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Pundit Roundtable

Hi everyone, and welcome back to PUNDIT ROUNDTABLE, our weekly roundup of pundit opinions. I am your host, Ken McCracken.

I hope everyone had a turkeylicious holiday week.

Our topic this week is a vital one:

The Senate has recently voted on a non-binding resolution admonishing the White House to provide a clearer picture on the situation in Iraq, and for the prospects for pulling our troops out. Is the time right to begin reducing troop levels in Iraq? If not now, then when? What needs to happen there before the United States can pull out its military presence there?

Our first guest is a Roundtable newcomer, Dr. Steven Taylor, who operates a favorite blog of mine, Poliblog. Dr. Steven, what do you think?

While I have been paying attention to the general debate, I have not written much about the issue of withdrawing troops from Iraq. Indeed, I have only dedicated one post (here: http://www.poliblogger.com/?p=8726 ) to the subject in the last several weeks. That post pointed to the political games being played by both parties. If there is a theme that surrounds the entire situation it is that: politics (of an electoral nature). The pending 2006 elections, though almost a year from now, hang heavy in the air in terms of their effect on the political class.

I vacillate in my own mind as to what the appropriate troop levels should be. Part of me thinks that Senator McCain is correct—that we need more troops to contribute to stabilization. Another part of me thinks that a lesser prominent American presence might allow for more focus on the Iraqis, both militarily and governmentally.

However, I do not believe that the elimination of US troops will equal the cessation of violence, as some have argued. While one of al Zarqawi’s goals is the total withdrawal of US troops, I think that the larger goal is the destabilization of the nascent Iraqi state. Assaults on the government will simply intensify when the US leaves.

Witness that a large number of attacks have been aimed at Iraqi security forces, especially at men lined up to apply for jobs with the police. Also there was that attack a few weeks back on a restaurant known to be a police favorite. Such attacks are not about the presence of the Yankee Imperialist Infidels, but are aimed at the development of a key pillar of state construction: the basic security apparatus.

What I fear is that the politics of Iraq, and the need for the Republicans to say that there will be a phased withdrawal and the Democrats’ need to at least semi-call for a total, immediate withdrawal (a simplification of both positions, to be sure) is what is driving the agenda, such as the vote in the Senate, rather than good policy planning or proper military assessments. Sadly, the entire administration Iraq policy feels adrift at the moment and members of both parties in the Congress see it simply in terms of campaign politics.

Also, I would note that the term “withdrawal” may ultimately be misleading. I can foresee a drawdown of troops (i.e., a significant reduction in boots on the ground) but I continue to think that there will be some US military presence there for some time to come.

What I continue to be amazed by is the lack of a serious, publicly articulated plan from the Democrats. Indeed, that lack has baffled me for over a year and a half now. I am further baffled by the administration’s inability to articulate a clear policy beyond “staying the path.” Moreover, I do no understand why a more constant effort to articulate the importance of the policy isn’t being undertaken by the administration.

Our next guest is a previous Roundtable participant, Reliapundit of The Astute Blogger. What do you say, Reliapundit?
I agree with the Administration and the Pentagon that withdrawal has to be conditon-based and not time-based. Only when conditons are met can withdrawal safely occur. "Conditons" includes the general level and pace of attacks and casualties, as well as the numbers of Iraqi defense forces, border forces and policing forces which are independently operational. Also, conditions means progress on the political front. And these things interact.

Because questions (1) & (2) pose the issues in terms of TIME - "is the time right"/"if not now, when" - I'd have to say the questions are biased and propagandistic; as long as the question is posed that way - as long as the issue is framed that way - the anti-Bush Doves of the Left have a virtual win, because the Administration is put on the defensive in a debate which it should NOT have.

Question (3) frames the issue correctly, as a "WHAT" question and not a "WHEN" question.

What must happen is simple: The Iraqis - through their duly constituted and democratically elected government - must say that they are ready to start taking over.They should say this privately and withdrawal should not be publicized. As long as they want military help we should give it to them. DITTO financial aid.

LOOKIT: I was an anti-Vietnam War dove/Lefty, something I am ASHAMED of now. And my worst fear it that, IF EVER GIVEN THE CHANCE, the Dem/Left will abandon the Iraqis the way they did the Soouth Vietnamese and ther Contras. Prof of the is the constant quagmire refrian and the fact that the same scum is involved: Ellsberg, Hersh, Kennedy, Kerry, Chomsky, et al. They were wrong them and they are wrong now.

I still have a few Lefty dove friends, and whn I ask them how many US combat troops were in Vietnam when Saigon fell to the Vietcong they say between 500,000 and 100,000. In fact, there were NONE. The last US combat troops were withdrawn on 3/29/73 - A FULL TWO YEARS BEFORE SAIGON FELL. Vietnamization WORKED. The ONLY ONLY ONLY reason that the SVG fell was that the McGovernite Democrat Party which controlled Congress pulled the plug on financial aid to the SVG. They way they did to Contras 4 years later.

We all know the horrific repercussions of the fall of South Vietnam: Boat People, the Killing Fields, Vietnamese "re-education" camps... etc... (Ironcially/sadly, the Vietnamese government now wants NO BEGS for USA investment. Pity. The waste. Had the North Vietnamese NOT been a Marxist totalitarian tyranny, they could have had American investment for the last 40 years, and WITHOUT condemng 3 million of the own to die trying to stop that very thing!)

The Dem/Left will abandon the Iraqis - and Afghanis - the moment they get the chance. That's why 2006 is so EFF'N important. We mustn't let the Pelosi/Dean/Kennedy/Kerry crowd of Lefty McGovernite doves get control of either body of Congress. (Right now, the only Dem I would trust with our nation's defense - or the defense of the free World is Joe Lieberman. The rest of the so-called Democrat centrists are all PHONIES.)

That being said, I believe that withdrawals will begin by next spring. Things are going well there, now - have been for many months.

BTW: I have a relative who is being deployed for the first time. He is a fine man, well-trained and proud to serve. And we are proud he is serving. And worried. We pray EVERYDAY for his safety and for the success of his mission. And the mission of all our troops and the troops of our allies.

Ultimately it is the success of the mission which will determine our troop levels and NOT the calender - at least as long as the GOP has the final say. I MEAN THAT, AND I AM STILL A REGISTERED DEMOCRAT! Have been since 1974.

I saw an article today which sated that 70% of Iraq (geographocally) is now ONLY patrolled/policed by Iraqi forces. I believe that - based on current trends - that number will be 100% by 2007. Which is to say, based on current trends I would expect conditions allowing for complete withdrawal should be met by then.

THEN - with the best trained, best equipped and MOST BATTLE-HARDENED FORCE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD - we can muster a more credible devastating threat against the remaining foes: Syria (if Assad has somehow managed to hold on), Iran and North Korea.

Reliapundit also adds this from a recent post of his:

Fellow blogger and frequent commenter PASTORIUS suggested I make this bit, from an earlier post, the lead (NYTIMES):

(NYTIMES) On Monday, Iraq's interior minister, Bayan Jabr, said American-led forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year, adding that the one-year extension of the mandate for the multinational force in Iraq by the United Nations Security Council earlier this month could be the last, The Associated Press reported. "By mid-next year, we will be 75 percent done in building our forces, and by the end of next year it will be fully ready," Mr. Jabr told Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news channel.

RELIAPUNDIT: Let's get this straight, President Talabani, Deputy PM Chalabi and the Interior Minister have NOW ALL GONE ON RECORD and all confirmed this goal. THAT'S GREAT. They feel that with the GREAT US help they're getting - in defending their nascent democracy and training them to defend themselves - they will soon be able to dio just that. GREAT: We must do whatever we can to make sure they meet it.

So, er... um... what the heck are the Murtha/McGovernite Dem-Lefties whining about!?

Dan Morgan of NoSpeedBumps.com is our next guest, making his second trip to the Roundtable. Dan?
The rush to make plans for a withdrawal from Iraq is misguided. It is understandable that people want to reduce American causalities, we all want this. But we are still in a war, and there are right ways to end wars and wrong ways. Consider some examples.

We invaded Germany and Japan and ended dictatorships there. We have kept bases in those countries for 60 years now. Germany and Japan have emerged as thoroughly democratic, their citizens are free, and by the end of the 20th century these countries had achieved the 2nd and 3rd largest economies in the world.

Now consider a country we left early: Vietnam. We withdrew in the midst of an unstable situation. We also then withheld critical U.S. military support that was promised, for example air support for the South Vietnamese army. The end result is that the Vietnamese have now lived for 30 years under a brutal dictatorship, citizens have no freedom, and the country has remained poor.

A hasty and complete withdrawal from Iraq will undoubtedly mean a drawdown of support in many areas, just like it did in Vietnam. A bloody civil war is a likely outcome - and a democratic government surviving this war is unlikely. The hopes for Iraq serving as a model for democracy for other countries in the Middle East will collapse. Autocrats in the region will then feel emboldened to re-tighten their grips on power. Thus, the oppression and economic corruption that fuels Islamic terrorism will all be left intact. A hasty withdrawal from Iraq will mean abandoning a key component in the war on terror - the component that is most directly dealing with the root causes of terrorism over the long term.

The appropriate strategy in Iraq is to maintain military bases there for as long as needed to assure a democratic Iraq. However, Iraqis must take over most patrols and ground operations against the insurgents. After the upcoming elections, American troops can gradually stay more on bases so that they are much more out of harm’s way. The U.S. troop levels stationed in Iraq can also gradually be significantly reduced.

But keeping U.S. bases in Iraq is critical because these bases will provide local air support, logistics help, intelligence support, advanced training, as well as making certain that Iraqis stay on the path to democracy. Within the protected zones, the U.S. and our allies can continue to provide help with on-going advising and training on how to nurture democratic institutions and advance the rule of law.

Like it or not, we will likely still have bases in Iraq five years from now. A key is to begin demanding that Iraqis take over security. The goal should be for the U.S. to gradually fade into a background role, just like we did in Japan and Germany. And some day, long after the anti-war protests have faded, we can finally withdraw.

Our next response is from Will Franklin, founder of this very blog. Will?
Watching Tim Russert and his clique on NBC this morning for the first time in a long time, it dawned on me just how difficult this situation is for President Bush. Essentially, everyone in the Washington media establishment has put unreasonable demands and expectations on the situation. No matter how much tangible, verifiable progress is made, when these folks get together, the consensus quickly moves toward the following: 1) the entire situation is a disaster; 2) Bush and his administration are exclusively to blame for the alleged disaster; and, 3) nothing can be done to solve this alleged disaster.

This media consensus is unfortunate, and it is the reason Democrats feel so emboldened lately on demanding the cut and run from Iraq, as well as the reason why many Congressional Republicans are distancing themselves from the GOP agenda more generally. It also demonstrates just how supremely influential the establishment media remain today, regardless of blogs and talk radio and so on.

Another unfortunate side-effect of this defeatist consensus is that pulling, say, 30 thousand troops out of Iraq in the next several months might indeed be the right tactical thing to do, as Iraqis are increasingly able to handle security. I don't know. But if President Bush brings 1/5 or 1/4 of the American troops home, it may appear like he is conceding to the media consensus, making him seem weak and unserious.

In two and a half weeks, Iraqis will go to the polls to send 275 members to the Iraqi Assembly. This election will not be any kind of panacea, but it will mark an important milestone, and it will move us closer to the mission of helping Iraqi democracy help itself. A little perspective is in order, too. The year is 2005. The U.S. first went into Iraq in 2003. Training Iraqi security forces and helping to set up a self-perpetuating, functioning democracy in 2-3 years is nothing short of miraculous. It seems unreasonable to give up so soon.

The host's last word: reducing troop levels now would be a mistake, if anything we should be sending more troops to Iraq, to ensure our mission succeeds. We simply must make this experiment work and see it through - this task is as important as democratizing Japan and Germany were after the end of World War II, perhaps even more so. This is our chance to revolutionize the entire region, and we have already seen some of this occuring in Lebanon, and in the kifaya revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere.

The necessary condition for a complete troop pullout from Iraq is nothing less than a complete paradigm shift in the middle east - but I do feel that we are much further along on that course than our defeatist media would have us believe. The arab street did not rise up to support Saddam again our 'neocon' adventure in Iraq - but the arab street has risen up against Bashar Assad in Lebanon, and against Zarqawi in Jordan. The arab street is becoming enthralled with the spirit of democracy, and the old paradigm of the strongman ruler playing on ethnic and xenophobic fears to maintain his power is falling by the wayside.

If we americans lose our faith in the ability of democracy to transform Iraq and the rest of the region, how can we expect the arabs, kurds and persians to keep the faith? Our experiment in Iraq is not simply about Iraq, but about the entire middle east. Perhaps we need the equivalent of a new NATO in the middle east, anchored by a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq, to ensure the continued stability of Iraq against the depredations of Zarqawi and a reactionary Tehran. Even more so, we need to overtly and covertly contribute to the downfall of the remaining anti-democratic states there (including Saudi Arabia) still trying to hold back the tides of history, and the inevitability of self-governance for all peoples in that region.

That's it! Thank you, pundits, and come back next week for our next installment of PUNDIT ROUNDTABLE!

Posted by Ken McCracken · 27 November 2005 01:01 PM


Good stuff, guys. Way better than Meet The Press, once again.

Posted by: Will Franklin at November 27, 2005 02:00 PM

Wouldn't it be great if there were a Meet the Press-style program like this forum on Fox or, dare I suggest, NPR or PBS to provide a fair and balanced perspective? If someone wanted to be daringly innovative, he might suggest such a program or roundup for LameStream (Exempt)Media, packaging it as a means to regain their lost revenues.

Posted by: onlineanalyst at November 27, 2005 02:38 PM

No offense, Online, but having 6 opinions saying essentially the same thing is not exactly "fair and balanced". There is certainly a principled argument to be made for reducing troop levels, and it would have been nice to see that included. (Although I will admit to being a fan of several of the pundits included here.)

Posted by: SoloD at November 27, 2005 10:57 PM

I'm diggin' the innovative programming, guys.

From where I stand, it looks like Bush is holding all the cards.
New polls show that over 65% of Americans hold that Democratic "prescriptions" for success in Iraq are not serious criticisms, but instead tactics for political gamesmanship, and a similar percantage believes that talk of withdrawal demoralizes our troops.

Bush and friends just have to tighten the rhetorical noose, now.

Posted by: Steve at November 28, 2005 09:22 AM

I guess I have to agree that the opinions here did not turn out to be exactly 'fair and balanced', but that is not by design. I would have been more than happy to have invited folks to the Roundtable with principled reasons to reduce troop levels - would love to hear what they have to say. It just isn't the way the cards fell this week.

If anyone knows of any good liberal bloggers that can do more than regurgitate Bush hatred, hook me up.

Posted by: Ken McCracken at November 28, 2005 02:19 PM

SoloD: What I was proposing was a fair and balanced counterweight to the predominantly liberal or Democrat talking points programs of the current mainstream Sunday talk show line up. As it is now, anti-administration representation dominates. Most of the guests currently hold office or use the forums to run for office.

Posted by: onlineanalyst at November 28, 2005 02:33 PM