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Explaining the Difference Between a Draw Down and Rebranding of War

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at Al-Assad Air Base in Iraq, on Sept. 1. Courtesy of Jim Watson, AP

Confusion over Iraq Troop Draw Down “Rebranding”

The media (and the Left) are running with the meme that the drawdown in Iraq is mere “rebranding” of the war. They buttress this notion with sarcastic references to the “combat troops” leaving Iraq. This misunderstanding is the fault of whoever started to report the drawdown as “combat troops leaving Iraq.” Combat troops have left Iraq, but we still have 50,000 combat troops there. They are no longer there in a combat role, however. Marking August 31, 2010 as the end of the combat mission in Iraq, the White House used this phrase: “end of Iraq combat effort” to reflect a shift from a combat role to preparing Iraqi forces to assume responsibility for their own security. This new mission is dubbed “Operation New Dawn.”

This statement will be met with howls of “there’s still combat going on!” which is accurate but overly simplified. For months now, our combat troops in Iraq were there in an “Advise and Assist” capacity, rather than a purely combat capacity. This meant that they were no longer patrolling unless the Iraqi Army or Security Forces called upon them for help. We are now officially only patrolling when called upon by the IA; in fact, we are not allowed to go on patrol unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi forces. For example, on Sept. 1 a leader from the 14th Infantry Regimen joined with Iraqi security forces on a patrol the day after the U.S. ended its combat role.


The reality is that the situation in Iraq after our drawdown is tenuous. We knew it would be before we even invaded Iraq. This is why General Shinseki told us that we would need a lot more troops than Bush was sending. Not to fight, but to stabilize the country after fighting. And here’s the other problem. Fighting is never “over” there. They have three factions warring for power, which instigate violence that threatens Iraqi citizens. If the IA can’t handle this on their own, they call us.

When we hear that fire was exchanged, what does that mean? Our troops are still under attack from insurgents as long as they are there, and the drawdown only heightens this threat as it emboldens the insurgents. But these are risks we have to take in order to fulfill our exit strategy promise.

When Americans so cynically say we should all be gone from Iraq, they are suggesting that we should have left a country we invaded illegally in a state of civil unrest, at the mercy of a dangerous insurgency. A country which is still struggling to form a new Iraqi government. While the Iraqis want dominion over their country again and were happy to have many of our bases turned over to them, they can’t help but be fearful of the void the departure of our troops leaves for them in terms of protecting citizens from insurgents.

Maybe it’s rebranding, or maybe it’s complicated. Maybe our ideas about “combat” don’t take into account being in a country rife with internal conflict. Maybe we are so married to our ideas about the invasion being wrong, and it was, that we can’t see that we don’t fix that by leaving the country in a state of civil instability simply to make ourselves feel better.


The simplest analogy to our drawdown strategy is training a child to ride a bike. You don’t put them on the bike and say, “You’re on your own now. Good luck!” You hold the bike while they learn to steer it and get comfortable pedaling. When they have mastered that, you begin to let them pedal on their own, gingerly letting go of the bike but standing there in case you’re help is needed. At what point do you feel safe saying they no longer need your help?

The loudest voices in the “rebranding” meme are the far Left and Right but they don’t usually come from people who have actually been there or those with a tangible relationship to our military in Iraq. From those people, we hear either adherence to the “end of combat mission” announcement or deep regret and fearful anticipation over the mess we’re leaving the Iraqis in. No matter how horrible Saddam Hussein was, and make no mistake about it, he was horrible, Iraq was stable under Saddam, and we Americans have a responsibility to restore stability back to the Iraqi people before the last American troop can be allowed to leave.

The dialogue we should be having is why we let this happen. We are allowing the false reasons given for starting this war to color the way we see our current role, and are thus focused on easy answers that are not based on the current reality in Iraq. It saddens me to listen to the Left deride this effort at responsible withdrawal. I expect that kind of cynicism and talking point loyalty borne from epistemic closure from the Right, but not from those who claim an adherence to open minds and diplomacy.

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