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“The Road Home”

I confess that I don’t usually read the editorials in the New York Times. They tend to be full of high-minded imprecations to observe liberal principles. They seldom contain anything new or interesting. Sunday’s editorial, “The Road Home,” was different. It was, depending on your view, either more admirable or more appalling than what the Times and other critics of the Iraq war usually say.

The usual line is that we should get out of Iraq ASAP, but don’t worry, everything will be OK; without American interference, the Iraqis will get their act together and live happily ever after. I exaggerate slightly, but not much. The Times editorialists dispose of this fantasy:

It is possible, we suppose, that announcing a firm withdrawal date might finally focus Iraq’s political leaders and neighboring governments on reality. Ideally, it could spur Iraqi politicians to take the steps toward national reconciliation that they have endlessly discussed but refused to act on.

But it is foolish to count on that, as some Democratic proponents of withdrawal have done.

The Times doesn’t try to put lipstick on this pig. It is brutally candid in acknowledging the likely result of an American bug-out:

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.

Kudos to the Times for its honesty. But what makes this editorial appalling is that, even after acknowledging the worst, the Times still calls for a pell-mell scramble to leave, suggesting that almost all U.S. forces could be out of Iraq in as little as six months. All that would be left would be aircraft and Special Forces positioned around Iraq proper, perhaps in the Kurdish region or in Kuwait or Qatar “to stage effective raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq.”

It is hard to know why the editorial board thinks this option would work, given the Times’s own scoop, published the very same day that the editorial appeared, detailing how, in 2005, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug on a planned raid to capture senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas. If even Rumsfeld, who was hardly known for observing diplomatic niceties, feared to make such a bold move, what are the odds that in the future, decision makers will approve a steady flow of raids into a hostile Iraq? Not very great. And as I have previously pointed out on Contentions, even if such raids were approved, a few Special Forces operatives could not prevent al Qaeda from consolidating its grip on major portions of the country, as it did recently in Baqubah.

So why does the Times favor a withdrawal in spite of the serious consequences? The editorial argues:

The political leaders Washington has backed are incapable of putting national interests ahead of sectarian score settling. The security forces Washington has trained behave more like partisan militias. Additional military forces poured into the Baghdad region have failed to change anything.

This is the counsel of despair, and it is at odds with the situation on the ground. What we are actually seeing is that the political situation is improving at the grassroots level, with tribal leaders increasingly allying themselves with the coalition and the government of Iraq. Iraqi troops are also fighting much better, and though sectarian infiltration remains a problem (especially in the National Police), an increasing number of Iraqi army units are displaying conspicuous bravery and competence. And it’s simply wrong to say that military forces in Baghdad haven’t changed anything. Sectarian murders in the capital are 50 percent below the pre-surge level. The surge has the potential to change the situation on the ground even more positively if General David Petraeus is given a chance to implement his plans—a chance that the Times would like to deny him. And damn the consequences.

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