Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

IRAQ: Winning Is Knowing When to Leave

“I would go so far as to say that barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What’s left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it’s time to rebuild the country,and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long,hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.”

—-Michael Yon, Journalist, Blogger, Former Special Forces Soldier

Most of the problems we have encountered in Iraq have come as a result of ignoring the hard lessons the British learned there in the 1920s.

Once, during the dark days of 2004 while serving elsewhere in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, I asked one of the finest officers I have ever known, who had been involved early on in OPERATION IRAQ FREEDOM, if the British lessons learned from their 1920s League of Nations Mandate had been considered. The officer told me there had been no time.

There is time now.  The final lesson, which must be learned, is how to disengage.

The British, after realizing that their League of Nations mandate was far more trouble than it was worth, handed Iraq off to a spare Hashemite prince.  They maintained several large air bases, in part to support British India.

As may be expected, these bases were amazingly unpopular with the Iraqis.  Early in World War II, Iraqi officers seized power and captured these bases.  At the least opportune time,the British had to rescue these personnel and use soldiers it could not spare to restore order in Iraq.

If, as Mr. Yon indicates, the war is won, then it is time to preserve the victory.

Let’s not create an issue for the Salafists to use to restart their ascendancy.  US Forces, appearing to occupy  a supposedly sovereign Iraq, as the British did by keeping large bases there in the 1930s, would create a flash point.  It is time to withdraw our conventional Army and Marine forces from Iraq, in order to give the Iraqi Government the legitimacy of not appearing to be our puppets.

Additionally, it is also time to realize the enormous mistake we made in South Vietnam by cutting off support to their government.  We will still need to support the new Iraqi government.  

However, this phase of the War requires USAID, the State Department and military Civil Affairs personnel to provide this support, rather than the 1st Cavalry Division or the 3d Marine Air Wing.  This phase of the War involves ensuring that ‘new and better nation’ Mr. Yon writes about actually does grow ‘legs.’  Additionally,Special Operations Forces, Intelligence Analysts and Collectors and Law Enforcement personnel will be required to ensure the Al Qaeda network does not reestablish itself.

However, the time is here where the best course of action is to reduce our footprint and shift to a new point on the spectrum of conflict.  


  1. Though I only know a handful of people who have seen active service in the Gulf or Afghanistan, I’m always impressed by their understanding of the hearts and minds aspect of any military involvement and – even more so with your post – their grasp of history.

    It’s so easy, especially for a superpower, to become obsessed with its own mistakes and the consequences at home. Part of America’s success in the last century (one only need think of the Marshall plan) was because it thought out of the box, thanks to a devoted generation of soldiers and diplomats who considered the history of the countries they’d liberated/invaded, and looked for a longer lasting legacy.

    Your diary is part of that great tradition.  

  2. have agreed with Sen. Obama that we can remove all of the troops in Iraq without abandoning the government or declaring “defeat” as Sen. McCain and his supporters claim.  Troops on the ground have served their purpose and, like a bandage left on too long, will turn against that purpose without a change in treatment.

    We are more than capable of projecting force from other bases and/or ships at sea to support the Iraqi people in completing the transition to a relatively sane and stable society.

    This is not WWII, there is no-one to sign a surrender.  If that is the only goal of those who insist that we need to stay on the ground then there is no victory to be had.  Victory was won in the first hundred days, success will be measured by the stability of the country over time.

  3. NavyBlueWife

    I’ve always had a problem with the words “victory” (and its synonyms) and “defeat” (and its synonyms) when it comes to Iraq or any war for that matter.  I think Petraeus has done a remarkable job with addressing that issue.  Mostly, I don’t know what the terms mean anymore.  If winning means an end to violence, that’s unrealistic.

    US Forces, appearing to occupy  a supposedly sovereign Iraq, as the British did by keeping large bases there in the 1930s, would create a flash point.

    Well said.  It hinders the Iraqi government’s legitimacy as well as ours.’

    It is time to bring our troops home, give them the care they need, support the Iraqi government, and regroup, rethink our strategy on fighting terrorism.  The terrorist don’t come in brigades, so fighting them with brigades seems nonsensical to me.

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