The Beginning of the End of Anglo-American Iraq

News & Politics
This post originally appeared on Informed Comment

Incoming British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will remove all British troops from Iraq within two years (before the next election) as a way of gaining back the trust of Labour voters, according to The Scotsman.

Since petroleum supply trucks come up from Kuwait and Basra to Baghdad and points north for the US troops, it is desirable that some Multinational Forces remain in Basra as long as large numbers of US soldiers and Marines are in the country. Tanks don't do you much good if they are out of gas. Basra would be an unfamiliar and dangerous environment for US troops, and where to get and extra 10,000 soldiers? Without them, the US mission in Iraq could collapse unexpectedly from the south. (See yesterday's posting for what a mess Basra is with regard to security.)

Brown will be abandoning the policies of Tony Blair, and the leak comes only a day after Blair promised the contrary in Baghdad (with mortar shells landing just before he arrived in the Green Zone). Blair's muscular foreign policy and perceived subservience to Bush are widely viewed as disasters among his own party's rank and file. Jimmy Carter blasted Tony Blair on Saturday for an "abominable" loyalty to George W. Bush. He said that if Blair had opposed the Iraq War, it would have made it harder for Bush to uphold it for so long. He also pointed out that Bush had departed from past American values by advocating preemptive wars of choice even when US security was not threatened.

AFP reports that senior US officials had briefed Bush that he should expect Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, to desert him on Iraq. The US officials see Brown as weaker than Blair.

The article alleges that sources close to Brown deny that he will abandon Washington, insisting that he is a strong Atlanticist.

I think these issues are mixed up by the spokesmen and sources. Brown will get out of Iraq, for several defensible reasons that have nothing to do with weak character or a lack of commitment to Atlanticism. Most important, keeping such a large force in Basra is hard on the British military, especially since it has expanded responsibilities in Afghanistan at the same time. The British officer corps is skating close to insubordination in its opposition to the Iraq mission.

Second, British public opinion is turning decisively against the war, and Brown will have to face the electorate in 2010 at the latest (Bush and Cheney face no further elections). In a February poll, 63 percent of Britons said entering the war had been an error, and only 56 percent supported keeping troops in Iraq. The first number is likely to rise and the second to fall over the period leading up to the next elections. The controversy over the decision not to send Prince Harry to Iraq (and not to let him go clubbing, either) will have put the British political elite in a bind. It is hard to justify sending British youth to be blown up in Basra if it is openly admitted that it is too dangerous for a member of the royal family to serve there. Not to mention that the political and security situation in Basra is not promising and a reduced British garrison will be increasingly vulnerable.

The Scotsman has a more nuanced view of the differences between Brown and Blair. Very important for the future is that last para, which suggests that Brown will be more interested in engaging Iran than attacking it.

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