Photo: Haider al-Assadee/European Pressphoto Agency
It should be a victory day for all; but not without cautious optimism, nervous trepidation, and healthy skepticism.
Early reports that General Odierno felt the deadline should slip a bit gave way to more recent reports that he was comfortable meeting the deadline. This reassured me somewhat, until I re-read this assessment by Stephen Biddle. He offers a sober assessment of a number of ways the Iraq project could unravel, and a grim reminder that, as bad as Iraq has been, there are many ways that it could become much worse if we misplay our hand.
And in fact, Biddle intimates that the United States may very well be in the process of misplaying its hand by hewing too rigidly to the SoFA withdrawal schedule. The money quote: “The most effective option for prevention [of renewed violence in Iraq] is to go slow in drawing down the U.S. military presence in Iraq.” Biddle recognizes that slowing the withdrawal would impose costs — strain on the armed forces and, perhaps a greater hurdle, political embarrassment for Obama and for the Maliki government. But he reminds us that letting the positive trajectory in Iraq reverse imposes great costs, too, and thus concludes: “On balance, paying the cost of a slower withdrawal, while expensive, may ultimately be the cheaper approach.”
A reader of Thomas Ricks’ blog sends this:
Despite recent reporting, the area is stable, while still not completely safe. The attacks mentioned in the article are not part of a mounting trend, but are normal and to be expected from time to time in this environment. If we want Iraq to return to normal it will necessarily mean making itself more vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.
But we have taken it as far as Americans can. In my opinion, anything we do now may do more harm than good in delaying the inevitable and reinforcing their, at times, crippling malaise. The only enduring role for Americans is to provide the safety net to prevent complete collapse, chaos, and civil war; three things that I do not believe will happen in any event.”
Here’s hoping the peace is sustainable and that the withdrawal of combat troops from the major cities doesn’t prove premature.