Thursday, December 16, 2004

Getting Out Of Iraq

A plan for Getting Out Of Iraq now, not 5 or 50 years from now, is proposed by Erik Leaver of Foreign Policy in Focus.

We have all heard, from both sides of the aisle, that America cannot "just cut and run" from Iraq often enough for it to seem like wisdom. We are told that the result would chaos and unacceptable consequent costs. Well, many unacceptable costs are building up anyhow, and we still seem no closer to the exit sign in Iraq. I consider just pulling up stakes and leaving to be an tenable solution, so long as it is done in a manner designed to minimize the risks of political and security turmoil in Iraq. At base, I find it arrogant and condescending to think that the Iraqis could not arrange their affairs without our 'guidance'. As Bush rails so self-righteously about those who think that a Muslim people cannot have democracy, he back-handedly confirms their inability to create that democracy on their own, without our armoured foot on their necks.

De-occupation makes sense militarily, too. Those places with the least American troops or patrols are the quiestest. Other nations occupy areas of the country with different ethnic and religious demographics, true, but their rules of engagement are also much less confrontational. Iraqis have been working out a livable political order for themselves for millenia, there is no reason to suppose they cannot do so today, especially with our active assistance. If we treated the Iraqis as if they were already a people with rights, dignity and self-determination, instead of just giving lip-service to the ideas, we would accelerate the healing of Iraq civil society immensely. America can leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind if a sensible withdrawl strategies were pursued to minimize or eliminate the consequences. Here are Leaver's main points with my commentary on each:

1) Decrease U.S. troops and end offensive operations: the presence of our troops is a significant irritant to Iraqi nationalism and the deep seated cultural outrage at having any part of the Umma occupied. Reducing troop levels will result in lowered levels of violence. We cannot afford any more Fallujahs - no more offensive operations. Station troops in rural areas and along sensitive borders, not in population centers. The insurgency must be dealt with politically, not by saturation bombing Iraqi cities.

2) Declare that the U.S. has no intention to maintain a permanent or long-term military presence or bases in Iraq: This is exactly what Kerry did during the debates, and he was wise to do it. Many Iraqis fear that we want to continue to dominate their country and station troops there for years to comes, if not forever. Laying that fear to rest will help stabilize the political situation. Part and parcel is to stop building permanent bases and plow under what we have built so far.

3) Do more to restore services: The poor level of electrical, water, and sewer services is causing untold misery and death among Iraqis, not to mention much resentment. Many see this as a continuation of an economic embargo that many Iraqis conclude was of genocidal intent. Rebuilding Iraq is the best way to rebuild credibility. It is also necessary to restarting the Iraqi economy and reducing unemployment.

4) Postpone national elections and hold elections for provincial governments: One of the most unfortunate deviations from Army doctrine on 'nation building' is that one should have local elections first, building up to regional and finally national elections. But the Bush Administration cancelled plans for local elections. Why? Could be they did not want local governments to become centers of resistance. Regardless, it was a huge mistake. Such elections increase the legitimacy of both local leaders and the occupational government. They groom leadership for the future and test the credibility of new political partys for voters and as partners in reconstruction and nation building. Had local elections been held, much of the insurgency's leadership might have been put to the service of democratizing Iraq, instead of shooting at our soldiers. We should take the lessons of Germany, Japan, Italy, and Korea and put them to use.

5) Impose conditions on U.S. spending for the Iraq War: For the branch which wields the power of the purse, the Congress has been very spendthrift; essentially the Congress has written a blank check for the Administration to fight this war and then rebuild, and isn't even watching where the funds are going. That must end. Congress is the only body which can hold the Administration's feet to the fire, investigate, and measure performance of the reconstruction and of military operations. They must do so, or America will continue to pour billions down the drain with nothing to show for it and no idea if we are making progress. The only way is to tie allocations to performance of measurable goals, and to put the Iraq war back in the budget. Citizens need to know how this war is affecting America's financial position. Finally, local Iraqi governments need to have full control of reconstruction money, subject to stern auditing, to begin rebuilding the economy and reduce the unemployment and hopelessness that fuels the insurgency.

These steps will mean that that the Administration will be unable to retain a grip on the political life, legal structures, and levers of power that it fully intends to hang on to. Why has reconstruction gone so slowly? To give the U.S. Embassy a carrot of billions in pre-approved aid to dole out. Why has access to the political process been so rigorously controlled and why is the Administration pushing to hold elections so soon? To advantage arriviste ex-patriot parties who would leave in place the extremely market-friendly laws which Paul Bremmer put in place (and got a medal for). Why are we building huge military bases at the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars? Because we intend to have troops stationed in Iraq to project military power across the Middle East. All of these long-term ambitions would have to be abandoned as Neo-Con pipe dreams. So this Administration cannot, and will not, take Leaver's sound advice. Not because it wouldn't work better, or because Iraq would fall into chaos, but because then Iraq's fate would then be in the hands of the Iraqis alone - and that is the one outcome the Bush Administration will not tolerate.


At 6:05 PM, Blogger Tiny Montgomery said...

Good, practical ideas. However, there is zero possibility of them being acted upon by the Bush Administration. What you and I believe to be illegal, immoral and unacceptable are viewed by those in power as simply being the acceptable costs of this hyper-capitalist experiment in Iraq. Some of what you have suggested may have been possible if the results of the Presidential election had been different. Sadly, we are stuck with what we got.


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