From Michael Gordon at the NYT comes a leaked memo from a senior military official saying we should “declare victory and go home.”
For all of these problems, however, Colonel [Timothy] Reese argues that Iraqi forces are competent enough to hold off Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias and other internal threats to the Iraqi government. Extending the American military presence in Iraq beyond 2010, he argues, will do little to improve the Iraqis’ military performance while fueling a growing resentment.
“As the old saying goes, ‘Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ ” Colonel Reese wrote. “Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose.”
The memo gets at one of the major tensions within the U.S. military over Iraq: the desire to leave versus the fear of leaving. It’s not a new tension. We sort of have been trying to leave the country since the day we set foot there in March 2003. As early as April 2003, U.S. military officials were talking about bringing the troops home by the end of the year. Former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld had, in fact, been advocating a declaration of victory/get the hell out strategy. George W. Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech indicated that the president, too, would have preferred that.
The entire American strategy–if one is kind enough to call it that–up until early 2007 had been one of giving the Iraqis control so we could exit. (A strategy of “transition,” it was called, or, as “the Iraqis stand up, we stand down.”) The strategy changed after Petraeus took charge. With the flair of Zeno’s Paradox, Petraeus argued thusly: in order to leave, we have to stay.
And so we have stayed.
Now that paradox is boggling our minds again, in light of our move outside of urban areas, and the planned complete withdrawal in 2011. But, as I’ve noted here, nobody really knows what a complete withdrawal is going to look like. And Colonel Reese suggests that it ain’t going to get much better in Iraq than it is now, so why not hit the road while the country is at least somewhat stable. Because, on the otherside of the coin, the longer we stay, the greater the risk of violence flaring up again under our watch. Which could force us to stay even longer.