Michael: Dean Misdiagnoses IraqDemonstrating the power of the other pro-war party's establishment to suck the good sense out of anyone, DNC Chairman Howard Dean declared that we cannot pull out of Iraq now that we are there. I respect Dean's opinions, and I think his change of mind (UPDATE: Upon reviewing the record, I don't think it's really fair to even characterize Dean's recent statement as a change - he has always maintained that we need to make the best of a bad situation) is well-intentioned, but don't agree with him on this.
Dean lays out three reasons why we must continue to occupy Iraq: the possibility of a Shi'ite theocracy, the destabilization of Iraq by the emergence of an independent Kurdistan in the north, and the Sunni triangle becoming a Taliban-style terrorism incubator.
The problem with his reasoning is that our continued military occupation does not effectively address any of these possibilities, and may in fact make one or more of these scenarios more likely. It is an unfortunate flaw of planners in a military hot-spot like Iraq to believe that military force can accomplish every mission. To a hammer all the world looks like a nail, as they say.
All three of the dangers Dean astutely recognizes are really political problems, not readily soluble by military means: especially not with the relatively light force we have available in Iraq. Really, the only scenario which is amenable to military action is maintaining security in the Sunni triangle, preventing terrorists from setting up military training camps. Consider, however, that the insurgents have been able to effectively plan, train, marshall forces and materiel, and carry out terrorist and paramilitary operations despite our best efforts to stop them; one can hardly have confidence that future operations are going to be more effective.
The utility of maintaining a static occupational force in Iraq even as a counter to terrorist cell activity is questionable, at best. If America is going to bring our Iraq misadventure in for a smooth landing, it will be due to our skillful handling of Iraqi politicians, and the elimination of fraud and waste in the reconstruction, not to the force of our arms.
To my mind, the presence of our armed forces in Iraq is now more of an irritant and distraction than it is a guarantor of security. An appropriate time table for withdrawal of our armed forces, save perhaps for a highly internationalized training force, would be a spur to political progress and a sign of good-faith to the Iraqi people who have suffered the most in the process of removing the Ba'athist regime and now overwhelmingly wish us to leave.
In short, Dean has correctly identified the major hazards to the mission in Iraq, but misdiagnosed the means of avoiding them. Of course, the underlying assumption of all of this reasoning is that the Bush Administration's aim is to create a democratic and independent state in Iraq. This is a faulty assumption. The most important reason to oppose prolonging the military occupation of Iraq is that it gives the Bush Administration greater leverage to accomplish their genuine goal: the permanent subjugation and occupation of Iraq.
All Democrats should oppose prolonging American occupation of Iraq for one simple reason: Bush does not have the best interests of Iraqis in mind, and never did. Dean apparently still gives Bush the benefit of the doubt. That is perhaps mandatory for a person in his position. It's not mandatory for regular people like us.