This morning, Bush defined success in Iraq as an ‘acceptable level of violence’. This argument ties withdrawal of American forces to the level of violence. In many ways, this logic is as problematic as a benchmarked timetable. If some insurgents want the US to leave, wouldn’t they just stop fighting until they do, and if others want them to stay then there is no incentive to stop fighting. The US is of course fighting multiple wars. They are the antagonist against anti-occupation elements, some of which are Al-Qaeda linked. They are also a mitigating buffer against wider sectarian violence. These are very different wars. It seems to me that both macro policy options currently on the table (Bush’s and the Dem’s) insufficiently capture the multiple sources, motives, and objectives of the violence.
One possible way of looking at it is as a choice between: 1. very long term commitment to large scale reconstruction and peacekeeping the sectarian violence, while accepting the level of anti-occupation attacks that will come with this; and, 2. withdrawal to halt at least the anti-occupation/al-qaeda violence, while seeking other means of halting the sectarian violence.
The former appears politically unfeasible, and the latter presents significant humanitarian risks.
In option 2, the question then becomes, if the US leaving will halt the anti-occupation attacks, then what, aside from the presence of US troops can be done to stop the sectarian violence? Here, I am afraid we have to get into a challenging discussion of regional/international efforts.
I just don’t think that the US can win both of these wars. A choice is going to required.