How long are American forces gonna be in Iraq?

Your war questions answered

That question can't be answered with a date, but let's put it this way: I'm pretty sure that we're gonna be fighting in Iraq at least long enough for me to parlay this foreign policy humor column into a book deal. When you consider just how many of my waking hours are spent watching reruns of "Law & Order" rather than working, that's a mighty long time.

The reason the question can't be answered precisely is because we went into Iraq without the one thing that everyone who's ever been on a blind date knows you gotta have before going into a dicey situation: a viable exit strategy. With a good exit strategy, we might have been able to back out gracefully once it was apparent to us, in the summer of 2003, that way too many Iraqis conceived of free society as little more than a mosh pit with grenades. I find that the pre-scheduled phone call from a friend is always the best exit strategy. We should have had Canada call us back to North America to help with, like, a fake earthquake or something.

For now though, we're stuck there at least until we can put the country on the path to stability and domestic order. Colin Powell supposedly called that the Pottery Barn Rule — you break it, you own it. In reality, Pottery Barn has no such rule, but since when does anyone in the current administration ever let silly things like facts get in the way of their pithy foreign policy pronouncements?

To get Iraq to the place where domestic security services are gonna be able to maintain at least some peace will take at least until late 2005 or early 2006, so says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. If all goes to plan (ha!), Iraq should have 250,000 people trained and working in the exciting and challenging fields of law enforcement and national security by then.

How many Iraqis are on the job now? According to the Council on Foreign Relations, there are about 85,000 uniformed police in Iraq. Not one has completed the six-month field training that the Pentagon says has to be completed in order to consider someone properly trained. In fact, only 10 percent of the force has even graduated from Iraqi police academy. The other 90 percent were handed badges and guns if they could sit through at least four of the seven Police Academy movies. Somehow, the CFR calculates all that to mean that there are about 35,000 trained Iraqi police on duty. I'm really not sure how they derived that number, but regardless, it's not very many people. New York City alone employs nearly 40,000 cops.

On the military side of the security ledger, Iraqis have a little over 60,000 trained personnel on the job. That includes the army, national guard, border guards, a 300-man navy and a 143-man air force.

I'll save you the math. That's about 95,000 Iraqi so-called trained security forces working right now. That number needs to be nearly tripled before U.S. forces can seriously scale back their presence without dooming Iraq to anarchy.

And that's assuming, of course, that the U.S. and Iraqi governments are even interested in a U.S. pull-out. If I can be frank with you, that's not a particularly safe assumption. Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shalan al-Khuzaei says foreign soldiers need to stay in Iraq FOR 15 YEARS! Why 15 years? "We're afraid of neighboring countries right now," he told the Knight-Ridder news organization. OK, I'm done being Frank. Now I'm Andisheh again.

Al-Khuzaei's 15-year estimate fits rather nicely with the Pentagon's current plan to build and keep approximately 14 military bases in Iraq. Even if all the Iraqis drop their weapons tomorrow and start drinking Coke and ululating together in perfect harmony while holding hands in sweet, fragrant meadows, we'd still want to keep an Army division or two in Iraq. Just in case we decide to go all regime change on Syria or Iran, or to secure Saudi oil fields when the rotten, greedy, heartless, piece-of-shit Saudi royal family is eventually overthrown by rotten, brainless, heartless, piece-of-shit fundamentalists.

Like I said, we're gonna be there for a mighty long time.