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"The British are leaving, the British are leaving ..."
Posted by: McQ on Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ah what to make of it, no?

On one side they're arguing that it is a sure sign that the coalition is dissolving and the Brits are admitting defeat in Iraq.

The other side is arguing that it actually means success and a gradual drawdown of British troops as they turn over control of the south of Iraq to Iraqis.

What's the truth? I think Gerard Baker provides the best explanation I've seen out there:
The first point to note, is that, as the prime minister himself said in his statement to the House of Commons, the British troop presence in Iraq - unlike the US - has been on a steady downward trajectory since the initial phase of the war ended in May 2003. At one point total UK military personnel in the region numbered close to 40,000. By the end of 2004, the number stationed in the UK-command sector of Iraq - around Basra in the southeast of the country - was just over 9,000. Two years ago it was reduced to the current level of roughly 7,100. With yesterday's announcement , the new total will be about 5,500.

This is, obviously, well below the 150,000-plus troops the US will have in Iraq once the new counter-insurgency strategy is fully under way but it is still a long way ahead of the next largest contingent of the coalition, Poland at around 2,000. It hardly represents a retreat or a surrender, still less an abandonment of the US.

Second, the task facing the British forces in and around Basra has always been rather different from the challenge facing the US forces elsewhere. Basra is ethnically and religiously largely homogeneous - more than 80 per cent of the population is Shia Arab. For some time now the main source of violence in Basra has been twofold - extremist Islamist groups attacking British forces; and, much more important, intra-Shia Arab conflict - some of it political, some of it, simply criminal.

British commanders have known for a while that their main job was to equip and train Iraqis to deal with the internal threat. The municipal authorities in Basra may not be everybody's cup of tea, a little theocratic for my tastes, certainly - but it's nonsensical to claim that a few thousand British troops can seriously alter that.

There is still an important role for the British to play in ensuring border security in the waters of the Shatt-al-Arab and leading raids on insurgents and criminal groups as they did this month with the successful Operation Sinbad. But if the Iraqis who now run Basra can take care of security then the remaining task for British forces is to provide them the support they need - and then get out of the way.

A third, and overlooked point, in all this is that Britain has been playing an increasingly important role in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Britain currently leads Nato's International Security Assistance Force and has more than 3,000 troops taking on al Qaeda and Taleban forces in the south of the country.

British forces there are dangerously stretched - a state of affairs that led recently to the disastrous decision by a British commander on the ground to hand over control of one neighbourhood to a Taleban leader. Blair's government is currently struggling to meet US requests that it add more much-needed forces to the fight in Afghanistan trying. Reducing the British footprint in Iraq will surely help.

There is, it is true, a strong element of political calculation in Blair's decision. With just a few months left in office he is eager to produce some evidence of progress in his Iraq policy. The establishment of stable democratic government in Iraq is largely out of his hands - it might even be beyond America's abilities. But with a drawdown of troops he can at least point to a limited achievement.

But even this political consideration is not to be derided. Gordon Brown, Mr Blair's probable successor, is expected to take over as prime minister this summer. He is already under pressure to make a bold statement of his foreign policy intentions by pulling British troops out of Iraq. Blair's move this week helps relieve some of that political pressure for action by a Brown government.
I think that's a pretty fair assessment. Those 4 points (military and political) say the real reason is somewhere in the middle, but do argue for the side that says, for the most part, they've been successful in their part of Iraq. Changing military and political priorities are driving the withdrawal, but not, it would seem, because of "failure" in Iraq. So to the political "chicken littles", save your breath. The sky isn't falling and your screeching is irritating.

(HT: Blue Crab Boulevard)
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Previous Comments to this Post 

I’m glad to see the third point in there. For some time now I have thought that with the relative stability in Basra a redeployment of our forces to Afghanistan would be a better use of our too-meagre resources. The question remains how many more troops could we add to Afghanistan in the current political climate here in the UK. I fear that there will be too much politicing going on in the next few months with the buildup of a handover from Blair to Brown; a lot will depend on how worried Blair really is about his ’legacy’ a topic that seems to crop up over and over again now.
Written By: Kav
sorry, but I think you’re putting lipstick on a pig.

it’s fine if the Brits were redeploying their troops from a relatively calm area to where they were needed more (ie., Afghanistan)... it’s the same thing we’ve done in moving our troops to different trouble spots in Iraq.

but if, as I think is the case, they’re reducing the total number of troops in theatre (iraq/afghanistan), then they are walking away from the committment to help stabilize Iraq. After all, was the goal to stabilize part of Iraq or all of Iraq?
Written By: steve
URL: http://
try googling basra and women or law or justice. try getting some on-the-street recent reporting out of basra. As best I can tell, Basra is controlled by a small group of profoundly theocratic militias with strong ties to Iran. There are no civil rights for women, there is no rule of law for the powerful.

this is victory? we fought this war to turn over control of iraq’s southern oil supplies to the iranians?
Written By: Francis
URL: http://
The question is how much more good could we do by staying there? The answer is that I am not sure but I doubt we could do much at all now. Is it ideal? Of course not, far from it. However we could potentially do more good elsewhere...

Steve, you may well be right that this is actually a reduction of our total number of troops in the field with no redeployment. We shall have to see what Blair (or more likely Brown) plans for the future. I hope we commit more to Afghanistan but there is no guarantee that would happen. On the flip side, you may find in 2008 we still have the same troop level in Iraq as now - I trust the words that come out of Blair’s mouth not at all.
Written By: Kav
So funny how these talking points exist in a vacuum, completely sealed off from one another. It would seem that all is well in the British zone so they can safely draw down and leave. It would also seem that the looming menace of Iran is supplying the weapons that kill our troops in Iraq. And how is it doing that? "Three problematic border points were listed: Mehran, which is due east of Baghdad, the marsh areas around the southern city of Amara and the border crossing near Basra." Guys, two of those are in the British zone.

Are things going just fine here or is this the area where the greatest danger to our troops comes from?

Of course this brings up another contradiction. As the article noted the British have handed over control to local governments composed of various shia groups. These groups sometimes fight each other for control of the spoils, but all are tight with Iran. So either Iran is a dangerous and perfidious enemy smuggling in weapons with which to arm our foes, or Iran is the ally of the very people we are successfully standing up as our troops stand down.
Written By: Retief
URL: http://

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis on British Troop Drawdown
Written By: seeprogress
Brian Katulis is pretty reasonable and clarifies a few things for those not "in the know" about the situation. Thanks for the link.
Written By: Bryan Pick
kav: i used to be a liberal hawk, until i figured out that in reality it meant supporting wars fought in a way designed to lose.

Japan and Germany were occupied by overwhelming forces, which were kept there in sufficient number until a more-or-less adequate government was installed and rule of law established. From what i’ve read about the occupation of Germany, the US had an enormous number of troops that had never faced combat who established civil order almost literally on a block-by-block basis.

That was fighting to win. We fought the Iraq war to lose. Now, basic security equals victory. This is not what we were promised.
Written By: Francis
URL: http://
So I take it you’re for the surge and staying in Iraq Francis?
Written By: ChrisB
URL: http://
Japan and Germany were occupied by overwhelming forces
Francis to honset you are either:
a) Stoopit; or more likely
b) Historically ILLITERATE.

We occupied NEITHER Germany nor Japan with overwhelming force. From 1946-1950 the "occupation" of Japan was accomplished by FOUR under-strength, under-equipped, and poorly trained Infantry divisions. Should you need any confirmation read TR Fehrenbach’s classic This Kind of War. Germany was occupied by a "constabulary" that consisted of a few divisions and the combat element that was a cavalry unit. So sorry to break it to you, but we DID NOT do as you think we did and ought to do.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Francis I apologize for the stupid...that’s wrong of me. But I think your statement reveals a lack of knowledge about how the occupation of Germany and Japan was conducted.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Francis to honset you are either:
a) Stoopit; or more likely
b) Historically ILLITERATE.
I propose:

c) Making things up to make a point.
Written By: Don
URL: http://
this is victory? we fought this war to turn over control of iraq’s southern oil supplies to the iranians?
Dang, I thought we were doing it for Halliburton.

I was lied to, lied to I say . . .
Written By: Don
URL: http://
What? No one can compliment Mr. McQuain on his clever headline?
Interested at all in the concept of the “Liberal Narrative”? Here is a classic example:
“"Sliming" is the rabid, rapid, media barrage of persistently repeated lies and innuendo mastered by the right-wing media machine…The conservative roots usually puts out a speculative story through Fox News or Matt Drudge... Then the right-wing echo reverberates as the lies make their way to talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere. Eventually, it gets picked up and carried by the mainstream media, with few understanding where the story originated.
…Fox’s ability to be blatantly partisan, yet be treated like serious news journalists… it is not a legitimate news organization. There are also plans to target Fox’s advertisers in a campaign reminiscent of an earlier successful one against Sinclair Broadcasting …Most recently the "Swiftboaters for Truth" campaign mercilessly and inaccurately maligned John Kerry’s military record….the progressive internet media and blogosphere are pushing back, using the speed and versatility of the web to whack the conservative "wing nuts" and pandering candidates with some of their own tools — albeit stopping far short of making stuff up.
Two comments: 1) Liberals HATE it that they have lost their ability to be gatekeepers and filters of the news that reaches voters. 2) According to the LN the RWNM “makes up” stuff and liberals don’t. More:
“Many journalists and editors revel in the right-wing disinformation machine as something akin to watching a car wreck and seem obliged to report accusations by right-wing media, even if made up.”
My point is not necessarily the substance of the above referenced article, but the slick, believable manner in which it is presented. For example: “We don’t make stuff up.” Followed by: “The Swiftboaters for Truth campaign …inaccurately maligned Kerry.” How far short of making stuff up is that?
Written By: Robert Fulton
URL: http://
My point is not necessarily the substance of the above referenced article, but the slick, believable manner in which it is presented. For example: “We don’t make stuff up.” Followed by: “The Swiftboaters for Truth campaign …inaccurately maligned Kerry.” How far short of making stuff up is that?
All sides make stuff up, but the Swiftboaters were some of the most vile slime that every crawled out of the political ooze. Luckily, they’ve been utterly and completely debunked.

As for Germany and Japan, the issue is not the force involved, but the political culture and its capacity to handle democracy. Neither was divided along ethnic or sectarian grounds, each had modernized, Germany had already had an attempt at democracy (Japan a briefer attempt), and Germany had political parties and institutions upon which to build. Japan’s democracy was only partial until the early 1990s due to the dominance of the LDP, which had the same kind of fusion of finance, industry and government that pre-WWII Japan had. They lost their militarism, but it took awhile (and a crisis) to overcome other problems.

But democracy requires a political culture conducive to democracy in order to have it work. It is a very difficult political system to maintain until the political culture reflects the demands of democracy. It appears easy to us because our culture has become thoroughly democratic that we often naively assume it’ll work well in other places if only the "bad guys" are whisked away. That’s the fundamental reason why Iraq is "unwinnable" — we cannot reshape the political culture with force, and any reshaping even with the most successful methods takes time. Japan and Germany were building modern functioning societies for decades — Japan copied Prussian institutions, and western ideas had infiltrated Japan and were all over Germany. Germans even tried to form a democratic "United States of Germany" as early as 1848.

There is no comparison between the experiences of Japan and Germany and what one can expect in Iraq. People need to recognize the difficulty of creating and maintaining democracy, and the fundamental importance of the state of the political culture.
Written By: Scott Erb
All sides make stuff up, but the Swiftboaters were some of the most vile slime that every crawled out of the political ooze. Luckily, they’ve been utterly and completely debunked.
Now that’s the Liberal Narrative!

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Utterly and completely debunked?
So John Kerry was in Cambodia for Christmas 1968 (seared into his memory)?
So John Kerry was the one who stuck around for the ’No Man Left Behind’ incident, while the others fled the scene?
Written By: ABC
URL: http://
"but the Swiftboaters were some of the most vile slime that every crawled out of the political ooze."

Not only does he not support the mission, he doesn’t support the troops, either. Eventually it comes out, the left just doesn’t think much of American soldiers unless the soldiers don’t think much of America.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
All sides make stuff up, but the Swiftboaters were some of the most vile slime that every crawled out of the political ooze. Luckily, they’ve been utterly and completely debunked.
Now that’s the Liberal Narrative!
Ah, I get it. Rational analysis of evidence and a desire for truth is the liberal narrrative. Denying global warming despite massive evidence, trying to claim revisionist history on Vietnam that it wasn’t a mistake, and ignoring the way the the Swift Boat group has been debunked and shown to be a group of some vile liars is conservative.

I’ll choose reality and truth. You guys can have your politically motivated spin. It’ll do you in.
Written By: Scott Erb
Was John Kerry in Cambodia for Christmas 1968 (as was ’seared’ into his memory)?
Did John Kerry stay for the ’No Man Left Behind’ incident, while the other boats fled the scene?
Written By: ABC
URL: http://

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