Last summer, Joe Biden's debating skills spurred me to write an op-ed on withdrawing from Iraq. The op-ed was never published, but you can now read it at JonathanRick.com. Here's an excerpt:
“If we started today, it would take one year—one year—to get 160,000 troops physically out of Iraq.” Indeed, 19 years ago, it took the Soviets nine months to extract 120,000 men from Afghanistan, and they were simply going next door.
Slowing things down further is the staggering amount of stuff we would need to take with us—or destroy or sell if we couldn’t, lest it fall into the wrong hands. According to Time magazine, the U.S. currently has 45,000 ground-combat vehicles in Iraq, spread out across 15 bases, 38 supply depots, 18 fuel-supply centers and 10 ammo dumps. Equally daunting, equipment re-entering the United States must be inspected for any microscopic diseases.
Moreover, the price of pulling out prematurely is gigantic and grave. In the north, Kurds and Arabs would do battle for oil wells, as Kurdistan drifted toward independence, instigating skirmishes with, and possibly an invasion by, Turkey. In the south, an emboldened Iran would stop pussyfooting and uncork its influence, establishing a theocratic Shiite foothold, with neighborhoods controlled by militias like the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army. The middle of the country would erupt in a bloodbath.
Those who contend that Iraq cannot get much worse than it is now would do well to remember that this was the same refrain about Lebanon before civil war enveloped that country and about Somalia before the U.S. rushed out in 1993. In short, the only thing standing between the shaky stability of present-day Iraq and an ethno-sectarian inferno scorching the Persian Gulf is the United States armed forces.