LEAVING IRAQ….I mentioned last week my dismay over the growing conventional wisdom among both Democrats and Republicans that we need to leave a “residual force” in Iraq for a good long time. Today, Spencer Ackerman expands a bit on why this is such a bad idea:

As the 2004 handover demonstrated, Iraqis are unlikely to be fooled into thinking 40,000-plus US forces stationed indefinitely in the country represents an end to the US presence. Worse, if the idea is to either protect Iraqis from a slide into chaos or safeguard enduring US interests — be it preventing genocide or fighting al-Qaida or keeping the oil flowing — then keeping only 40,000 troops in Iraq is senseless. As Major General Joseph Fil commented to [Thomas] Ricks: “My nightmare — the thing that keeps me up at night — is a failure of Iraqi security forces, somehow, catastrophically, mixed with a major Samarra mosque-type catastrophe.” Leaving the Iraqi security forces aside, another huge sectarian provocation is guaranteed. In 2009, US commanders of a post-occupation force will find themselves powerless to deal with it. At that point, US troops will be little more than a constabulary force to keep the Iraqi politicians who failed to avert the crisis — and probably contributed to it — alive.

Exactly right. The Sunni insurgents want us out, and a drawdown to 40,000 troops won’t mollify them. At the same time, it’s nowhere near enough to deal with any kind of serious violence. It’s the worst kind of limbo.

On a related note, something Spencer doesn’t mention is the geo-psychological aspect of all this. If there’s a U.S. residual force stationed in Iraq, we’ll eventually find ourselves under irresistible pressure to engage in large-scale fighting of one sort or another. Something — some crisis of some kind — will erupt and we’ll feel like we have to respond. We’re right there, after all. At that point, our choice will be to give in and fight, but with too few troops to do the job right, or to stay hunkered down on our bases, which implicitly makes us responsible for the carnage. The almost certain global reaction will be: The Americans were only ten miles away and they didn’t do anything to stop it!

There is, at this point, simply nothing more we can do in Iraq. The only sensible course of action is to leave. Completely.

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