Why America must get out of Iraq now.
Withdraw immediately or stay the present course? That is the key
question about the war in Iraq today. American public opinion is now
decidedly against the war. From liberal New England, where citizens
pass town-hall resolutions calling for withdrawal, to the conservative
South and West, where more than half of “red state” citizens oppose the
war, Americans want out. That sentiment is understandable.
prewar dream of a liberal Iraqi democracy friendly to the United States
is no longer credible. No Iraqi leader with enough power and legitimacy
to control the country will be pro-American. Still, U.S. President
George W. Bush says the United States must stay the course. Why? Let’s
consider his administration’s most popular arguments for not leaving
If we leave, there will be a civil war.
In reality, a civil war in Iraq began just weeks after U.S. forces
toppled Saddam. Any close observer could see that then; today, only the
blind deny it. Even President Bush, who is normally impervious to
uncomfortable facts, recently admitted that Iraq has peered into the
abyss of civil war. He ought to look a little closer. Iraqis are
fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans.
That’s civil war.
Withdrawal will encourage the terrorists.
True, but that is the price we are doomed to pay. Our continued
occupation of Iraq also encourages the killers—precisely because our
invasion made Iraq safe for them. Our occupation also left the
surviving Baathists with one choice: Surrender, or ally with al Qaeda.
They chose the latter. Staying the course will not change this fact.
Pulling out will most likely result in Sunni groups’ turning against al
Qaeda and its sympathizers, driving them out of Iraq entirely.
Before U.S. forces stand down, Iraqi security forces must stand up.
The problem in Iraq is not military competency; it is political
consolidation. Iraq has a large officer corps with plenty of combat
experience from the Iran-Iraq war. Moktada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia
fights well today without U.S. advisors, as do Kurdish pesh merga
units. The problem is loyalty. To whom can officers and troops afford
to give their loyalty? The political camps in Iraq are still shifting.
So every Iraqi soldier and officer today risks choosing the wrong side.
As a result, most choose to retain as much latitude as possible to
switch allegiances. All the U.S. military trainers in the world cannot
remove that reality. But political consolidation will. It should by now
be clear that political power can only be established via Iraqi guns
and civil war, not through elections or U.S. colonialism by
Setting a withdrawal deadline will damage the morale of U.S. troops.
Hiding behind the argument of troop morale shows no willingness to
accept the responsibilities of command. The truth is, most wars would
stop early if soldiers had the choice of whether or not to continue.
This is certainly true in Iraq, where a withdrawal is likely to raise
morale among U.S. forces. A recent Zogby poll suggests that most U.S.
troops would welcome an early withdrawal deadline. But the strategic
question of how to extract the United States from the Iraq disaster is
not a matter to be decided by soldiers. Carl von Clausewitz spoke of
two kinds of courage: first, bravery in the face of mortal danger;
second, the willingness to accept personal responsibility for command
decisions. The former is expected of the troops. The latter must be
demanded of high-level commanders, including the president.
Withdrawal would undermine U.S. credibility in the world.
Were the United States a middling power, this case might hold some
water. But for the world’s only superpower, it’s patently phony. A
rapid reversal of our present course in Iraq would improve U.S.
credibility around the world. The same argument was made against
withdrawal from Vietnam. It was proved wrong then and it would be
proved wrong today. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the world’s opinion of the
United States has plummeted, with the largest short-term drop in
American history. The United States now garners as much international
esteem as Russia. Withdrawing and admitting our mistake would reverse
this trend. Very few countries have that kind of corrective capacity. I
served as a military attaché in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow during
Richard Nixon’s Watergate crisis. When Nixon resigned, several Soviet
officials who had previously expressed disdain for the United States
told me they were astonished. One diplomat said, “Only your country is
powerful enough to do this. It would destroy my country.”
facts, however painful, must be recognized, or we will remain
perilously confused in Iraq. First, invading Iraq was not in the
interests of the United States. It was in the interests of Iran and al
Qaeda. For Iran, it avenged a grudge against Saddam for his invasion of
the country in 1980. For al Qaeda, it made it easier to kill Americans.
Second, the war has paralyzed the United States in the world
diplomatically and strategically. Although relations with Europe show
signs of marginal improvement, the trans-Atlantic alliance still may
not survive the war. Only with a rapid withdrawal from Iraq will
Washington regain diplomatic and military mobility. Tied down like
Gulliver in the sands of Mesopotamia, we simply cannot attract the
diplomatic and military cooperation necessary to win the real battle
against terror. Getting out of Iraq is the precondition for any
In fact, getting out now may be our only chance
to set things right in Iraq. For starters, if we withdraw, European
politicians would be more likely to cooperate with us in a strategy for
stabilizing the greater Middle East. Following a withdrawal, all the
countries bordering Iraq would likely respond favorably to an offer to
help stabilize the situation. The most important of these would be
Iran. It dislikes al Qaeda as much as we do. It wants regional
stability as much as we do. It wants to produce more oil and gas and
sell it. If its leaders really want nuclear weapons, we cannot stop
them. But we can engage them.
None of these prospects is possible unless we stop moving deeper into the “big sandy” of Iraq. America must withdraw now.