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11 September 2007


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Susan in Iowa

Hello Colonel Lang, I usually just lurk here, but am trying to figure out how to evaluate the candidates who are flocking through here and their plans. One of the things I've been asking about is Iran, and I concur strongly with your comment about it.

I can't get an answer out of the Edwards camapaign at all. I even gave Elizabeth a highlighted copy of his Herzliya speech on my third try. (Where he says the Americans can be educated to what needs to be done about Iran when diplomacy fails.) No response.

I asked Biden about Iran when he was here over Labor Day weekend. He said it would provoke a constitutional crisis if Bush attacked Iran, and that he had warned them in strong terms against it. A Persian aide who was with him said it could mean impeachment. But he also said that they do not have 67 votes to override a veto. This is frustrating to hear. What use is a constitutional crisis when the missiles are already deployed?

It's obvious what Bush is getting ready to do, even to an ordinary person in rural Iowa. I feel as though everyone in Washington is just sitting back and waiting for the inevitable strike on Iran, followed by one of the scenarios that Sam Gardiner laid out in the Atlantic in 2004 and since. What is wrong with these people? What can we do?


It's all academic anyway, isn't it? Bush is not going to withdraw any more than the 30,000 "surge" troops. When he leaves in Jan. 2009, there will still be 130K soldiers there - because he says so.

The next president will end the U.S. military presence, then who knows what will happen? Probably something akin to post-Soviet Afghanistan.

This war was destined from the the beginning to advance Iranian hegemony. There's no putting that genie back in the bottle. And many will try to deflect blame, but the general public knows this is Bush's war. I know the propagandists will be out in full force trying to lay blame elsewhere, but it won't work.



NEWSWEEK has learned that a separate internal report being prepared by a Pentagon working group will “differ substantially” from Petraeus’s recommendations, according to an official who is privy to the ongoing discussions but would speak about them only on condition of anonymity. An early version of the report, which is currently being drafted and is expected to be completed by the beginning of next year, will “recommend a very rapid reduction in American forces: as much as two-thirds of the existing force very quickly, while keeping the remainder there.” The strategy will involve unwinding the still large U.S. presence in big forward operation bases and putting smaller teams in outposts. “There is interest at senior levels [of the Pentagon] in getting alternative views” to Petraeus, the official said. Among others, Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon is known to want to draw down faster than Petraeus


As a party, the Dems are weak at heart now. (Disclosure: I usually vote Dem.) They've been beaten over the head with "you hate the troops" for so long they're afraid. And, of course, they've made genuine mistakes on policy. The Republicans have too and, recently, worse ones, but this doesn't seem to bother them as much.

The opportunity to shine here on Iran policy is clear and would have deep public support. It's win-win for the Dems and the country. The failure of the Dems to pass admendments requiring the President to seeks Congressional "advice and consent" before going into Iran points to deep illness in the party.

Bush, in his mind, has left the path clear to go around Congress based on the AUMF and administration statements.

They campaigned against Bush in the 06' election and won. They are in a bad position vis a vis Iraq because it's very hard to adjust a President's policy. This is clear, right? It's easier to either support it or oppose it. Coming out of the 06' election, many feel they have to oppose.


I've read several versions of the "we can't pull out because it will be a disaster that gets blamed on Democrats" theory. What I don't understand is the alternative. Under all imaginable circumstances, this war will be continuing when the next president takes office. Realities are that no good solution will be found for Iraq and the disasters you list will occur whenever a withdrawal takes place (unless you propose an occupation of 20 years or so). As a result, a future president is going to get blamed for it no matter what. With that in mind, should Democrats simply forfeit the presidency so blame will fall to a Republican? I think not. Rather, Democrats should start strongly articulating the unwinnable situation Bush has placed us. Condition the American people for the outcome you foresee -- the most dramatic characteristic of which will be a marked rise in Iranian power. Its better we face the music now while people still remember Bush led us down this trail. In a few years, most Americans will no longer remember who was president when the war started.


Hi Pat,
I'm glad to see some longer-range thinking about the consequences of a withdrawal from Iraq. I would hope that you'll continue this, because you'll see that Mr. Bush has started a realignment of national borders to the sitation prevailing prior to the British occupation. Think about this for a moment. Extend the effects you've bulleted in your post. What do we see? Tribal and sectarian alignments until the cows come home. Saddam Hussein was able to marshal these forces into a cohesive state. Can the likes of Petraeus and Crocker do so?
You've said it's folly to withdraw. I say it's folly to stay. No outside force on God's green earth is going to prevent Iran from reestablishing its primacy on the former eastern Iraq (both south and north). No force on earth is going to discourage the Kurds from attempting to reclaim southeast Turkey and western Iran - and they'll get their asses killed for their efforts. No force on earth is going to prevent the Sunni Arabs from withdrawing from contact with Shia.
History has some great moments. We're looking at one now. Can the US Army and Marine Corps do anything to maintain Hussein's "Iraq," and resist the tides of history mentioned above? C'mon, Pat. Think it through.
All respect,

W. Patrick Lang


Do you do your homework this way?

I did not say it was folly to withdraw.

I said it would be folly to withdraw in a mad rush for the door.

Can't you see that DP is trying to get us out of there in spite of being hampered by having the deadly duo in charge? pl



I follow your concerns for a rapid withdrawal. Allow me to wonder aloud, as it were.

Your arguments suggest that if we stay, all of these outcomes would be avoided.

Essentially, you are describing partitioning with consequences. (Some insiders advocate partitioning as we speak.)

Nowhere have I read any attempt in a withdrawal assessment to explore or design a diplomatic parallel 'surge' to a military disengagement aimed at avoiding the outcomes you fortell.

Also, if we successfully thwarted a fully functioning Iraq under Saddam from having his way completely, does that suggest we may be able to effect post withdrawal Iraq similarly? Is it necessary to have boots on the ground to advantageously effect events on the ground post withdrawal?

A grand assessment (not saying yours is offered as that) regarding Iraq that doesn't mention the Sa'uds role in Iraq is inherently defective, IMHO.

Riyahd and Terhan are presently (and historically I might add) enagaed in talks. Iran has actually been a force for stability among some tribes (Sadr) according to some. They do have an interest is a stable Iraq, afterall. As do all the surrounding States. Turkey, Egypt, Arabia and Jordan are among the largest recipients of American arms and generosity (no particular order or ranking implied) on the planet. Surely there must be some leverage there, and I don't mean merely in the simplest of terms as in a zero sum negotiation.

Anyway, all this is to look askance at all who predict doom and gloom as if we aren't headed there regardless.

Great blog. thx.



regarding your above recommendations , why don't you assemble them in a letter/fax to both reid and pelosi along with webb, warner, senate and house armed svcs cmte's and your state reps in the congress?

just a thought


Hi Pat,

You're right. I claimed you'd said something you hadn't: I wrote "You've said it's folly to withdraw," when you hadn't said that. My fault.

You asked "Can't you see that DP is trying to get us out of there..." I hadn't. I've been reading "liveblogging" of the testimony, but haven't had time for broadcast television. Your interpretation is interesting, and hopeful.

But let's ask the question "Under what circumstances should US forces withdraw?"

Even more than "All respect,"


My impression of Gen. Petraeus is that he's



What intrigues me most about the whole "withdrawal" discussion is that it tacitly assumes that the conditions in Iraq are ours to decide.

Unfortunately, if Cheney get his way and we attack Iran, then the conditions of our withdrawal will likely not get made in Congress or in the White House -- they will be made in the heat of battle between retreating U.S. troops and a whole host of opposing forces with one essential thing in common, namely that they hold the home-court advantage (which makes their logistics decisions infinitely simpler than ours).

We are already entirely too close to losing the war in Afghanistan, and history has shown that withdrawals in force there are often painfully unsuccessful. And if Iranian forces intervene in Southern Iraq (as they would likely would do if we attacked Iran), then we might someday look back on the carnage of 2006/2007 in Iraq as "the good old days".

Just one more reason I agree with your assertion that a most important step now is that of not entering into any more ill-considered wars of choice. But I do wish our media would spend some time fully considering the notion that we are actually at war in Iraq, and that the near-term outcomes are not entirely up to the White House or Congress or even the wishes of the American people.


While the Israeli Air Force with their multi-million dollar U.S. airplanes was bragging about their pummeling of Syria, the Gazan Air Force made a direct hit on an israeli basic training camp with its Qassam rockets (really, glorified mortars). All three of them, that is three mortars.

There lies your answer why the Dems won't makes a stand on Iran- the Israeli Lobby.

No politician, save Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich has dared stand up to them.

Cold War Zoomie

"I predict that If you are seen to be the instruments of such a collapse, then you will be blamed for a catastrophe in which thousands of American soldiers will have died."

It's safe to say that the Republicans will slam dunk the Democrats any chance they get. If a Dem wins the White House in 2009, they'll get slammed for staying or leaving. Doesn't matter either way. The Republicans have done an excellent job at tapping into many Americans' emotional need to blame all sorts of bogymen while being part of a winning team.

In many ways, the Dems did not *deserve* to win in 2006. They only won because the other team has fumbled so badly. It was a gimme.

As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no cohesive leadership in the Democratic party. They are simply floundering around while the GOP reverts to its opposition party tactics.

Although I am always on the lookout for any sign that Bush will try to declare victory and skedaddle, most likely we'll still have at least 100,000 troops in Iraq when he leaves office. And the Dems will likely win by default again next year.

But I doubt we'll be seeing any innovative leadership coming from these casper milquetoasts running the show. The best we can hope for is that they will recognize how much help they need from independent experts such as you, Col Lang, and your cohorts. And that they are strong enough individuals to listen and implement any recommendations.

Dem Leader

Jerry Thompson

Another effect of rapid withdrawal -- less apparent but I think potentially more dangerous: We are going to have to grant sanctuary in the U.S. to thousands of Iraqis who have been our employees, cooperated with us, etc. No matter how we define "family", some limits will be imposed, families will be divided, relatives will be sacrificed. All manner of requirements for retribution will be invoked on ... guess who? This may not be exactly the same as "the terrorists will follow us home" but the outcome will be similar. Seems to me it will be at least as difficult to detect/preempt/counter/ reduce.


Colonel Lang, you wrote ...

Can't you see that DP is trying to get us out of there in spite of being hampered by having the deadly duo in charge?
Unfortunately, I cannot see that.

What I see is a Democratic Party that caves in to each and every demand that the Bush regime makes.

Now that the war drums are beating louder and louder for a strike against Iran, they are waffling on that item as well.

And the cherry on top of this wonderful dish of ice cream is that they will be blamed no matter what happens, or who is actually responsible. Here it is, the Year of Our Lord 2007. The Republicans have been in full control of both houses of Congress from 2001 into 2007. They still control the executive branch. They have packed the Supreme Court, and have undermined the lower courts. They have done as they wished with the entirety of American governmental infrastructure, without let or hindrance.

And everything that goes wrong is still made out to be the fault of the Democrats in general, and Clinton in particular.

Just precisely what are the Congressional Democrats really afraid of? Criticism? Blame? You may as well be afraid of taxes or the sun coming up. They are both going to happen and there is absolutely nothing that can be done about either.

As for the consequences of our withdrawl, I don't see them much ameliorated by our continued presence.

Civil war? That ship has already sailed.

Iranian dominance over Shia politics, which, after the ethnic cleansing, is the politics of just about everywhere in Iraq past the provinces controlled by the Kurds? An accomplished fact.

As for the AQ in Iraq, you said it yourself, several posts ago. AQ has managed to make enemies of every faction in that country. There was never any love lost between extreme Salafists and Shiites. The urban Sunnis had far too secular an agenda for AQ's taste, and there was no way they were going to drop it without a fight. Now, as you have informed us, AQI has made deadly mortal enemies of the tribal Sunnis in Anbar province. Heinlein has been proven right yet again: evil is basically stupid. All of which serves to inform me that AQI is going to last about as long as a six-pack at a fraternity party once our absence serves to concentrate the attentions of Iraqis on the other people they hate.

I contend that the ONLY thing we have to gain by our continued presence in Iraq is the safe extraction of ALL of our people in that country. Past that, we're looking at a train wreck that is beyond our power to mitigate. Particularly since so much of it has already happened.


We are entered upon that sad stage in an unwinnable war where things drag out for years because it is human nature to avoid or defer the unpleasant consequences of their actions.

I would tender this question to Colonel Lang however. With what crystal ball can you predict that the results of a US withdrawal will be an unmitigated disaster? Consider the old Vietnam-era dominoes theory. This did not play out. Instead of the Communist flag hoisted from Tokyo to Australia, within five years the Communists were at war with one another; the Vietnamese with the Khymer Rouge, then the Red Chinese with the Vietnamese, etc. Age old power relationships and rivalries reasserted themselves in the region, filling the vacuum left by US withdrawal. Today, China is a member of the World Trade Organization, we have warming relations with Hanoi, etc.

Iran and Iraq did not need the US to go to war with each other from 1980-1988. Nor Iraq to later invade Kuwait and be opposed by among others the Egyptians and the Syrians. The hand of the Turks rested heavily across the region for centuries. And Iran has its own imperial tradition.

I can see only two purposes for dragging this out very much longer. One is to prepare to accept the 200,000 or so Iraqi refugees who have worked with us as US residents(maybe more, just throwing out a number). The other is to lay the ground for the Concert of the Middle East you have described in the past.

But if the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Kurds etc. are set upon engaging in their own version of the Thirty Years War, there is nothing we can do but get out of the way.


First, nobody will stand up to AIPAC so their will be no resolution requiring authorization to strike Iran. The Decider and Israel are free to do what ever they want or to carry out whatever policy they want free on Congressional oversight. Remember the Special Interest and the Press are the third and fourth branches of our government. lol

Second, the more the Republicans Lemmings follow the President the better it will be for the Dems. In the next election the Republicans have to defend 22 Senate seats versus 12 for the Democrats. Some high profile Republicans (Allard, Hagel, Warner) have announced their retirements. This presents chances in states the Dems would not have had a chance in if the incumbent ran. If the 2008 election is a referendum on Iraq, the Dems will score big, really big. Maybe even a complete realignment, capturing both houses with strong majorities and the Presidency. The more Americans die, the more treasure is spent, the longer we stay in Iraq, the better it will be for Dems. Sad but true.

Lastly, Col. your advice is true and well thought out but the Dem activist (MoveOn, Code Pink, etc) will not listen to reason. It should be interesting to watch both parties position themselves versus their consistencies. Republicans distancing themselves from the President without paying a political prices from the base. Dems giving the President what he wants while trying to avoid the wrath on the activists.


Gen Clark responded (on that loonie-left blog, DKos) about: "Getting out Now"

There are three sets of issues in getting out: the logistical, the local Iraqi political security, and the strategic. Let's look at each one. ....huge snip... So, all of this should give some pause to those who say, let's just pull out immediately, and demand that the troops come immediately.


(do the arithmetic)

OK, assuminng Wikipedia is right (a dangerous assumption, I know) there are 21 American brigades in Iraq. At 2.5 brigades per month, that comes out to 8.4 months. Let's say nine months, because you always forget to pack something before a move.

This doesn't sound precipitous to me. We've been there four years already. Things have gotten progressively worse, and I have yet to hear or see a plausible plan for making Iraq OK that involves us.

It also sounds like a plan that can be put on hold should there be real signs of progress.

I agree with lina. This war is Bush's war, and it will be Bush's failure. The only people who won't see it that way are the propogandists who are paid not to and the fools who'll believe them.

The Democrats' problem is that they're doing nothing tangible to get us out of Iraq. They're just going to have to learn to live with the idea that when they do that, a certain percentage of the electorate will blame them for losing the war. Since that's mostly going to be the same portion of the electorate that thought the war was a splendid idea in the first place, I'm not seeing a problem there.

Babak Makkinejad

My sense of this is that the Iranians expect to help US leave Iraq in an orderly manner - in a similar way that the Soviet Union withdrew her forces from Afghanistan. I think negotiations with Iran are possible if Ambassador Crocker is given a wider latitude. I also think it will be a good idea for US to announce a withdrawal date - this has been requested by a number of states publicly, including France, Iran, and Turkey. Without this date, I do not think any international planning can take place.

Kurdistan of Iraq consists of 2 entities; to my knowledge. The tribal area of the Barzanis and that of Talibanis. I do not see that area becoming an independent state. Nor can I see it being anything but a nuisance for Turkey or Iran. Even if it becomes independent I cannot see that changing much. Any way, I disagree with Col. Lang here; an independent Kurdish state is not much of a threat to Iran, it is more of a threat to Turkey.

In regards to the South East of Iraq, the old Basra Governorship, I do not know. There seems to be many groups fighting for power for which the Shia identity does not have much relevance to that power struggle. I cannot see how any outside power can control it from outside that area.

I also disagree with Col. Lang’s assessment: “…continue to act as a major sponsor of Islamic zealot movements…” which, in my opinion, is a possibility and not a metaphysical certainty. The reason I say that is because of the record of Iran in Central Asia since 1991 (the collapse of the Soviet Union) and the Iranian role in Afghanistan in 2002. I also observe here that we owe both Hezbollah and the 9/11/01 attacks on the United States to the Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

I agree also with Col. Lang that the US Democratic Party is well advised to do nothing to hamper a Republican President from pursuing his agenda to the (bitter) end. They have made the judgment that in this manner they are guaranteed at least a generation of control over both houses of the Congress and the Presidency of the United States. And they believe that they can live with the consequences of a US attack on Iran (“It was not us, it was those despicable Republicans!”).

I cannot judge accurately and with certainty the efficacy of a possible US bombing campaign against Iran in changing the strategic situation on the ground or a prolonged naval blockade. My guess is that it will not improve the US position. It almost certainly will seal the Muslims’ view of US as an enemy of Islam. It will be a case of escalation to nowhere which Israel seems to excel at with no resolution in site.

I agree with Col. Lang that a Concert of Middle East with clear and verifiable commitments by all involved is useful. I do not think it will happen though since I do not believe that such negotiations can be concluded between now and January 2009; although they can be started.

In my opinion, there is a fair amount of Protestant religious zealotry both in US Foreign Policy and its conduct (“Where is James Baker, III when we need him?”). Therefore the strategic question for US is not Iran, Iraq, etc. in my opinion. It is this: “What Price Israel


I forgot to add that I agree completely regarding the Democrats' response to Iran. They need to make Bush come to them for authorization before conducting any strikes there. Their failure to do this will make an America-Iran war, if it happens, their war as well.

David Solomon

Colonel Lang,

I don't know the right or wrong of a quickly phased withdrawal from Iraq.

However, I am quite certain that tying the "decider's" hands on Iran should be the most important point of business for this congress.

In that same vein, it might help to start well deserved and long overdue impeachment proceedings against both Bush and Cheney.

frank durkee

Col. I am a life long Democrat and I have been responding to Dem fund raising appeals with much the same caution that you've embodied in this post. An aspect of the political dilemma for the Dems is the inability to disprove a hypothetical i.e. that if the troops had just stayed the Bush dream would have come to fruition. This will be the Republican mantra to any effective drawdown of the troops that leads to anything but complete vindication of the original Neocon dream. Consequently the Dems need to have it made clear that the tactics come from Bush and/or the military rather than Dem pressure.
the question I have for you is as the drawdown leads to smaller and smaller numbers of troops will we be able to get the
last 50,000 or so out safely and expeditioiusly? I assume fromyour earlier comments in this area that the answer is at least contingently yes.
Given the present political ethos in this country, unless we elect a remarkable leader in '08, I do not see how we will not have a profoundly poisened ethos in this country for some extended time. Especially as the full import of the failure becomes increasingly evident and blame becomes onerous for those who supported this effort.
Thanks for your insights and for sharing them.


Well, no. "DP is trying to get us out of there" by withdrawing a single Marine expeditionary force? That is the only new thing he announced. Otherwise, a good case can be made for the proposition that DP is just the (best, most persuasive) new mouthpiece for what the "deadly duo" have to do anyway, since there are no forces to rotate in to replace the surged combat brigades. Bush is determined (per Georgie Anne Geyer) to tie his successor's hands, forcing continuation of the war, at pre-surge levels, seemingly into perpetuity. I don't see DP pushing for a sound exit; Adm. Fallon and the JCS, maybe, but not DP.

By the way, except for Cindy Sheehan, exactly who is advocating a precipitous withdrawal? Every thinking, responsible commentator on this knows that logistical concerns, let alone battlespace constraints, necessitate a period that is well upwards of a year--and probably quite a bit longer than that if we're having to fight our way out.

Yes, the human toll among Iraqis following a withdrawal will be terrible. But will it be anything more than a sped-up version of the slow-motion ethnic cleansing and genocide that is going on right now, right under the noses of the surge forces in Baghdad?

Unless a whole lot of Republicans suddenly decide, at some point, that they can't run and win with the albatross of an endless Iraqi War, Bush will still have about 130,000 troops in Iraq as he leaves office. What therefore needs to be done now is to think through what can be salvaged regionally, and how best to accomplish that starting in February, 2009. I think George Packer's piece laid out the (miserable) options well; I think George Friedman has had some interesting ideas about containing Iran within the Iraqi space; I think Wesley Clark has had some interesting ideas about how regional diplomacy should go forward. I would be interested in a fuller disquisition from you, Colonel, on how you see it best to proceed after February, 2009.


Iraq, the cornucopia of bad options.

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