Monday, November 28, 2005

a prediction

last week i turned a mental corner and decided that a withdrawal of u.s. forces from iraq was becoming inevitable. before that it seemed more like a distant pipe dream. but recently with public opinion strongly in favor of a withdrawal, with the iraqi government pushing for a withdrawal and with members of both parties in congress slowly meadering over to the withdrawal position, it now seems like the writing is on the wall.

last week i went out on a limb and told some people at drinking liberally that i thought a pullout will occur in 1-2 years, 3 years tops. duncan disagreed, saying no matter what happens u.s. forces will not come out of iraq as long as bush is in office. in the past week, he's reiterate his position a couple of times on his blog (e.g.)

so i spent the last week remulling my position, started a couple of posts, but then deciding not to hit the publish button . but the mulling is over now, and i'm gonna stick with my original prediction. a u.s. withdrawal will occur within the next few years, before bush leaves office.

that is not to say that by the end of 2008 there will not be a single u.s. soldier in iraq. there could be a small token force. i'm certainly not ruling out face-saving tokenism. there could also be substantial american air support as sy hersh has suggested. but i don't think any significant ground presence will be there over the long term. certainly a series of large permanent bases, like we have in germany and south korea, doesn't seem like a realistic option anymore, neither militarily nor politically.

the notion that no withdrawal will happen so long as bush is in office is based on the idea that bush is a man of principles and/or a stubborn person who will not change direction no matter how senseless staying the course becomes. they're really two ways of looking at the same thing. the spin just comes from whether you're an admirer or critic of the president.

i don't really buy either formulation of the president's character. while he certainly is stubborn (or, if you prefer, "principled") his stubbornness is not without limits. he clearly has flip-flopped before on various issues when political expediency required it (e.g. steel tariffs, the harriet miers nomination). despite his carefully tailored image, he is, in fact, a politician. of course, iraq is the centerpiece of his administration and he's never flip-flopped on something this big and obvious before. but that doesn't mean he won't. i think, in the end, he simply won't have a choice and so he'll dress it up as some kind of logical extension of his original iraq policy. he'll do something like proclaim that the iraqi armed forces are ready to stand on their own, or that iraq is a thriving democracy, or that american military might is required elsewhere for the grand war on terra mission, or some combination of all of those things. he can call it whatever he wants, but the bottom line is that almost all ground forces in iraq will come home. and i believe that is what will happen in the near future.

of course, i could be wrong. things change. the current withdrawal rumblings could turn out to be a passing fad, even though i don't think it is. also i guess it's conceivable that some big attack or horror could reignite war fever in this country, but i doubt it. i could also just be seriously misreading the tea leaves. i've certainly been wrong before. but i've gotten to the point where i'm willing to commit my prediction to writing. only time will tell if i'm right.