mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Reader Mailbag: Staying in Iraq

A reader writes in response to our post on the sentencing to death in absentia of Iraq’s fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi:

Your post Sunday, Sept. 9th, reminded me that Obama & his administration should have negotiated much more intensely to keep a substantial force in Iraq after the deadline that Bush had agreed to. Instead, Obama seemed perfectly content with letting the talks collapse and us pull all of our combat and intelligence troops out on that artificial deadline.

The cost to keep, say, 15,000 or 20,000 troops in Iraq is trivial compared to many other foreign commitments that the US maintains around the world. We have troops in what? 100 plus countries?

After spending 7 years pacifying the sectarian conflict in Iraq & gaining substantial intelligence capabilities, knowledge of the country, just to blithely pull out as we did struck me as highly irresponsible.

The constant refrain you hear from certain segments of the elite in the Public Square that “the American public can’t tolerate long foreign occupations or foreign wars” is contradicted by just about every single conflict we’ve had since World War II. So why do we tolerate this kind of flaming lying? I guess the MSM is part of that elite Public Square chattering class.

Only if American lives are being lost on a regular basis for no apparent achievable goal do Americans get frustrated – angry, actually – and rightly so. But Iraq was mostly pacified. The occasional American casualty was no more than troops stationed in other places, the US or overseas.

The cost of those troops in Iraq could have been partially borne by the Iraqis once their huge oil reserves were being exploited more fully. Just as Germany and Japan today offset some of the cost of our troops stationed in those two countries.

Could President Obama have handled the drawdown differently? Maybe. Was there a domestic political factor influencing his negotiating strategy? It perhaps figured on some level. But let’s remember that despite President Obama’s attempts to spin this as a victory, it nevertheless played in the press as a serious strategic setback—an early foreign policy failure for his presidency.

And let’s not forget that the sticking point with the Iraqi government was immunity for U.S. soldiers, a potent domestic political issue for Nouri al-Maliki. Perhaps this could have been finessed somehow, leaving us with a residual force of 10,000 troops in country. But unlike in Japan or Germany, our enduring presence may well have served as a destabilizing factor of its own.

It’s important that we not forget about Iraq as the rest of the Middle East dangerously simmers, and Via Meadia will do its part highlighting the progress and setbacks as they unfold there. Counterfactual debates are a healthy way to keep thinking through the consequences of our choices. But when engaging in counterfactual history, we must carefully weigh the dangers of the road not taken without overstating the ability of anyone to have achieved radically different results if only they had tried harder.

That said, we do wish the administration had pushed a little harder to keep a residual force in the country and to keep ties with the Iraqi military stronger. Even a non-combat American presence there might help reduce the slow drift back to violence in Iraq and served at least partially to check Iran.

. . .

Another reader offers food for thought in response to last week’s reader mailbag on self-driving cars:

Regarding the issue of mass transit investment versus the dawn of GoogleCar, does anyone at AI or VM evaluate the matter other than solely as a question of the relative economic utilities?  Is there no room for a non-quantitative thought?   Does no one consider that GoogleCar IS mass transit, just in a slightly different form?  Does it mean nothing to anyone that GoogleCar will begin as a person’s choice and end as a government mandate (at least in major metropolitan areas and their environs)?  That right now, we have a choice between taking mass transit and driving ourselves, with various factors, including non-quantitative ones, operating on our choices?  That the certain mandate of GoogleCar (be it 5 or 50 years hence), or other government-approved mass transit (rail, bus, subway) will be just another step on the road to a complete government programming and administration of our daily lives?

There is untold irony in the late trends of Western governments that were born (or reborn) as guarantors and even promoters of individual liberty to use the measurement-susceptible reduction in harm and discomfort to people as the basis for removing more and more liberty.  I don’t want to be killed or injured by a drunk or texting driver any more than anyone else, but right now only a tiny fraction of all drivers are killed or injured by drunk and texting drivers, yet many people see requiring us all—all 300+ million of us—to use GoogleCars as an entirely appropriate government action.  It is this attitude out there in the populace—that attitude that ANY reduction in measured harm to no matter how few persons is a sufficient basis for universal government prohibition—that is truly alarming.  That, and the attitude that liberty is to be measured only on a scale of economic utilities.

Interesting concerns and worth paying attention to, but we suspect that the driver lobby is going to put up a lot of resistance to mandatory autodrive requirements… They’ll have to pry the steering wheel out of our cold, dead hands.

Newer Post Older Post
Features Icon
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service