In the Arena

Next Year in Iraq

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Tom Ricks has this to say about military planning in Iraq today. There are two important points here. The first is this:

The immediate all-or-nothing debate in Washington over troop levels represents a false dilemma, some military officials said. Even if a total pullout is the goal, it could take a year to execute a full withdrawal. One official estimated that with only one major route from the country — through southern Iraq to Kuwait — it would take at least 3,000 large convoys some 10 months to remove U.S. military gear and personnel alone, not including the several thousand combat vehicles that would be needed to protect such an operation.

[Italics mine]
In other words, all the yammering by various politicians about bringing the troops home by March 2008 is nonsense. Which is not to say that a withdrawal shouldn’t start now–it’s just going to take a fairly long time.

The second–and most important–point is the dog that doesn’t bark here: What is the nature of the Iraqi government that the remaining division-plus (20,000 troops) will be “protecting” and the nature of the Iraqi military that another 10,000 US troops will be training? No small question. But gradually, over the past few weeks, we’ve seen various U.S. military and intelligence officers say that the odds of an inclusive Shi’ite-Sunni-Kurd government are practically nonexistant. That means it will be a Shi’ite government. That implies we’re going to have pick sides among the Shi’ite factions. It also means Sunni-Shi’ite war without end. It also means possible chaos.

…And finally, it means that these neat military plans are taking place in a vacuum: Without some sense of the political shape of the Iraqi government, we can plan away to little effect. As ever, the military and political aspects of this catastrophe seem to be running on separate tracks. I can’t imagine how dreadful the U.S. withdrawal to Kuwait will be if it occurs under fire. Again, what a mess. And again and again.