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Iraq: A Real Timetable
Posted by: Jon Henke on Thursday, June 30, 2005

I tend to agree with President Bush on the problems associated with a "timetable for withdrawal". As Dale noted previously, such calls sound suspiciously like the "Retreat. Withdraw. Surrender." so common among those who see the US military exclusively through Vietnam-colored glasses; and as McQ noted, "the timetable for withdrawl of our troops from Iraq has always been one which was predicated on the ability of the Iraqis to defend themselves, and, of course that has always meant that the answer has rested 'with the Iraqis themselves'."

We're not there till "Christmas" or any certain date; we're there till the Iraqis are finished setting up a sustainable, democratic government. An "exit strategy" requires a metric for success....but it does not require a hard deadline.

Having said that, though, let's recognize the merit of some timetable arguments...
For 40 years, the central argument of the Republican Party—George W. Bush's party—was that liberals had it backward: If you prop people up, they'll never stand up, and you'll never stand down. You have to let go. As you stand down, they'll stand up.

Which brings us to the occupation of Iraq. In blood and money, it's fast becoming the most expensive welfare program in the history of the world. Like other welfare programs, it was a good idea when it started. Like other welfare programs, it has begun to overtax the treasury and the public. Like other welfare programs, it warps the behavior of its beneficiaries. But in one respect, it's unique. It's the one welfare program conservatives can't criticize or even recognize, because they're the ones running it.
The deadline for drafting the constitution is Aug. 15. The elections were five months ago. What have the assembly's Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders done for the past five months? Bickered over every petty dispute. How much of the constitution have they drafted? Zip. Why are they bickering instead of buckling down? Because they can. Because they don't have to cut fast deals, meet the deadline, and give every faction a stake in the government to hold off the insurgency. They don't have to do these things, because 140,000 American troops are propping them up.
Nobody—well, nobody serious anyway—is suggesting that we pull out immediately, or that we tell the Iraqis to get it right in September because we'll be gone by October. But there's a great deal of merit to the idea that the Iraqis aren't just going to be born great in the next year or so; the Iraqis also need to have greatness thrust upon them.

All of this could have been avoided had we gone about a transfer of power more akin to our own development, with cities and regions regaining power first as they prove themselves capable of maintaining it, and national sovereignty returning piecemeal thereafter.

In the meantime, though, this seems like a good time to revisit (a component of) the Stratfor strategy for Iraq....

The United States now cannot withdraw from Iraq. We can wonder about the wisdom of the invasion, but a withdrawal under pressure would be used by al Qaeda and radical Islamists as demonstration of their core point: that the United States is inherently weak and, like the Soviet Union, ripe for defeat. Having gone in, withdrawal in the near term is not an option. ...

[However] The geography of Iraq provides a solution. ...

The bulk of Iraq's population lives in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys. To the south and west of the Euphrates River, there is a vast and relatively uninhabited region of Iraq—not very hospitable, but with less shooting than on the other side. The western half of Iraq borders Saudi Arabia and Syria, two of the countries about which the United States harbors the most concern. A withdrawal from the river basins would allow the United States to carry out its primary mission—maintaining regional pressure—without engaging in an impossible war.

Moreover, in the Kurdish regions of the northeast, where U.S. Special Forces have operated for a very long time, U.S. forces could be based—and supplied—in order to maintain a presence on the Iranian border.
The force could, if it chose, execute a broad crescent around Iraq, touching all the borders but not the populations.
This strikes me as an imminently reasonable solution—indeed, even a Conservative one—to the dual problems of Iraq's need for security and Iraq's need to effectively assert sovereignty.

As Kevin Drum writes, "artificial deadlines don't mean much, and Iraqis know this... Real deadlines, on the other hand, the kind that lead to real consequences, produce action.

So, sure. Give them a timetable to take responsibility, an incentive to get their house in order. So long as the timetable doesn't create a life or death/win or fail moment in time—so long as we draw back, not out—we can continue to advance, perhaps faster, down the path of Iraqi democratization.

[Addendum: McQ] If there's to be a timetable for withdrawl, it should be one that involves the Iraqis, not the US. And that was the thrust of some testimony by Gen's Azabaid and Casey in their testimony before the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearings. There are four major areas in which they have detailed milestones for accomplishment ... by the Iraqis. As the milestones are reached, their accomplishment triggers plans which involve the US's presence there.

What both generals said is they are insisting the Iraqis keep to this schedule (such as the timeframe in which to write a Constitution) as much as possible. Thus the 'conditions based' strategy for ending our involvement in Iraq. There is a plan, its being worked, and there are clear milestones, per these generals, that are being accomplished or worked toward. What's required here is some patience as the Iraqis are given the time necessary to accomplish what both sides apparently agree are reasonable timeframes.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

All of this could have been avoided had we gone about a transfer of power more akin to our own development, with cities and regions regaining power first as they prove themselves capable of maintaining it, and national sovereignty returning piecemeal thereafter.
Indeed, I have been trying to make this point for quite some time. We seem to have the expectation that we can build an Iraqi federal government, when there is as of yet no base to build it upon. Where are the city and provincial governments in all of this? Where is the solid base to build upon? This, I think, should have been our strategy to begin with. Build the foundation before the walls.

This always struck me as odd considering the "bottom-up" rhetoric is the mainstay of libertarian-conservatives, who are the primary political force behind our actions there. Then again, however, it has been said before (in much simpler terms) that American conservatives tend to be laissez-faire at home, but socialist-interventionist abroad... while liberals tend to be socialist-interventionist at home, but laissez-faire at home. Not entirely inaccurate, I think...

Written By: Jamie Rosensteel
Speaking of timetables... The Libertarians have released an exit strategy. Read it here.

It’s not their usual idealized drivel. Quite palatable to a large segment of the population, IMHO.
Written By: The Modern American
I do not believe that a specific date for USA troop withdrawal would be sensible.

On the other hand, there needs to be iterim goals set to determine whether the policy is on the right track or not. Leaving the entire operation too open-ended is dangerous and dishonest.

How was it that the administration was able to predict a time-table for success prior to the invasion (Rumsfeld couldn’t see Iraw operations lasting longer than 6 months!), but now that the USA is knee-deep in do-do, they have no clue?

It is because this administration manipulated and decieved the public about Iraq, categorically. Unfortunately, this equated to building a house on sand. The Iraq adventure is collapsing by this administrations misappropriation of what would be encountered in Iraq coupled with stubborness to adjust its strategy when initial assessments were way off the mark.

Wishful thinking alone will not bring success. If only this administration could get away from the idealism of the "big goal" and talk about the difficult interim steps with precision and candor.

Written By: sdk
URL: http://
Wishful thinking alone will not bring success. If only this administration could get away from the idealism of the "big goal" and talk about the difficult interim steps with precision and candor.

Good grief ... did you read my addendum? I told you in there how they just did exactly that.
Written By: McQ
Bush (administration) did not really specify a timetable in his speech. (While your addendum did allude to such a time table, I will need to look for the testimony that you mentioned to find specifics.) I believe a skeptical public wanted to hear these steps clearly from the president. And since I am a skeptic, I do not really believe the administration wants to be too specific, as it would make them more accountable.
Written By: sdk
URL: http://
And since I am a skeptic, I do not really believe the administration wants to be too specific, as it would make them more accountable.

Nothing wrong with being a skeptic, but you have to know when what your skeptical about has been presented.

He’s not going to give a timetable as he (and others in the administration) have said countless times.

Instead they’ve made it clear that their exit strategy is "conditions based". I’ve covered that in multiple posts here (and in that addendum).
Written By: McQ
With due respect, I beleive this administration has been vague (purposely?) about all their war plans, including the conditions for withdrawal. Wolfolitz stated in testamony to Congress that the USA forces would be greated as liberator’s, too. That’s what I think of tertiary level testamony. The bully pulpit of the president is the appropriate place for the objectives and time table to be stated categorically. The testamony of generals simply does not carry the influence wanted and required by the American people.
Written By: sdk
URL: http://
With due respect, I beleive this administration has been vague (purposely?) about all their war plans, including the conditions for withdrawal.

The principal task of our military is to find and defeat the terrorists and that is why we are on the offense. And as we pursue the terrorists, our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own. Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

We have made progress but we have a lot more work to do. Today Iraqi security forces are at different levels of readiness. Some are capable of taking on the terrorists and insurgents by themselves. A larger number can plan and execute anti-terrorist operations with coalition support. The rest are forming and not yet ready to participate fully in security operations. Our task is to make the Iraqi units fully capable and independent. We are building up Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible, so they can assume the lead in defeating the terrorists and insurgents.


First, we are partnering coalition units with Iraqi units. These coalition-Iraqi teams are conducting operations together in the field. These combined operations are giving Iraqis a chance to experience how the most professional armed forces in the world operate in combat.

Second, we are embedding coalition "transition teams" inside Iraqi units. These teams are made up of coalition officers and noncommissioned officers who live, work and fight together with their Iraqi comrades. Under U.S. command, they are providing battlefield advice and assistance to Iraqi forces during combat operations. Between battles, they are assisting the Iraqis with important skills such as urban combat and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance techniques.

Third, we are working with the Iraqi Ministries of Interior and Defense to improve their capabilities to coordinate anti-terrorist operations. We are helping them develop command and control structures. We are also providing them with civilian and military leadership training, so Iraq’s new leaders can more effectively manage their forces in the fight against terror.


The other critical element of our strategy is to help ensure that the hopes Iraqis expressed at the polls in January are translated into a secure democracy. The Iraqi people are emerging from decades of tyranny and oppression.

Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Shia and Kurds were brutally oppressed and the vast majority of Sunni Arabs were also denied their basic rights, while senior regime officials enjoyed the privileges of unchecked power. The challenge facing Iraqis today is to put this past behind them and come together to build a new Iraq that includes all its people.

They are doing that by building the institutions of a free society, a society based on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and equal justice under law. The Iraqis have held free elections and established a transitional national assembly. The next step is to write a good constitution that enshrines these freedoms in permanent law. The assembly plans to expand its constitutional drafting committee to include more Sunni Arabs. Many Sunnis who opposed the January elections are now taking part in the democratic process, and that is essential to Iraq’s future.
After a constitution is written, the Iraqi people will have a chance to vote on it.

If approved, Iraqis will go to the polls again to elect a new government under their new, permanent constitution. By taking these critical steps and meeting their deadlines, Iraqis will bind their multiethnic society together in a democracy that respects the will of the majority and protects minority rights.

As Iraqis grow confident that the democratic progress they are making is real and permanent, more will join the political process. And as Iraqis see that their military can protect them, more will step forward with vital intelligence to help defeat the enemies of a free Iraq. The combination of political and military reform will lay a solid foundation for a free and stable Iraq.
What’s vague about that? It’s the same thing Bush has been say for quite some time (if you believe the MSM who said nothing new was said in his speech).
Written By: McQ
Yeah. There are no specifics there, and anyone would be want to find them in the president’s speech(es).

A goal is saying we will be "here" by "this time." This is clear and unambiguous. It is easy to claim success or own up to shortcomings. We will have a man on the moon by the end of the decade, for example.

The president is talking/lauding progress and objectives. However, balance this with objectives laid out prior to the invasion.

I cannot see the war lasting more than 6-months. (Cheney)

We will be greated as liberator’s (Cheney/Wolfowitz).

The war will pay for itself. (Wolfowitz).

Mission Accomplished Banner. (per president Bush on aircraft carrier).

In measuring the success or failure of programs, one needs to set acheivable goals within a specific time frame.

(1) I want to lose 10 pounds, and I am making progress. I have already lost 1 pound.

(2) I will lose 10 pounds by the end of this month.

See the difference?

One is open ended, and leaves a lot of wiggle-room, while the other is quite specific. There is no ambiguity in statement 2.

The president needs to clarify specific milestones, couple with a specific time frame.

Written By: sdk
URL: http://
See the difference?

Yes. Unfortunately, you don’t. I’ll provide a hint: conflict is not the same as losing weight.

Written By: Mark Flacy
URL: http://
Let’s try again ...
Written By: sdk
URL: http://

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