Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Time to go home, time to go home, Andy and Teddy are waving goodnight...

Michael O'Hanlon and James Steinberg have an article in the WaPo arguing for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. This is hardly the first time this policy has been advocated and indeed we recently also saw advocacy of it in the UK from a combined front headed by Robin Cook, Lord Hurd and Sir Menzies Campbell (can't seem to put my hands on a link right now I'm afraid).

O'Hanlon is a very smart guy and I think the reasoning in the article is rather more solid than that put forward by the British triumvirate. I'm still wary though. I've argued before that there's a tipping point at which Anglo-American interests simply won't be served by staying but I'm unconvinced that this point has been reached and I'm also far from certain that the problems on the ground are inherent to the situation and not simply the result of flawed planning and poor execution (though given that the current situation is the result of the cascading effects of bad decisions in the planning and immediate aftermath of the invasion one can argue that problems that were previously solvable are no longer so).

On top of that I have to say that in my experience the whole timetable for withdrawal notion does not have an especially heartening pedigree. I take on board the O'Hanlon/Steinberg argument and of course I recognise that different situations represent different contextxts and flawed analogies are dangerous, but I am somewhat put in mind of the situation in Aden in which fairly successful COIN efforts ran into a governmental policy decision to wind up British operations east of Suez. Once it became apparent that the British were going to leave at a certain date come what may, the COIN effort collapsed like a house of cards almost overnight. That said, I recognise that the situations are not analogous.

It's something I need to think about more. Either way, O'Hanlon/Steingberg's prescriptions, while in the same ball park, are to be preferred to the Cook/Campbell stall which seems to me pretty stinky and not very convincing.


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