Tony Blair's war
President George W. Bush should read between the lines of Britain's decision to withdraw nearly half its troops in Iraq: End the war or...
President George W. Bush should read between the lines of Britain's decision to withdraw nearly half its troops in Iraq: End the war or go it alone.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's planned withdrawal of 1,600 British troops within months and a total of 3,000 by year's end shatters any contrivance of unity around U.S. Iraq war policy. Consider the contrast between Britain sending its troops home and the U.S., which, thanks to President Bush, has committed another 21,500 soldiers to Iraq as part of a planned buildup.
The White House is scrambling to put a good face on Britain's decision, calling it a sign that efforts to vanquish the Iraq insurgency have succeeded, at least in areas of the country under British control.
Southern Iraq, where British troops are mostly located, is relatively calm compared with Baghdad, where U.S. troops face daily terrorist attacks, from roadside bombs to sniper shootings. But the southern region holds Basra, the country's second-largest city and a Shiite stronghold. Basra sits atop one of the world's largest oil reserves, a factor certain to play into Shiite parties vying for power once the British leave.
A conflagration of warring factions, such as one that followed a spate of high-profile assassinations in 2006, is a worrisome possibility. Flare-ups in the south after the British are gone would have to be quelled by U.S. troops. The surge would begin to sag.
But most everyone residing in reality understands that our largest, closest ally across the pond has had enough. They aren't alone. Italian and Slovak troops have left Iraq. South Korea is planning to withdraw. Denmark and Lithuania said they would withdraw most of their troops from Iraq by August.
Many other countries that joined U.S.-led forces in Iraq, such as Japan and Spain, have already pulled troops out.
The British have just 7,100 troops in Iraq, compared with the 140,000-strong U.S. contingent. But their presence has always meant as much symbolically as it did militarily.
London newspapers report the pullout is smaller than British leaders had pressed Blair for. Britain's defense secretary called for a reduction in the thousands and British military commanders spoke of halving the size of the country's force in Iraq.
Democrats in Congress are making noise. The House last weekend passed anti-Iraq-war legislation and the Senate promises a flurry of similar bills.
Good. A political solution — not more U.S. troops or those of our allies — is needed to wind down the four-year battle, which has killed 3,148 American soldiers. Blair has accepted this reality. So should our president.
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