Washington's been buzzing all day about Thom Shanker's New York Times story in which Abdul Qadir, the Iraqi defense minister, said that his country would not be ready to take responsibility for its internal and border security until 2012 and 2018, respectively. Such a prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq would go far beyond anything previously floated on the American side—unless, or course, you count John McCain saying he'd be happy to have U.S. troops in Iraq for the next 100 years... no, 1,000 years!... no, make that a million years!!
Responding to Qadir's claims, the Center for American Progress, a progressive DC think tank, released a revised budget projection for U.S. involvement in Iraq. Including monies already appropriated, it shows that expenditures could exceed $1 trillion by 2018, assuming a troop level of 70,000—less than half the current number.
Beyond costs, though, the major drawbacks to sticking around may simply be that it would work against our larger interests. Earlier this afternoon, Larry Korb, a former Reagan-era assistant secretary of defense, now a senior fellow at CAP, explained the reasons why in a conference call with reporters:
We're increasing the dependence of the Iraqis on us because, obviously, since the president has agreed we might stay for 10 more years, they feel no pressure to take over security responsibilities or to make the hard political choices that are necessary for reconciliation. It also reinforces the perception, in particular among Al Qaeda and other groups in the Middle East, that we are an occupying power and it enhances, if you will, their narrative
Korb was joined on the call by Rand Beers, a former NSC staffer and current president of the National Security Network, who said Qadir's statement shines a light on the Iraqi government's tendency to use U.S. troop presence as an excuse to avoid making tough choices:
What's interesting about the defense minister's comment is that, for the first time, we're beginning to see the concern that the Iraqi government has about U.S. presence, and they're beginning to reveal their concern that a U.S. departure is going to be problematic for them
It leaves them without any serious impetus to make the significant and difficult political decisions that are going to be necessary for real reconciliation. They're opting in favor of the U.S. carrying the security load for an indefinite period of time so that they don't have to do the heavy lifting.
Beers went on to mention another problem that, in this reporter's humble opinion, may be even more serious: as long as we're in Iraq, Al Qaeda will continue to enjoy a propaganda/recruiting/financing/training boom. After all, aside from those non-existent WMDs, wasn't Al Qaeda (albeit a myth in Iraq prior to our arrival) one of the primary reasons for the invasion? Says Beers:
As long as the United States continues to be in Iraq as an occupying power, as long as the United States continues to be the cause of civilian casualties, as long as there are questions [about whether the United States] has violated the human rights of Iraqi individuals, Al Qaeda will use those perceptions, accurate or not, will use those perceptions to insight Muslims around the world against the United States and will continue to have a propaganda message that is vitally important to them.