Thursday, August 2, 2007

British Troop Withdrawal from Iraq Appears Set for October

Britain is getting out, so why aren't we? This is the big question that Bush wants to avoid. And in his recent visit visit to Washington, new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared willing to help him avoid it as long as possible – at least until October. But Brown did tell Bush he would not delay British troop withdrawal.

British papers are reporting, that despite Brown's proclamations of unity with the Bush administration, Brown will announce the withdrawal of Britain's 5,500 troops from Iraq this October. The 5,500 British troops in Iraq represents a significant reduction by more than half of the highest level of the British contingent. In other words, Britain has been steadily reducing its presence in Iraq.

Brown faces a serious revolt from voters, who have already handed Brown's Labor Party significant electoral losses in the past few local and national elections, if he fails to make the right decision to withdraw troops. Public opinion in Britain, like the US, has turned sharply against the war.

The British withdrawal poses a serious problem for the Bush administration. It defies the claim that a timeline for withdrawal will "embolden the enemy." And because British withdrawal isn't based on "progress" in its area of operation – sectarian violence, political disunity, the lack of a coherent authority, and economic and infrastructural problems persist – it suggests that the US needs to pursue other means than military force and occupation to assist in solving Iraq's internal problems.

Will Bush denounce the British as emboldening the enemy? Will he claim they have caused greater sectarian violence and civil war? Nope. He'll save that for the vast majority of Americans and congressional Democrats who want to do the same thing Britain is doing.

The point is: if British troops get to leave, why not ours?

Pro-Bush Republicans have insisted on waiting for a September report from General Petraeus about "progress" in Iraq before committing to changing course in the war. Some Democrats even appear to have fallen for this political sleight of hand for delaying bringing the troops home. Just wait and let progress happen, they repeat over and over again. Wait until September. Next, we'll hear wait until November. Wait. Wait. Wait.

But we've been waiting for more than 4 years and more than 3,600 deaths. Military occupation has failed to help the US and the Iraqi government reach even limited goals for "progress" in Iraq. Sectarian violence has not, and cannot be eliminated by military force. Security problems in Iraq have been exacerbated by the presents of US troops, as ironic as that may sound.

It is clear that security in Iraq is an international political issue that the US, adopting its current posture, cannot resolve alone, if at all. Hostile postures toward Syria and Iran without serious high-level talks, the presence of a huge US military and civilian force (and unpopular domestic policies imposed on Iraq by the US), contradictory laissez-faire attitudes toward Saudi and Turkish interference in Iraq all combine to create a situation that makes the status quo seem to be the best thing to do.

In other words, hostility toward some of the regional players and the lack of real diplomacy work to enforce Bush's stay-the-course Iraq policy. Doing nothing seriously new appears to be a Bush tactic. If Bush were serious about bringing the war to an end, he would be serious about good-faith diplomacy and find out what it will take to end outside interference (including the US) and allow Iraq to develop its own sense of national cohesion and identity again. Only on this basis will Iraq move out of its ongoing civil war.

Bush isn't interested in this. and the result is an irresponsible and criminal waste of human life, treasure, and resources – our own and Iraq's. Thus, it is up to Congress to continue pressure for a change. But in addition to lining up a plethora of troop withdrawal plans, Congress should refocus the debate away from the jiggery-pokery of "progress in Iraq" and back onto responsible ending of the occupation through multilateral diplomacy, alternative measures for security, real reconstruction, and the struggle against terrorism.

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