Posted by: Brad | June 26, 2008

Iraq- What Happens When We Leave?

With some 80% of Americans believing that the country is on the wrong track, the stage has been set for a Democrat to win the White House in 2008. Since both Clinton and Obama have vowed to end the war in Iraq, we have to ask ourselves this question: What will happen in Iraq when the US leaves? There are a few possibilities.

Possibility #1: The Optimist’s View

The optimistic outlook on leaving Iraq states that the source of much (if not most) of the tension in Iraq comes from the continuing presence of US troops. Remove the troops, and you remove the tension. This view on Iraq is favored by many Democrats who advocate for a swift withdrawal. But this outlook is also deeply flawed. If the logic of this stance were true, then violence in Iraq would have spiked when President Bush deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq in his infamous surge. But, of course, this did not happen. Instead, violence levels dropped substantially as more troops were injected.

Possibility # 2: The Pessimist’s Outlook

The pessimistic view on Iraq is often favored by neoconservatives trying to discourage withdrawal from Iraq. This viewpoint states that if the US were to leave Iraq, complete chaos would grip the country. Iraq’s ability to drill precious oil would be decimated, and Iran would come to dominate the region. The Kurds would secede from the rest of the country, and Turkey would be drawn into a vicious war with Kurdish rebels in its southern provinces seeking to join their independent Iraqi brethren. Jealous Sunni countries would then intervene to help the Sunni minority in Iraq, and a region- wide war between Shiites and Sunnis would ensue. Unlike the optimist’s outlook, this view of withdrawing from Iraq actually has some merit. As Bush himself has pointed out, chaos reigned for a time in Vietnam after the US withdrew. However, it is important to remember that Vietnam eventually stabilized, and had the US prolonged the war in Vietnam, the country would have almost certainly suffered greater devastation.

Possibility # 3: The Realist’s Outlook

This final possibility, which I believe has the most merit, is a tempered down version of the pessimist’s outlook. Under this possibility, US withdrawal from Iraq will lead to a full blown civil war, which will probably be won by al-Sadr or another dictatorial figure. Iran will probably increase its influence in Iraq, though it will not be able to completely dominate Iraqi politics. The Kurds may try to secede, but in order to do so, they would need to wrestle precious oil wells in central Iraq away from other factions, while simultaneously dealing with Turkish and American reproach. Considering that significant numbers of US troops are stationed in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, a regional war that would disrupt oil flow from the Middle East would be unlikely (ie. the Iranians would be unable to seize Sunni oil supplies). To be sure, this outlook is bleak. It means that the US has wasted billions of dollars and thousands of lives on a conflict that only weakened our position in a crucial region of the world. But staying in Iraq longer does not make sense under this scenario, as we will only delay the inevitable. Even if the surge is “working”, our generals on the ground have conceded that a military solution is impossible. With political progress fleeting, the sooner America can extricate itself from Iraq, the better.


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