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Sen. Obama's "Catastrophe"

12:23 PM, Jan 16, 2007 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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The Illinois senator had this to say on Face the Nation on Sunday.

One of the things that I strongly disagree with ... is this notion that we have future catastrophe to look forward to if we start phasing down troops. We are in the catastrophe ... right now.

Well, a short time ago, the Weekly Standard's Frederick Kagan sketched out what an Obama-like withdrawal would look like. He wrote:

Advocates of withdrawal, either gradual or complete, rarely consider in any detail what that action would look like. It is worth painting a few mental images. First, U.S. troops would pull back to their forward operating bases, ending patrols in Iraq's towns and cities. In places like Ramadi, this would mean abandoning the city completely, since the coalition forces there cannot be secure without continual raids and other combat operations. American units in towns like Tal Afar, where a precarious peace still holds more than a year after the last major clear-and-hold operation, would also pull out, abandoning the Iraqis, who put their faith in us, to fend for themselves. Before long, the only American troops in Iraq outside of the FOBs would be the small teams embedded in Iraqi units. The enemy would then return and brutalize the decent Iraqis who pressed for reconciliation and peace, as has occurred following previous coalition withdrawals from cleared areas.

The pullback of U.S. forces to their bases will not reduce the sectarian conflict, which their presence did not generate. It will increase it. Death squads on both sides will become more active. Large-scale ethnic and sectarian cleansing will begin as each side attempts to establish homogeneous enclaves where there are now mixed communities. Atrocities will mount, as they always do in ethnic cleansing operations. Iraqis who have cooperated with the Americans will be targeted by radicals on both sides. Some of them will try to flee with the American units. American troops will watch helplessly as death squads execute women and children. Pictures of this will play constantly on Al Jazeera. Prominent "collaborators," with whom our soldiers and leaders worked, will be publicly executed. Crowds of refugees could overwhelm not merely Iraq's neighbors but also the FOBs themselves. Soldiers will have to hold off fearful, tearful, and dangerous mobs. Again, endless photographs and video footage of all this will play constantly. Before long, it will probably prove necessary to remove the embedded U.S. troops from the Iraqi military units. The situation will become too dangerous; the Iraqis will increasingly resent the restraint the embeds place on their actions; and the U.S. military will become fearful of being implicated in death-squad activity. It is a matter of chance whether the embedded troops are pulled before any are kidnapped or taken prisoner by Iraqi military units turning bad or being infiltrated by radicals.

What will be the effect of all this on American soldiers? The result could be worse than what we suffered in Vietnam. There will be no "decent interval" here during which we withdraw in reasonably good order--the withdrawal itself is likely to occur in the midst of rising violence. Instead of pictures of Americans on the embassy roof in Saigon, we will see images of Iraqi death squads at work with U.S. troops staying on their bases nearby. And let us not forget that in the world of Al Jazeera, we will be accused of encouraging those death squads. The overall result will be searing and scarring. The damage to the morale of the military could be far greater than what will result from burdening soldiers with longer or more frequent tours of duty in a stepped-up effort to achieve victory. Those who are concerned about the well-being of the Army should fear defeat of this type more than anything.