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Too Much Stuff: How Our Profligate Consumerism Might Keep Us in Iraq

Wherever we go, our "stuff" goes with us -- in such large quantities that removing it could prove more daunting than invading in the first place.

It's the ultimate argument, the final bastion against withdrawal, and over these last years, the Bush administration has made sure it would have plenty of heft. Ironically, its strength lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with the vicissitudes of Iraqi politics, the relative power of Shiites or Sunnis, the influence of Iran, or even the riptides of war. It really doesn't matter what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or oppositional cleric Muqtada al-Sadr think about it. In fact, it's an argument that has nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with us, with the American way of war (and life), which makes it almost unassailable.

And this week Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen -- the man President-elect Obama plans to call into the Oval Office as soon as he arrives -- wheeled it into place and launched it like a missile aimed at the heart of Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan for U.S. combat troops in Iraq. It may not sound like much, but believe me, it is. The Chairman simply said, "We have 150,000 troops in Iraq right now. We have lots of bases. We have an awful lot of equipment that's there. And so we would have to look at all of that tied to, obviously, the conditions that are there, literally the security conditions… Clearly, we'd want to be able to do it safely." Getting it all out safely, he estimated, would take at least "two to three years."

For those who needed further clarification, the Wall Street Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen spelled it out: "In recent interviews, two high-ranking officers stated flatly that it would be logistically impossible to dismantle dozens of large U.S. bases there and withdraw the 150,000 troops now in Iraq so quickly. The officers said it would take close to three years for a full withdrawal and could take longer if the fighting resumed as American forces left the country."

As for the Obama plan, if the military top brass have anything to say about it, sayonara. It's "physically impossible," says "a top officer involved in briefing the President-elect on U.S. operations in Iraq," according to Time Magazine . The Washington Post reports that, should Obama continue to push for his two brigades a month draw-down, a civilian-military "conflict is inevitable," and might, as The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss suggests, even lead to an Obama "showdown" with the military high command in his first weeks in office.

In a nutshell, the Pentagon's argument couldn't be simpler or more red-bloodedly American: We have too much stuff to leave Iraq any time soon. In war, as in peace, we're trapped by our own profligacy. We are the Neiman Marcus and the Wal-Mart of combat. Where we go, our "stuff" goes with us -- in such prodigious quantities that removing it is going to prove more daunting than invading in the first place. After all, it took less than a year to put in place the 130,000-plus invasion force, and all its equipment and support outfits from bases all around the world, as well as the air power and naval power to match.

Some have estimated, however, that simply getting each of the 14 combat brigades still stationed in Iraq on January 20, 2009, out with all their equipment might take up to 75 days per brigade. (If you do the math, that's 36 months, and even that wouldn't suffice if you wanted to remove everything else we now have in that California-sized country.)

Getting out? Don't dream of it.

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