- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Sen. John McCain said yesterday on Face the Nation that:
Iraq is unraveling. It’s unraveling because we didn’t keep a residual force there because the president of the United States pledged to get out of Iraq. And we could have kept a residual force there and kept some stability. Instead, it’s unraveling, and Iran’s influence is increasing, and there’s every possibility you could see a very chaotic situation there.… The vice president of Iraq is now hiding out in Irbil. There is militias and death squads operating. There is a breakdown in the Iraqi government, and there will be increased tensions on the border between the Kurdish areas and Iraq.
The difference between me and Sen. McCain is that I think it is possible that the unraveling was inevitable, from the moment the U.S. military entered Iraq in the spring of 2003. We untied the knot that was Iraq.
I admit it: When I was writing The Gamble I thought for a while that such a residual force was the way to go. But with the passage of the years since then I increasingly have come to believe that the Iraqis were simply sitting around keeping their powder dry and waiting for Uncle Sam to get out of the way, so they could sort themselves out. Remember, the surge was half a war ago — it began five years ago, in January 2007. Iraq was given a lot of time. I do not see what keeping 15,000 troops there for another year or two would do that it did not do in 2009 or 2010. Plus, President Obama was not elected to keep us in Iraq; he was elected, in part, to get us out. So it would be pretty hard to keep troops there without a clear indication that it would do any good. Especially since Iraqis seemed to want us out.