February 22, 2007

Blair: We'll Go Back If Needed

Critics of the Iraq war have painted Tony Blair's decision to draw down the British troop levels as a repudiation of the war and an end to the Coalition in Iraq. Democrats wasted no time in pointing out the supposed incongruity of a British withdrawal in the south and an American surge in the west and center of Iraq. However, the man who made the decision to draw down the British contingent said today that he would send them back if the situation warranted higher troop levels:

The UK is to withdraw 1,600 troops from Iraq but Mr Blair said numbers could increase again "if we're needed".

He told MPs on Wednesday that the remaining 5,500 troops would stay until 2008.

However, when he was asked about reversing that decision on the Today programme, he said: "I don't want to get into speculating about that because we have the full combat capability that's there. So, if we're needed to go back in any special set of circumstances we can, but that's not the same as then increasing back the number."

That's a far cry from giving up on Iraq. The White House pointed out yesterday a fact that should be obvious to anyone with a map and a clue: Basra is not Baghdad. The British sector is and has always been almost homogenously Shi'ite, and the level of violence in that area has remained much lower throughout the post-invasion period. The Iraqi government has readied itself to take over the security of that area, and the British have followed the set plans to transfer responsibility to the Maliki government. The British have been doing this all along, reducing their troop levels from a high of 40,000 to the 7,000 they have in Iraq now.

Blair also made another important point. When challenged about the difficult security situation, he emphasized that the violence should be blamed on the violent. Blair absolutely rejected the notion that the Coalition created the conditions for the insurgencies by disbanding the army and police. He told the BBC that both organizations had served as Saddam's instruments of terror, and that the Coalition could not have left them in place after the invasion, even if they hadn't mostly melted away by themselves.

This flies in the face of all the analysts yesterday who stumbled over themselves to characterize the drawdown as a rejection of George Bush and a repudiation of the Coalition plans for peace. Blair has followed those plans to the letter. Once Iraq has the ability to take responsibility for a province, the Coalition needs to allow them to do it, remaining behind in enough strength to support them during the transition. This is no secret -- Bush and Blair have made this clear over and over again. In fact, under those conditions, a high troop level would be destabilizing. That isn't the case in Baghdad or Anbar, where Iraq isn't ready to handle the security by themselves for very obvious reasons.

In the end, this is how the United States will exit Iraq, too. Once Iraq is ready to handle security in Baghdad, Anbar, and Diyala with decreasing support from the US, we will draw down troops and pull back to bases to remove ourselves from everyday security tasks, remaining nearby for occasions where we are needed. That is, we will follow that plan unless Jack Murtha and Nancy Pelosi manage to screw up the straightforward plan that Tony Blair has managed to follow with no difficulty at all.


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