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Monday, June 27, 2005

The Timeline

President Bush may have painted himself into an unfortunate corner. Last week, the presidented rejected the call from Congressional Democrats to disclose a timeline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He was right to do so, the type of timeline the political opposition has in mind would be an invitation for the jihadis to wait us out. Such inflexability is one of the hallmarks of military defeat, we need to be able to react to evolving circumstances without a rigid deadline that could spell doom for all we have done to date.

But (you knew there was a but coming), the concept of a timeline in general is a good idea, and perhaps a critical idea. Military historians point to the British experience in Malaya as the textbook for how to defeat an insurgency. The Malayan Emergency dealt with many of the same hurdles we see in Iraq, an indigenous enemy with aid from idiologically sypathetic neighbors, ancient ethnic strife, and a nontraditional victory condition, ie, winning not so the troops can stay, but winning so they can leave (lets not forget how odd that is historically). One of the generally recognized keys to the British victory was... setting a timeline for ultimate British withdrawal.

In this case (as it should be in ours) the timeline was not set in months or years, but rather corresponded to certain conditions being met on the ground. The Brits promised to leave once the insurgency was defeated and a stable, multiethnic government could maintain itself. This agreement was kept and the British relations with the Malaysians remains strong to this day.

In Iraq, reports are coming in that major parts of the Sunni insurgency may be ready to cut a deal. It is extremely interesting that the major demand they have made (indeed the centerpeice of their demands) is a schedule of US withdrawal.

The newspaper said the insurgents "had agreed beforehand to focus their main demand" on a guaranteed timetable of U.S. withdrawal. "We told them it did not matter whether we are talking about one year or a five-year plan but that we insisted on having a timetable nonetheless," one of the Iraqi sources was quoted as saying.

This is no small matter. The insurgents could have asked for freeing of detainees, withdrawl from Sunni towns, or any number of demands which would have strengthened their hand. Instead they asked for something for which they have something of a legitimate greviance. The US has never said when it would leave Iraq, indeed President Bush has never gone so far as to say directly that we intended to leave. That is a big mistake.

Many of the Sunni insurgents are truly fighting to get foriegners off of their land, just as untold numbers of men have risen up in the past, regardless of the larger picture. Foriegners are here when they should be there has been a reason de guerre since the dawn of time. If we can get a wedge into that sentiment, assure the suspicious Iraqis we are going to leave, we can break off the Sunnis and possibly even turn them against the foriegners. That is what their negotitations hint at. Understanding our enemy is vital, and it is entirely too facile to continue to parrot the idea that the Sunnis want the country back for themselves and that is why they fight. We may be disasterously wrong in believing that to be the prime motivation.

What we need is a timetable, not one composed of dates certain, but a timeline composed of events. The President needs to make clear that we have no intention of keeping a single GI in Iraq once the government is stable and the insurgency defeated. From there, further breakdowns are possible. We should negotiate with the Sunni insurgents by making it clear to them that our drawdown will be based largely on their actions. For instance, once the Sunnis participate in the next elections and an all Iraqi government sits under the new constitution early next year, we will withdraw a small force as a token of trust. Further drawdowns will be related to similar events, or even nonevents. When attacks fall below certain levels, or when Al Qaeda cells are handed over to us or 'dealt with', troops will be drawn down as a reward. We have little to lose here. The Iraqi Army is stronger every day and able to take up much of the slack already. Better yet we can move our troops to nearby Kuwait where they can quickly respond to a crisis.

The bottom line is that the Sunni's have a point. We have addressed many issues in Iraq relating to justice and law, but we have yet to specifically address our own responsibilities to leave the Iraqis in peace. Words count for little with the Sunnis, but they are better than nothing. We can forge a relationship and build up trust a little at a time, all the while gaining strength. Then when the time comes we can leave Iraq permanantly and with honor. There are other places to build military bases. It's important that the President not miss this opportunity just because the opposition brought it up (if in a flawed form and dubious motivation). After all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.


  • At 9:05 PM, Blogger Pofarmer said…

    Well, I always thought that's what we had!!! You are correct though, a "timetable" related to actions makes sense. I think if we can get the Iraqi govt up and running and the insurgency nominally under control, we're outta there. Bush has gotta feel the political cost of keeping troops there longer than necessary. Also, this needs to become a non-topic before the debating begins for the 2006 midterms. Do you think the Military has an exit strategy???? I do. I just don't think it's been articulated very well. The standard answer is "when the job is finished". Be interesting to know their definition of the Job, I guess. BTW, how long did the Malayan insurgency last?


  • At 6:29 AM, Blogger Mark Buehner said…

    "I do. I just don't think it's been articulated very well."

    Agreed. Part of the problem is that the military ultimately doesnt get to decide. I think its important that we make it crystal clear we are leaving completely at some point.

    "BTW, how long did the Malayan insurgency last? "

    12 years. But realistically the real fighting was over in 8.


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