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Residuals: Continuing the Debate

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"Residuals: Continuing the Debate"

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I think it’s a little unfortunate that Will Marshall’s response to my critique of his case for residual forces in Iraq doesn’t really grapple with the arguments I made. Instead, he accuses me of not addressing some other things. And fair enough, I’ll try to address some of Marshall’s concerns. But I would like to see what he has to say about the problems that I think exist with his argument:

And wouldn’t al Qaeda in Iraq be emboldened by a swift U.S. departure? Wouldn’t more foreign jihadists come to celebrate their victory in driving America out of Iraq? Wouldn’t Sunni shieks who have turned on al Qaeda switch back without us there to tip the scales? Yglesias doesn’t say.

Obviously, if US forces aren’t in Iraq on Day X, al-Qaeda will use that fact for propaganda and recruiting purposes. By the same token, however, if US forces are in Iraq on Day X, al-Qaeda will use that fact for propaganda and recruiting purposes. There’s not some course of action we can take such that al-Qaeda’s response will be “fair enough” and then they shuffle off quietly into the sunset.

I really don’t think, however, that “more foreign jihadists” would actually go to Iraq in order to “celebrate their victory.” People interested in fighting infidels occupying Muslim lands are going to go somewhere (Kashmir, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Palestine, I dunno) where that’s plausibly what’s happening. The US military presence is what’s attracting foreign fighters to Iraq, it’s not a prophylactic against foreign fighters coming into the country. Would Sunni Sheikhs flip-flop and side with al-Qaeda? There are no guarantees, but I don’t see why they would. The consistent Sunni Sheikh agenda in western Iraq has been to maximize the power of Sunni Sheikhs in western Iraq vis-a-vis American occupiers, al-Qaeda interlopers, and Shiites in Baghdad. That’ll continue to be their agenda. If we stay, by contrast, we do take the risk that our tactical alliance with the local notables will outlive its usefulness and they’ll turn around and start shooting at our troops again.

On Marshall’s other points — yes, as I said, preventing a wider regional war is desirable. I don’t, however, see how a residual US military presence in Iraq helps accomplish that goal. On genocide, Marshall accuses me of being callous offering the old “Not our problem, apparently.” Here’s my point. Marshall says we need to “get U.S. troops out of the business of mediating Iraq’s sectarian conflicts.” I agree. Marshall also wants us to prevent a hypothetical genocide in Iraq. Given the choice, obviously, I, too, would like to prevent this hypothetical genocide. There isn’t, however, any way to prevent the possibility that Iraq’s sectarian conflicts will result in genocide or ethnic cleansing other than to mediate Iraq’s sectarian conflicts. If we’re going to abandon the goal of mediating Iraq’s sectarian conflicts, then we need to admit to ourselves that that means the sectarian conflicts might get really, really, really nasty and we’re . . . not going to mediate them.

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