Monday, July 09, 2007

Withdrawal From Iraq Would Open Pandora's Box

As we get closer to the crunch in the Iraq war, it is becoming evident that even some of the proponents of an American withdrawal are beginning to recognize that too quick, or even too complete, a withdrawal would open up a Pandora's Box, exposing the Middle East to a wider war and raising, not lowering, the danger from Al-Qaeda.

The result may be a tentative, and limited withdrawal, perhaps even announced by the Bush Administration. The war would go on, including our involvement in it. There would be no complete withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by March, 2008, as Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Los Angeles Times Washington correspondent Noam Levey seem to want.

Why is this? Essentially, it is, because the closer we get to an actual withdrawal, the more it becomes evident that the price to us in staying in Iraq would be less than the price of leaving. We simply cannot afford to pack up and leave the country to chaos, outside invasion or an Al Qaeda victory, with all the consequences that would have for the Middle East, not to mention the rest of the world, including ourselves.

It is not only the Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, or Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, now who are warning that a precipitate American withdrawal would bring unspeakable misery for everyone in its wake. It is beginning to be even the New York Times and the L.A. Times, which, in their editorials Sunday and Monday, felt constrained to recognize the potential for chaos in a complete withdrawal.

The long New York Times editorial Sunday was unusually thoughtful on this score, and when you had finished reading it, it actually seemed to make a better argument for staying in Iraq than leaving.

Although the editorial begins, forcefully, by saying, "It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit," the editorial makes evident later on that the operative word here is "orderly," and the Times editorial writers harbor great doubts it would be orderly.

Take this candid paragraph: "...Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate."

That's quite a list, folks.

The NYT editorial, continuing honestly, concedes that a retreat from Iraq would be difficult and admits that accomplishing it "in less than six months is probably unrealistic." It also adds a "bottom line: The Pentagon needs enough force to stage effective raids and air strikes against terrorist forces in Iraq, but not enough to resume large-scale combat."

The editorial then goes on to set down a whole list of diplomatic priorities that should accompany any withdrawal -- such as talking to neighbors like Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey into being reasonable and not intervening, or joining in a war for Iraq. (Just today, there are reports that 140,000 Turkish troops are massing on Iraq's northern border).

There are so many diplomatic steps viewed as necessary, and even the NYT editorial writers have to concede that failure to realize them "could spread Iraq's conflict far beyond Iraq's borders."

The editorial, however, is not ready to acknowledge just what a crisis an American retreat would generate. We already have seen how the war we sponsored against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s created Arab forces that later became Al-Qaeda. We already see in Lebanon how the return of terrorists who have been fighting in Iraq has destabilized that country.

The bitter fact is that an American withdrawal would give Al Qaeda a major boost, and that its victorious warriors could, out of revenge against the West, or ambition to really establish the Islamic caliphate they say they want, quickly extend their activities in the rest of the Middle East, Europe and even America.

The New York Times editorial in short is honest enough so that it conjures up a likely scenario: a bigger crisis than we have now. What it does not say, but I will, is that it will be far easier and less costly to stay in Iraq with substantial forces, some involved in continuing combat, than it would be to withdraw.

Significantly, even the Los Angeles Times editorial this morning, "Talking, the best strategy" acknowledges that there is danger in "a rapid-fire pullout that might destabilize the entire region," and it speaks not about a complete withdrawal but "a shift of U.S. troops into a support role."

Talking. however, be it with the Iranians, Syrians and others that the New York Times wants, or the easier talks that the L.A. Times mentions, between the Bush Administration and its foes in Congress. is not likely to avail us much. This is a war, a retreat is apt to be extremely difficult and tenuous. I can't believe we can pull it off at all, without the most dire consequences, not only abroad but at home.

Just wait until the first new terrorist attack against the U.S. homeland, or gasoline going to $10 a gallon, as Al Qaeda moves into Saudi Arabia. Then the Reids and the Leveys will find their prescriptions for surrender and admitting we have lost the war have not protected them from suffering a political catastrophe, a hard turn to the right, here at home.

--

In his blog this morning, Kevin Roderick of LA Observed lists all those holier-than-thou journalists who have been jumping on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for his affair with Mirthala Salinas. But he does not list those, like me, who have had a different view, that the mayor's private life is his own business.

I'm surprised. Roderick is usually fairer than that.

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