Dallas, TX –
Some, mainly Democrats, say we should leave Iraq as soon as possible. Others, some of them in the military, say we may need to stay for another five years. William Polk, who had a long career in the State Department, argues that if we endure another five years we will lose 5,000 lives instead of the 2,000 or more dead so far, and we will spend another $1 trillion. And even then, we will leave Iraq in a mess. He concedes, however, that if we pull out now, as he advocates since he believes the occupation is causing the insurgency, we also will leave Iraq in a mess and the Iraqis will simply have to manage it for themselves.
Polk notes that in the French-Algerian war of the 1950s and early 1960s, the Algerians had 13,000 troops, and the French had 450,000 forces. But the Algerians won. He quotes Mao Zedong, the Chinese revolutionary, who said that insurgents are like fish and the sea. The insurgents are the fish and the people are the sea, supporting the fish. If one insurgent falls, the people replace him, so nothing ever changes.
It can be argued that the Algerians were pretty much of one mind where the French were concerned, while insurgents in Iraq are mainly Sunnis, a minority in the country. Theoretically, perhaps, they could all be wiped out by majority Shiites and the sea dried up. But that's unlikely and certainly undesirable. So it may be that Sen. John McCain's urging that we send 10,000 more troops to Iraq may not make any difference. What then is to be done?
It appears that the Bush administration may draw our forces down from 160,000 to 138,000 now that the election is over, which is where they were a few months ago. But I doubt we'll see force levels falling much below that next year. When the president says he will not cut and run, I think he means it.
Probably he is right, for the moment. But a year from now I don't see how he can avoid a serious reappraisal. It's better not to advertise a time table, just as he says, but by then it may well be necessary, without fanfare, to cut our losses and leave Iraq to its own inexorable fate. It would not be a bad idea to communicate this, privately, to the newly elected government. Its members should feel the pressure of looming independence.
Richard Clarke, former terrorism adviser to Clinton and Bush, says that the administration plans to stay indefinitely in Iraq to preside over the oil industry. There's no use pretending this doesn't matter. But surely our bases in Kuwait and Qatar plus sea power can protect our interests as adequately as our ill-starred Iraqi mission itself is doing.
So let the New Year be as productive as possible on the banks of the ancient Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Where Babylon once bloomed, let us do all we can to cultivate a new garden, riddled with weeds though it may be. But let us understand the limits of our opportunity and our resources, and prepare, quietly, another posture in the Middle East that offers greater chances of success, however modest.
Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA.
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