The Marines have a joke. Actually, they have a tremendous sense of humor
because this elite force can afford to joke about itself. In this case, I am
referring to the phrase, "Withdrawal is an advance to the rear." In extremely
rare cases, due to overwhelming enemy forces (Chosin Reservoir, Korea War)
Marines have been forced to withdraw, hence, the joke.
But it is only a joke. It appears, however, that our President is taking the notion seriously. President Barack Obama declared [recently]that the Iraq war was nearing an end "as promised and on schedule," touting what he called a success of his administration. The war in Iraq is over, so say many Americans. They cite no less than the President as a source who proudly proclaimed some sort of a political victory??? Many media sources clapped their hands in glee.
White House counter-terrorism chief, John Brennan, called the drawdown in U.S. troops a "truly remarkable achievement."
Unfortunately, these assertions are simply not true, and, in some respects, the withdrawal is farcical. Dale McFeatters of Scripps Howard writes, "The 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, had the distinction of having been the last U.S. combat brigade in Iraq when the last of its armored vehicles rolled across the Kuwaiti border in the predawn hours [recently]. To which the soldiers of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, which arrived in Iraq last month for a one-year deployment, might fairly ask: "What are we? Chopped liver?' But on its arrival in Iraq, the "Combat' part was dropped from its name and it became the "Advise and Assist Team,' a distinction its commanding officer was careful to make in an interview with an Iraqi radio station."
But in such a war without a front, the distinction between combat and support fades when the units leave their bases. Staying behind are 50,000 U.S. soldiers who will act as trainers and advisers to the Iraqi security forces and, indeed, go on combat missions with them or intervene if an Iraqi mission runs into trouble.
The stay-behind units are to be out by the end of 2011, a departure perhaps to be as celebrated with symbolism and optimism as the safe and uneventful arrival of the 4th Stryker Brigade in Kuwait. But after seven years and five months, the Iraq war remains inconclusive and the nature of its outcome in doubt.
George Friedman of Stratfor provides us with a unique overall perspective on the war in Iraq from its beginning to today. From the onset of the American invasion of Iraq, the Sunnis had a problem. Friedman states, "Facing a hostile American army and an equally hostile Shiite community backed by Iran, the Sunnis faced disaster. Taking support from where they could get it -- from the foreign jihadists that were entering Iraq -- they launched an insurgency against both the Americans and the Shia. The Sunnis simply had nothing to lose. In their view, they faced permanent subjugation at best and annihilation at worst. The United States had the option of creating a Shiite-based government but realized that this government would ultimately be under Iranian control. The political miscalculation placed the United States simultaneously into a war with the Sunnis and a near-war situation with many of the Shia, while the Shia and Sunnis waged a civil war among themselves and the Sunnis occasionally fought the Kurds as well. From late 2003 until 2007, the United States was not so much in a state of war in Iraq as it was in a state of chaos."
Friedman continues, "Petraeus stabilized the situation, but he did not win the war. The war could only be considered won when there was a stable government in Baghdad that actually had the ability to govern Iraq. A government could be formed with people sitting in meetings and talking, but that did not mean that their decisions would have any significance. For that there had to be an Iraqi army to enforce the will of the government and protect the country from its neighbors, particularly Iran (from the American point of view). There also had to be a police force to enforce whatever laws might be made. And from the American perspective, this government did not have to be pro-American (that had long ago disappeared as a viable goal), but it could not be dominated by Iran. Iraq is not ready to deal with the enforcement of the will of the government because it has no government. Once it has a government, it will be a long time before its military and police forces will be able to enforce its will throughout the country. And it will be much longer before it can block Iranian power by itself. As it stands now, there is no government, so the rest doesn't much matter."
Gareth Porter, IPS, reports, "When the Obama administration unveiled its plan last week for an improvised State Department-controlled army of contractors to replace all U.S. combat troops in Iraq by the end of 2011, critics associated with the U.S. command attacked the transition plan, insisting that the United States must continue to assume that U.S. combat forces should and can remain in Iraq indefinitely."
Porter further states, "All indications are that the administration expects to renegotiate the security agreement with the Iraqi government to allow a post-2011 combat presence of up to 10,000 troops, once a new government is formed in Baghdad. But Obama, fearing a backlash from anti-war voters in the Democratic Party, who have already become disenchanted with him over Afghanistan, is trying to play down that possibility. Instead, the White House is trying to reassure its anti-war base that the U.S. military role in Iraq is coming to an end."
An unnamed administration official who favors a longer-term presence in Iraq suggested to The New York Times last week that the administration's refusal to openly refer to plans for such a U.S. combat force in Iraq beyond 2011 hinges on its concern about the coming midterm congressional elections and wariness about the continuing Iraqi negotiations on a new government. Wonderful, now we are fighting a fruitless war on the basis of midterm elections. General Eisenhower has got to be rolling in his grave.
But wait; there is more for those who hunger for the incredulous. Porter goes on to report, "The plan involves replacing the official U.S. military presence in Iraq with a much smaller State Department-run force of private security contractors. Press reports have indicated that the force will number several thousand, and that it is seeking 29 helicopters; 60 personnel carriers that are resistant to improvised explosive devices; and a fleet of 1,320 armored vehicles [emphasis is mine]." "Several" is a nebulous term. Porter is an excellent reporter, but he must deal with the cards dealt by the administration. "Several" is 10,000; 50,000 are more than "several."
The contractor force would also operate radars so it can call in air strikes and fly reconnaissance drones, according to an August 21 report in The New York Times.
Porter then dropped a bombshell that sent my heart plummeting. "At a Pentagon press conference in February, General Odierno referred to the purchase by the Iraqi government of "significant amounts of military materiel from the United States, "including M1A1 tanks and helicopters." In February, I had not heard about that, and I keep a vigil eye on happenings involving Iraq. What kind of helicopters, troop carriers or sophisticated gun-ships or both? The M1A1 Abrams is the most technologically advanced MBT (Main Battle Tank) in the world. Today's Iraqi Shiite leaders are currently aligned with the Shiite regime in Iran, and we just sold the Iraqi army the Abrams? Where is this going? General Patton, founder of American tank strategy, has to be rolling in his grave. To what depths do we go for politicians to declare a modicum of victory?
The overriding consideration is the calculus has not changed in Iraq, and the withdrawal of all "combat" troops does not change the calculus, either. It may, however, exacerbate the volatile issues within that forlorn country. Going back is not an option. It may happen anyway. And this time our troops may be facing the American Abrams MBT.
I have long opposed the war in Iraq, actually, even before it began. Now the American public, a President and a former President, politicians, and our military leaders are learning why.
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