Questioning the Assumptions

Leaving Iraq: Apocalypse Not
By Robert Dreyfuss, Washington Monthly.
Posted February 19, 2007.

Much of Washington assumes that withdrawing from Iraq will lead to a bigger bloodbath. We need to question that assumption.

The Bush administration famously based its argument for invading Iraq on best-case assumptions: that we would be greeted as liberators; that a capable democratic government would quickly emerge; that our military presence would be modest and temporary; and that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for everything. All these assumptions, of course, turned out to be wrong.

Now, many of the same people who pushed for the invasion are arguing for escalating our military involvement based on a worst-case assumption: that if America leaves quickly, the Apocalypse will follow. “How would [advocates of withdrawal] respond to the eruption of full-blown civil war in Iraq and the massive ethnic cleansing it would produce?” write Robert Kagan and William Kristol in the Weekly Standard. “How would they respond to the intervention of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran, Syria, and Turkey? And most important, what would they propose to do if, as a result of our withdrawal and the collapse of Iraq, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups managed to establish a safe haven from which to launch attacks against the United States and its allies?”

Similar rhetoric has been a staple of President Bush’s recent speeches. If the United States “fails” in Iraq — his euphemism for withdrawal — the president said in January, “[r]adical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions … Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people.”

This kind of thinking is also accepted by a wide range of liberal hawks and conservative realists who, whether or not they originally supported the invasion, now argue that the United States must stay. It was evident in the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, which, participants say, was alarmed by expert advice that withdrawal would produce potentially catastrophic consequences. Even many antiwar liberals believe that a quick pullout would cause a bloodbath. Some favor withdrawal anyway, to cut our own losses. Others demur out of geostrategic concerns, a feeling of moral obligation to the Iraqis, or the simple fear that Democrats will be blamed for the ensuing chaos.

But if it was foolish to accept the best-case assumptions that led us to invade Iraq, it’s also foolish not to question the worst-case assumptions that undergird arguments for staying. Is it possible that a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces will lead to a dramatic worsening of the situation? Of course it is, just as it’s possible that maintaining or escalating troops there could fuel the unrest. But it’s also worth considering the possibility that the worst may not happen: What if the doomsayers are wrong?

Read the rest here.

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