How long do we stay in Iraq?

Thomas Ricks, is the author of the excellent Iraq War chronicle “Fiasco,” thinks we have to keep 30,000+ troops in Iraq indefinitely:

By June, American troops may be leaving areas that are far from quiet, and where new tensions may be brewing as a result of the elections. Once again, the United States would be rushing toward failure in Iraq, as it did so often under the Bush administration, trying to pass responsibility to Iraqi officials and institutions before they are ready for the task.

[…] I think leaders in both countries may come to recognize that the best way to deter a return to civil war is to find a way to keep 30,000 to 50,000 United States service members in Iraq for many years to come.

Ricks is probably right that the civil war will re-intensify when we leave Iraq. That’s the inevitable outcome of taking the lid off a thousand year old sectarian rift between Shiites and Sunnis. Saddam Hussein was only able to keep Iraq under control through brutality and fear. The American experience has been similar; we’ve needed thousands of combat troops to keep the civil war at low simmer.

Even so, I can’t endorse the notion we should stay in Iraq forever. Iraqis should take care of Iraqis, while Americans take care of Americans. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve got our own problems. A huge chunk of our population doesn’t have access to basic medical care. Our infrastructure is falling apart. 10% of our people are unemployed. Our national debt has exploded in part because we’ve spent trillions in Iraq and Afghanistan. We simply can’t afford to stay there forever.

Likewise, I reject the idea that it’s our responsibility to prevent a civil war in Iraq in perpetuity. Certainly our invasion stirred up the hornets nest, and for that we owe the Iraqi people a debt for their spilled blood that can never truly be repaid. But ultimately this civil war is not about us. It has it’s roots in religious differences that go back over one thousand years. American teenagers with rifles haven’t fixed it in seven years and they aren’t going to fix in 20.

I urge the President to fulfill his campaign promise and get us the hell out of there before more blood and treasure is wasted delaying the inevitable.

(h/t Sully)


  1. The way things are going with our economy, I think we will stay until the economy picks up and here is why……say the war ends today and all those Reservists and Guardsmen return to civilian life….what will happen to the unemploymenbt figures? The war is an economic decision, IMO.

  2. Clint

    (From Frida Berrigan)

    “Thomas Ricks wrote that staying might be the new leaving … Kenneth Pollack of Brookings compared U.S. military forces in Iraq to a cast on a broken arm, saying ‘we can’t know for certain when Iraq’s bones have healed, we need to be very careful about how and when we remove the cast.’ This is a compelling argument only if one forgets that the cast broke the arm in the first place.”