As we've noted before in this space, the debate over the US policy in Iraq suffers from a failure to address a critical question: what happens when we leave? There are ramifications for the Iraqis, for the region, for the world -- and not least -- for US security. CNN posts a piece that touches on these important concerns:
A rapid withdrawal of all U.S. troops would hurt America's image and hand al Qaeda and other terror groups a propaganda victory that the United States is only a "paper tiger," CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said.
"It would also play into their strategy, which is to create a mini-state somewhere in the Middle East where they can reorganize along the lines of what they did in Afghanistan in the late '90s," Bergen told CNN.com...
Don Shepperd, a retired Air Force major-general and military analyst for CNN, agreed that Sunni Muslim fighters who support al Qaeda would seek an enclave inside a lawless Iraq likely riven along sectarian lines into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions.
There would be "increasing attempts by terrorists to establish a training sanctuary in Iraq," Shepperd said...
The oil sector could also get hit hard, with Iran potentially mining the Persian Gulf and attempting to close the Straits of Hormuz, putting a stranglehold on oil flow, Shepperd says.
"Oil prices would skyrocket," he said -- perhaps soaring from current prices of about $60 a barrel to more than $100 a barrel, with consequent rises at the gas pump.
And that could bring further trouble, Shepperd added. "Saudi Arabia will not allow increasing Iranian dominance to endanger its regime and oil economy."
On top of that, Iran could speed up its nuclear ambitions, causing a "daunting and depressing scenario" of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Turkey trying to get a nuclear bomb, Shepperd says...
The question of whether US troops should leave Iraq is often presented in a vacuum, without regard to the consequences. If it was possible to take our soldiers, sailors, and pilots out of harm's way without risk to other Americans and US interests, it would be a 'no-brainer.' This CNN article is a brief and useful reminder that it's not that easy.