After a revolt against the King suffers a great setback, Shakespeare’s Lord Bardolph speaks about how one ought plan for a war:
When we mean to build,
We first survey the plot, then draw the model;
And when we see the figure of the house,
Then must we rate the cost of the erection;
Which if we find outweighs ability,
What do we then but draw anew the model
In fewer offices, or at last desist
To build at all? Much more, in this great work,—
Which is almost to pluck a kingdom down
And set another up,—should we survey
The plot of situation and the model,
Consent upon a sure foundation,
Question surveyors, know our own estate,
How able such a work to undergo,
To weigh against his opposite; or else,
We fortify in paper, and in figures,
Using the names of men instead of men:
Like one that draws the model of a house
Beyond his power to build it; who, half through,
Gives o’er and leaves his part-created cost
A naked subject to the weeping clouds,
And waste for churlish winter’s tyranny.
Henry IV Part 2, I, iii, 44-65
Bush could not build the house he sketched. My thoughts on what this has to do with how we leave Iraq below.
We did not plan well for this war. As the war was neither wise nor just, though, no greater amount of planning would have made a difference. But now, "half through," we do face the question not only of how we will leave – as in depart – Iraq, but how we will leave Iraq – as in what will we have left behind.
The Zeitgeist has decreed, evidently, that we start to talk about finally paying, in coin other than defense appropriations, for the war in Iraq. Digby and Atrios discuss the question of accepting Iraqi refugees. Atrios weighs in on Kevin Drum’s thoughts on partition. Our own Steven D offers us an earlier than expected way out. And I now try to image how a post-U.S. Iraq will look. It isn’t pretty.
Let’s say that we do get out. (I tend to think, like Drum, that we need to get out because anything we do right now makes things worse. I expect that this will be to an over-the-horizon deployment, however.) What then?
We can expect ethnic bloodbaths. We can expect Iran to exert de facto control (or at least heavy influence) over the Iraqi oil supply to the South. We can expect hostility from the Kurds for abandoning them yet again, and they may expect hostilities from the Turks and other neighbors, depending on the form of any (temporary) political resolution. Maybe we can expect Iraqi Sunnis to kick out the "foreign fighters" (those that aren’t us, at least) in Al Qaeda, but I think we can expect Al Qaeda to try to move more heavily into Anbar province and other Sunni areas, which may well have terrorist training camps. Israel may want to respond unilaterally, but it has its own problems. The Saudi Armed Forces, as battle unready as in 1991, may feel some desire to get involved. Al-Maliki will hate us for abandoning him and take up the mantle of anti-Americanism as a way of staying alive; the pro-Iranian SCIRI Shi’ites will decide whether he gets to do so.
OK, so far this doesn’t look good. That’s not our doing as Democrats, but it’s our problem as Americans. The reason to withdraw and accept what looks like a disaster registering a 9 on a scale of 10 is that staying brings us up all the way to 10 of 10 – all of the above, if perhaps a little slower, plus many more American dead and even more international resentment. (Note to George W. Bush: if you create a failed state, you get anarchy and warlords. Please remember that over the next two years.)
So, Iraq ends up looking much like Lord Bardolph’s half-built house: a naked subject to the weeping clouds -- and we seem to have invited in an especially winter’s tyranny several magnitudes beyond merely "churlish." What do we do?
Well, it’s going to cost money. That won't make it right, but that's all we've got.
We are not going to accept Iraqi refugees. They are likely all presumptively barred from the U.S. for having supporting terrorism under current asylum law. So we will need to pay international agencies to build refugee camps. If we have any humanity and sense, those camps will be cities rather than camps, places that will not breed even more resentment at our actions.
Whether or not we should, we will probably maintain an air presence near Iraq so that we can bomb terrorist training camps as they develop. If we are lucky, we will be able to get the approval of whatever government is operating there. They likely won’t like Al Qaeda any more than we do. On the other hand, we will probably miss and kill civilians a fair amount of the time, so this is a problem.
We should let the international community know that we can no longer "solve the problems of Iraq" (the irony of our statement will be understood) with our troops, so we will need to do so with our wallets. That means that other countries in the region, and major players in Iraq, will need to come together under the auspices of the United Nations and essentially calculate the butcher’s bill that will be presented to us. Who needs to be paid to do what, to establish what security? If it can’t be done without a civil war, who pays for relocation of the refugees, for hospitals, for prosthetics? We do. Perhaps the best way to assure unity among the warring factions is to get them together to decide how to stick it to us.
And then we’re going to have to pay. We ought to figure out who profited from the war and figure out how to make them unprofit from it. We avoided putting our society on a wartime footing before the war; we’ll need to do it now. We can call everything that happens now the "W tax."
I raise all this here because I get the sense, sometimes, that people on this site see withdrawal from Iraq as a costless scenario. Let's be perfectly clear about this: It’s the opposite. It will be – it must be, if we're to do it right and again holds up our heads in the family of nations – costly as hell. Let's explain that to the American people, shall we? I don't hear the cost of a post-U.S. Iraq discussed much. Let's make it real in all its ugliness. We broke it, we own it, we pay for it. So arguments about the continued cost of the war should be compared against the awful scenario I present above. The good only thing I have to say about the course of action I suggest is that every other course -- including and especially staying the course -- is worse.
But, I haven’t thought about this as much as some of you have, and I’d love to hear your views.