How to Get out of Iraq
Here is a copy of an email I sent about the piece to a discussion list:
Just to clarify in light of . . . comments, I was not proposing an optimistic scenario, or, indeed, any scenario at all.
I was simply saying that Saudi Arabia and Iran do not have to have a proxy war in Iraq if they don’t want to have one, and that it is possible for them to take the prudent steps that would forestall it.
Many commentators present the prospect of such a war as inevitable or as preventable only by a continued US military presence. The US presence, however, has made things worse every single one of the past three years, because it unwittingly removes the incentives to compromise from local Iraqi forces and helps to paralyze the neighbors from playing a prominent role. Remove the US military from the equation, I am arguing, and it is far more likely that all parties concerned will begin behaving more responsibly.
I cannot guarantee that outcome. I can say that the past 3 years do not make me sanguine that things will get better with a continued US dominance.
I also wrote to an email discussion group:
With regard to the fate of the Iraqi Kurds if the US withdraws: I don’t believe that the US troops are doing the Kurds of Iraq any good. There are very few US troops in the north. Are there any at all in the KRG? There are some near Kirkuk. Some 3000 GIs were recently withdrawn from Mosul and sent to Baghdad as part of the current security plan.
The Kurdistan Regional Government is stable and relatively secure because over 60,000 well-armed and well-trained Peshmerga provide security. The Peshmerga are recognized by the Iraqi constitution as the legitimate security forces of Kurdistan, so there is no reason that the US cannot go on supplying and training them. I don’t believe there is any evidence that they need US ground troops in order to survive. The Peshmerga are the best and most committed indigenous military force in Iraq and virtually the only part of the Iraqi army (where they have been detailed to it) that have consistently stood their ground in firefights.
The Kurds needed protection when Saddam was in power and had 4,000 remaining tanks with which to menace them. That situation has changed.
As for the politics of the situation, the same thing applies here as elswhere. The Kurdish political leadership under Massoud Barzani has been remarkably inflexible with regard to key demands of the Sunni Arabs, and I believe that this inflexibility derives in some large part from a conviction that US troops will protect the Kurds and so they need not negotiate with the Sunni Arabs as equals. Remove the US from the equation, and I expect everyone will be more flexible.