NYT: Partial British withdrawal from Basra has been disastrous -- so let's shoot for total withdrawal

It’s a testament to how vague their Iraq prescriptions are and how buggered is their logic about withdrawal that on the first read-through of this I thought they had changed their minds since last month and were now calling for a significant U.S. troop presence into next year to keep the peace. Nope; don’t think so, at least. Here’s their reasoning as best as I can parse it:


1. The British experiment of withdrawing and pulling back from Basra has been a complete disaster, with the city transformed into a gangland for Shiite militias and the small Brit force holed up at the airport under constant attack.

2. As bad as conditions are in Basra, they’ll actually be worse when the U.S. withdraws because of the much greater number of neighborhoods mixed by sect in the north.

3. Ergo, the lesson is … to withdraw as completely as possible so as not to leave behind even a token force lest they suffer the Brits’ fate when the country descends into anarchy. Quote:

If anyone outside the White House truly believes this can work — that the United States can simply stay in Iraq in reduced numbers, while ignoring the civil war and expecting Iraqi forces to impose order— the British experience demonstrates otherwise. There simply aren’t reliable, effective and impartial Iraqi forces ready to keep the cities safe, nor are they likely to exist any time soon. And insurgents are not going to stop attacking Americans just because the Americans announce that they’re out of the fight…

The clear lesson of the British experience it is that going partway is not a realistic option.

The United States cannot walk away from the new international terrorist front it created in Iraq. It will need to keep sufficient forces and staging points in the region to strike effectively against terrorist sanctuaries there or a Qaeda bid to hijack control of a strife-torn Iraq.

But there should be no illusions about trying to continue the war on a reduced scale. It is folly to expect a smaller American force to do in a short time what a much larger force could not do over a very long time. That’s exactly what the British are now trying to do. And the results are painfully plain to see.


By “sufficient forces … in the region,” they mean special ops teams and air assets in Kurdistan, Kuwait, or Qatar to stage pinpoint raids on foreign jihadis as circumstances warrant. (See their editorial last month for more on that.) They’re not talking about keeping “sufficient forces” in Iraq to provide basic security, in other words; on the contrary, they’re calling for withdrawal notwithstanding the Basra-like collapse in security they anticipate. They’re simply saying that when the troops step aside, they should step far enough that they don’t get clipped by the onrushing freight train. Or have I misread them?

Update: Well, it’s probably all academic anyway.

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