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Project on Defense Alternatives
The Project on Defense Alternatives
Copyright ©The Commonwealth Institute.
As House and Senate calls for American combat troops to leave Iraq reached a crescendo in the past month, media headlines proclaimed them "withdrawal" and "pull-out" plans.
However, both House and Senate plans allow for an unspecified number of troops to remain behind to protect American "interests," infrastructure and citizens, train Iraqi security forces, and battle al Qaeda and other terrorists.
These caveats to withdrawal could mean U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely, Gareth Porter argues in "A US Recipe for Endless War in Iraq." PDA senior analyst Carl Conetta estimates that at least 40,000 and possibly up to 60,000 troops would have to stay behind in Iraq to carry out the functions allowed by Congress.1
A recent policy brief, from the Center for a New American Security by Michèle Flournoy and Shawn Brimley, argues that America's best interests don't lie in total withdrawal from Iraq. These best interests are the "Three No's": no regional war triggered by Iraq's civil war, no terrorist safe havens and no genocide. Flournoy and Brimley predict that "tens of thousands" of American forces will be needed to accomplish these goals.
How long might these troops have to stay in Iraq? Five, ten, twenty, forty years?
It is worth recalling how long U.S. troops have stayed in other countries. In most major cases since 1945, with the notable exception of Vietnam, significant US forces remain on the territory of countries once invaded and occupied (Germany, Japan, and Korea.)
Flournoy and Brimley argue that even as forces are partially withdrawn, the enduring interests of the United States "will require a significant military presence there for the forseeable future."
This also brings up the unresolved issue of permanent bases. As part of the supplemental funding bill last year, Congress voted to ban American permanent bases in Iraq. But this clause was taken out of the final legislation in conference.2
Many billions of dollars have been invested in the five or six enormous American bases in Iraq -- even though officials would never call them "permanent" -- in addition to the gigantic U.S. embassy that is being built in the Green Zone.3
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In a recent PDA briefing report, Carl Conetta argues that the recently-announced 92,000 person increase in Army and Marine Corps' end-strength will not bring near-term relief to the forces currently in Iraq and Afghanistan or serve the United States' real security needs in the longer term.
However, the increase would permit an indefinite stay in Iraq, he concludes. The increase also would allow US leaders to continuously involve 100,000 or more troops in "regime change, foreign occupation, 'nation-building', counter-insurgency, and/or stability operations."
These possibilities are borne out in a paper by Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings, titled "The Case for Larger Ground Forces." The paper is the most recent in the Stanley Foundation series, "Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide."
In it, the authors argue that America is in grave need of more ground troops to restore its "stretched-thin" armed forces -- agreeing on an additional 100,000 active duty marines and solders. Notably, Kagan is credited with being the brains behind the recent "surge" strategy in Iraq.
Kagan and O'Hanlon envision various scenarios in which the United States would want to intervene but that would require larger armed forces. They consider the need to be ready for a Korean war "as a given, either in the less probable form of a North Korean invasion of the South or in the more likely event of a North Korean collapse."
They also explore other possibilities such as military responses to the collapse of Pakistan, the takeover of a large country such as Indonesia, Congo or Nigeria by al-Qaeda-friendly forces, or a coup in Saudi Arabia.
Even as support for the Iraq war drops to historical lows 4, and much of America thinks the country is spending too much on defense 5, Kagan and O'Hanlon see Iraq as prelude to building a larger military.6
1. Also see Erik Leaver, "Iraq Supplemental Analysis," Institute for Policy Studies, 14 March 2007; Tom Engelhardt "Tomgram: Scahill, A Democratic Sell-out on Bush's Mercenaries", TomDispatch, 29 April 2007; Thom Shanker, "Pulling Out Combat Troops Would Still Leave Most Forces in Iraq," The New York Times, 10 December 2006.
4. Ben Arnoldy, "U.S. Public's Support of Iraq War Sliding Faster Now," The Christian Science Monitor, 20 March 2007.
5. Carl Conetta, "America Speaks Out: Is the United States Spending Too Much on Defense?," Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo #41, 26 March 2007.
6. Gareth Porter, "The Coming Push for More Troops -- for More and Bigger Iraqs," The Huffington Post, 18 April 2007.