January 7, 2020

Possible Troop Withdrawal

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“Iraq’s parliament called on Sunday for U.S. and other foreign troops to leave as a backlash grows against the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general.” Reuters

“U.S. President Donald Trump threatened sanctions against Baghdad on Sunday after Iraq’s parliament called on U.S. troops to leave the country, and the president said if troops did leave, Baghdad would have to pay Washington for the cost of the air base there.” Reuters

“A leaked letter from the U.S. military to Iraq that created impressions of an imminent U.S. withdrawal on Monday was a poorly worded draft document meant only to underscore increased movement of forces, the top U.S. military officer told reporters.” Reuters

Many on both sides support keeping troops in Iraq:

“The modest presence of 5,000 or so U.S. troops is in the interests of Iraq and America. Iraq could never have retaken Mosul and defeated Islamic State without U.S. air power, precision weapons, intelligence and training. Those assets are protection against the revival of ISIS or another Sunni jihadist insurgency. U.S. troops also give Iraqi patriots confidence to counter Shiite militias armed by Iran and resist Iran’s strategic goal of making Iraq its political and military subsidiary.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“[It would] be strange for the U.S. to accede to a major Iranian demand right now. The contest for influence in Iraq was, after all, the main reason for the recent round of tension and violence. Soleimani fought for nearly two decades to force the U.S. out of Iraq. Is the U.S. really going to grant him his wish just days after killing him?… It seems more likely the Trump administration is considering calling the Iraqi government’s bluff by keeping its troops in the country for the foreseeable future. It should probably figure out if that’s what it actually wants to do—and until it does, stay away from that send button.”
Joshua Keating, Slate

Former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley writes, “By expelling U.S. forces, the Iraqi government would be falling into [Iran-backed] Kataib Hezbollah’s trap: rewarding the militia’s violent campaign, strengthening the Iranian-backed [militias], weakening the Iraqi government and state sovereignty, and jeopardizing the fight against the Islamic State. Forcing out U.S. troops would not sit well with the Kurdish and Sunni populations in Iraq, nor with the Sunni Arab states…

“Too often [the US] has viewed Iraq exclusively through the prism of U.S. policy toward Iran. The Trump administration should publicly state that it is committed to the sovereignty of Iraq, that the mission of U.S. and coalition troops is to train Iraqi security forces and help them protect the Iraqi people against a resurgent Islamic State, and that the United States will coordinate with the Iraqi government on matters involving U.S. troops.”
Stephen Hadley, Washington Post

“If the United States could maintain an advisor position, it might be able [to] hold on to its combined counter-Islamic State headquarters and continue funding the training and equipment. All of these things are in Iraq’s interest and they could be renegotiated if American diplomats were empowered to do so. A reset in United States-Iraqi relations and a renegotiation of the Strategic Framework Agreement was needed before the current crisis. If U.S. policymakers and diplomats can settle on a long-term strategy for Iraq, a deal might be reached that could benefit both sides.”
Ben Connable, Los Angeles Times

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left believes Sanders’s chances have improved, but notes that obstacles still remain.

“[The Iraqi Parliamentary] vote was nonbinding, and the Iraqi caretaker government cannot pass laws, but the vote does indicate that a majority in parliament wants U.S. forces to leave, and that makes such an outcome increasingly likely

“Whether Iraq ultimately evicts U.S. forces or not, this attack [on Soleimani] has already had consequences for U.S. operations against ISIS, which were ‘paused’ Sunday to strengthen American defenses in anticipation of Iranian reprisals. This suspension might enable ISIS to reconstitute its fighter networks and to once again pose a serious threat to Iraqi security.”
Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Washington Post

“In undertaking the strike, the Trump administration may have sacrificed a valuable American counterterrorism partnership with Iraq at the altar of a risky pressure campaign against Iran with no end in sight… Iraq remains ground zero for fighting the Islamic State, which only a few years ago menaced the entire region as the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. There are already signs of resurgence. That becomes more likely should the Defense Department and intelligence agencies lose their counterterrorism footprint inside Iraq…

“A wiser American approach in Iraq would have invested in Iraqi nationalists — seeing not just counterterrorism, Iranian infiltration, and oil, but the concerns of a young population that braved militia bullets to demand reforms to corrupt, broken politics. Mr. Trump has made clear his priorities lie elsewhere.”
Daniel Benaim, New York Times

“Even short of a withdrawal, pressure to constrain the U.S. military in Iraq will have serious effects on a campaign against ISIS that is far from over. Trump has made no secret of his inclination to pull remaining American forces out of Syria, and the Iranians will turn up the heat to try to encourage that instinct. Mounting protests in Lebanon against Iran and Hezbollah will at least temporarily recede, deferring the hopes of Lebanese whose nonviolent, cross-sectarian demonstrations held the promise of a new political era in that embattled country…

“As we’ve argued before, we’re at this dangerous juncture because of Trump’s foolish decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, his through-the-looking-glass conception of coercive diplomacy, and his willing hard-line enablers in Tehran. When the deal was in place, Iran remained an adversary—but U.S. unmanned aircraft weren’t being shot down by Iran in international waters, Gulf shipping and infrastructure weren’t being hit by Iranian mines and missiles, and U.S. personnel weren’t being targeted by Shia militias in Iraq.”
William J. Burns and Jake Sullivan, The Atlantic

Regarding Trump’s threat to sanction Iraq, “The president has relied heavily on sanctions in executing his foreign policy, but it isn’t clear that they have influenced behavior. Experts were skeptical about the usefulness of the administration’s sanctions on Venezuela as soon as they were imposed, and the situation there now does not align anymore with US goals than it did when sanctions were put in place last August…

“Similarly, sanctions on North Korea, Russia, and even Iran have not altered behavior in the manner the US has hoped; in fact, they have resulted in countries developing ways to circumvent the US financial system… Should sanctions come down on Iraq, they could push the country to take similar actions — even further embracing Iran.”
Sean Collins, Vox

“The main question about the strike isn’t moral or even legal—it’s strategic. Soleimani was a supremely powerful leader of a state apparatus, with his own cult of personality, but he was not a terror kingpin. His death doesn’t decapitate anything. He had the blood of tens of thousands of people—overwhelmingly fellow Muslims—on his hands, but he was only the agent of a government policy that preceded him and will continue without him…The only reason to kill Soleimani is to enter a new war that the United States can win… [Yet] No one seems to have thought past the action itself…

“What would [a] war [with Iran] look like? How will Iran fight it? How will the U.S. respond? What credible allies will we have, after Trump’s trashing of the nuclear deal thoroughly alienated Europe? Who will believe any intelligence about Iran’s actions and intentions from an administration that can’t function without telling lies?…What is our war aim, and how can it be aligned with Trump’s obvious desire to be rid of any entanglement in the region? What will happen if Jerusalem becomes a target and Israel enters the conflict? What will the American people accept by way of sacrifice, when nothing has prepared them for this? There’s no sign that anyone in power, least of all the president, has even asked these questions, let alone knows how to answer them.”
George Packer, The Atlantic

“By declaring that the United States will respond with airstrikes to any attacks on American targets or assets, Mr. Trump is drawing a bright red line that Iran cannot cross. And yet, Iran relies on a network of proxy actors from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Must they all respect Mr. Trump’s red line? There are plenty of hotheads in those proxy forces that will be incensed by the assassination, the same way young men with weapons and minimal discipline often are… Mr. Trump can’t keep an entire region from crossing his red line, making violent conflict all the more likely if the president holds to it…

“It is crucial that influential Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell remind Mr. Trump of his promise to keep America out of foreign quagmires and keep Mr. Trump from stumbling further into war with Iran.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right applauds Trump’s speech and argues that his Iran strategy has been successful.

From the Right

“Iraq’s parliament did technically approve a resolution this morning that could potentially lead to U.S. troops being withdrawn. But read the fine print. It was only the Shiite MPs who showed up to vote; the Sunni and Kurdish members, totaling not quite half the chamber, boycotted despite threats from Iranian-sponsored militias that anyone who declined to support the measure would be considered a traitor…

“An interesting question is why today’s resolution wasn’t more forceful in rebuking the U.S., i.e. designed to repeal the Strategic Framework Agreement instead of backhandedly calling for American withdrawal by removing Iraq from the anti-ISIS coalition. My guess is that Iraqi Shiites are in too delicate a position politically to get overly aggressive on Iran’s behalf… If they go all-out in serving Iran’s agenda here, [anti-Iran] protesters might be even more aggrieved and the country might be (further) destabilized. They’re caught between their masters in Tehran and their constituents so they took a half-measure.”
Allahpundit, Hot Air

“If America is seen to threaten Iraq's democratic sovereignty, which is what Trump's words [regarding sanctions] appear to suggest, we will only reinforce the populist political consolidation around an Iranian agenda: namely, an agenda to see American interests harmed as much as possible… As time passes from Soleimani's demise, more Iraqi politicians will come to recognize the positive importance of having U.S. forces assist their fight against a renewed ISIS. Trump should stay quiet, let Iraqis vent, and then work to reinforce the structural relationships that have been built between Iraqi and U.S. intelligence and military officials and power brokers in the parliament.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

Some argue that “with war on the horizon, we must demand a clear objective for staying, fighting, spending taxpayer dollars and most certainly sending some of our young men and women to their deaths… Iran’s strength is its use of insurgent and terror tactics. America’s strength is our ability to project power. We are fools if we stay in striking distance of Iran, playing to its strengths. U.S. forces are fully capable of striking from afar and crippling Iraq and Iran economically if that become necessary until Iraq decides it wants to join the rest of the world and detach itself from Iran’s axis of ruin. If we keep our roughly 5,000 troops in Iraq – or add more troops – we are likely to be drawn into a war with Iran that will be impossible to withdraw from.”
Joe Kent, Fox News

“The bottom line, incredible in its irony, is this: the same democracy we once helped create has now ordered us out. [Foreign policy hawks] care little about this, of course. They’ve rebranded themselves as clear-eyed realists… Rather than a land ripe for democratization, they now portray the Middle East as a hotbed of anarchy, which, they sigh, only America can keep at bay. Yet while their calculus has changed, their answer remains always the same: American troops abroad, forever and ever, amen…

“That their past approach is now running up against their present one shouldn’t escape us. It was our so-called democratization of Iraq that empowered Iran in the first place, leading to our present crisis. American empire has appeared lately as an idiot colossus, blind and staggering around, swinging a tree trunk at blurry enemies indiscriminately. Without us, the hawks say, the Middle East will be roiled by disruption. What they miss is that we long ago became the region’s biggest disruptor.”
Matt Purple, The American Conservative

It’s worth noting that “conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions…

“In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.)”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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