Aoun, who is today aligned with Hezbollah and
Syria) accepted the Presidency of the country contrary to the National
Pact. But the relevant point that remains in most people's mind is that of
an army and a facade of a national government that remain for a long time
outside a civil war. And the ultimate acceptance of the foreign Syrian
control as a lesser of evils.]
3) For a stalemate scenario to the civil war, additional outside parties
must not intervene and a balance of forces must be maintained. This will
require considerable cooperation from Iran, Syria, et al and concessions to
them (which the Report emphasizes). Under today's conditions it will
probably also require some tilting towards those Sunni elements that do not
have al-Quada links, as they are the weaker party (and the Report also
foreshadows such a tilt).
4) The consequence is potentially a very bloody indefinite civil war that
the U.S. subtlety prevents either side from winning until the U.S. forces
emerge as the only ones left standing.
This is also very risky - so a brightly marked exit strategy is
offered. It is said that if the Iraqi government does not meet the U.S.
milestones (which they will not) the U.S. reserves the right, at a time of
its choosing, to withdraw unilaterally (recommendations 40 & 41). All
prejudice should fall to the Iraqis (and perhaps to those governments who
did not lend support). To key parts of the U.S. elite an exit strategy is
a part of what has been missing for 3 years.
There has been a great relief to see the Iraq war described in honest
language and to see Bush personally rebuked. But we must look closely at
the objectives and strategy now proposed. It seems to me, this is a
strategy that hopes to:
- prolong U.S. military involvement indefinitely
- buy time for that involvement at home, hopefully past the 2008 elections;
- put the civil war on an open ended basis, without U.S. accountability
for the result;
- maintain ultimate U.S. control in Iraq in key areas.