2007 February 11 Sunday
After The Surge: Call For Gradual Withdrawal From Iraq

A new report from the Council on Foreign Relations calls for a gradual withdrawal of US forces from Iraq after the troop surge.

President Bush's "surge" plan has come under heavy fire in the halls of Congress, from independent policy experts, as well as from a large majority of the American public. Some analysts depict it as a flawed last-ditch attempt (Mail & Guardian) to secure Iraq and prevent it from being dragged into a decades-long civil war on the scale of Algeria's or Lebanon's. But alternative strategies also pose problems. Backers of the Bush administration fault opponents of the plan for lacking a coherent alternative strategy.

A rapid withdrawal of forces, CFR President Richard N. Haass told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, does not constitute a reliable alternative because it would “raise questions in the minds of friends and foes alike about U.S. predictability and reliability,” not to mention leave Iraq as a “humanitarian disaster” and a “sanctuary and a school for terrorists.”

Some experts say the best approach is a gradual “disengagement” of U.S. forces to begin after six months of the surge—the earliest point at which U.S. military officials have said they can assess the surge’s impact. Under a gradual drawdown, troops would be withdrawn within twelve to eighteen months, while efforts are intensified to carry out a regional stablization plan. That is the strategy outlined in After the Surge, CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon’s new Council Special Report. “The United States has accomplished all it’s likely to accomplish in Iraq,” Simon tells CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman. “Every day we stay in Iraq, the higher the price we pay for what we’ve already achieved.”

The premise of his plan rests on two conclusions: U.S. forces have not proved capable of stabilizing Iraq and instability is a structural element of Iraqi politics that cannot be solved militarily. Of course, a pullout is fraught with risks, but Simon says talk of a “regional conflagration” is “not the likeliest consequence of civil war,” if Middle Eastern history is any indication (Israel and Syria’s involvement in Lebanon is an exception). Nor are the preconditions (i.e. heavy weaponry) present for Bosnia-like genocidal violence. The priority, Simon says, “should be to limit the effects of the civil war and, at worst, confine it to Iraq itself.”

This so-called “containment” strategy echoes the plan put forth by Kenneth M. Pollack and Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution. Their plan paints a grim prognosis. Based on their analyses of some dozen recent civil wars, Pollack and Byman call for a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraqi population centers to the periphery to stem the flow of refugees, keep Iraq’s neighbors at bay, and essentially let the civil conflict “burn itself out.” Like Simon, Pollack admits the plan is risky. “To tell you the truth, it’s something many countries have tried over the course of history and few have succeeded,” he tells CFR.org’s Gwertzman.

Our policy toward all the Islamic countries should be one of containment. Keep Muslims in Muslim countries and out of Western countries. Separationism.

Retired US Army Lieutenant General and former head of the National Security Agency under Reagan William Odom says the war in Iraq does not further US interests and we can not make it further US interests.

2. The war has served primarily the interests of Iran and al-Qaeda, not American interests.

We cannot reverse this outcome by more use of military force in Iraq. To try to do so would require siding with Sunni leaders and the Ba'athist insurgents against pro-Iranian Shi'ite groups. The Ba'athist insurgents constitute the forces most strongly opposed to Iraqi cooperation with Iran. At the same time, our democratization policy has installed Shi'ite majorities and pro-Iranian groups in power in Baghdad, especially in the ministries of interior and defense. Moreover, our counterinsurgency operations are, as unintended (but easily foreseeable) consequences, first, greater Shi'ite openness to Iranian influence and second, al-Qaeda's entry into Iraq and rooting itself in some elements of Iraqi society.

I agree with Odom. We are wasting lives and money and harming US interests by continuing to fight the war.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 February 11 10:14 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate

Ned said at February 12, 2007 5:19 AM:

For all the current blustering about Iran, US policy in the region has actually done a great deal to further Iranian interests. The US has destroyed Iran's two major enemies, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, and has installed a more or less pro-Iranian Shiite-dominated government in Iraq. From the perspective of the mullahs in Tehran, not a bad deal. It's hard to say what lies ahead, but a Shiite-Sunni sectarian war is certainly a possibility. This could last decades and result in big-time destabilization of the region (and a big increase in oil prices). General William Odom is absolutely correct - the US has done all it can do in Iraq and should begin pulling out now. What's going to happen will happen - there's not much the US can do now to change things.

Peter Jones said at February 12, 2007 6:41 AM:

I am forcefully reminded of the new testament account of Pontius Pilate, who as we know symbollically 'washed his hands' to cowardly and mendaciously 'absolve' himself over his moral responsibilty on the fate of Jesus's life. (For the record I am not a christian).
The horrific and terible situation we see in Iraq today is the *direct and inevitable* consequence of American intervention and aggression in that country, America bears the moral responbility of the suffering and carnage and murders that the poor Iraqi people must endure on a daily basis.
While I profoundly disagreed with the decision to invade in the first place, for America to take the easy, cowardly option of walking out and leaving the Iraqis 'to their fate', would be disgraceful, dishonorable act of the worst moral turpitude.

Wolf-Dog said at February 12, 2007 9:37 AM:

It was written in some articles that Iran also manipulated the information about the weapons of Saddam, in order to trick the U.S. into invading Iraq. Separately, the 9/11 attack also appears to be a trap to force the US to enter the first global guerilla war in history. Thus it appears that the situation is far more complicated than we could have imagined. The main question we can ask is this: Who in the background, benefits from this global guerilla war?

Francis said at February 12, 2007 11:27 AM:

Wolf-Dog, can you provide some links to those articles? I have no doubt that Iran wants to hurt us and kill Americans, but they have either got to have a real brass pair or be incredibly foolhardy, or muslim lunatics or maybe all three. I have no doubt that they are aiding and supporting those fighting the US in Iraq, hell, they caught a bunch of Iranians last week or so.
Iran has real assets that we can hit too. We could rain destruction on their military complex and economy and not bother rebuilding Iran. If they launch an attack on the US, I have no doubt the response would be pretty bad for them. No invasion, just prolonged bombing of their cities and facilities and seizure/destruction of their interests in other countries. We could wreck their nation in a day. Just look at Iraq.
I se it this way. We are fighting the kind of war our enemy wants to fight. That is a mistake. Pull troops out of the cities and place them in bases in the desert. Pick one guy to be our strongman to run Iraq. Saddam was the best choice, but he is unavailable for the job. Give this guy cart blanche to clean things up an support him with air cover if necessary. Let the Iraqis kill the Iraqis. Who cares? If we have to fight Iran, let's not take a knife to a gunfight, let's bring out tanks, artillery, attack helicopters, navy, aircraft and pound them into the ground. Demolish anything that moves. Let's use our strengths. When we are done reducing their nation to rubble, don't bother with "rebuilding." Just let that be the lesson. We are not ruthless enough with these people. If we don't get mean, we are never going to be free of their shit. Our leaders and elites keep thinking that inside of every muslim there is an American trying to get out. This is not the case.

Randall Parker said at February 12, 2007 7:13 PM:

Peter Jones,

We make Iraq worse by staying. The civil war will end sooner if we leave.

Our purpose in leaving is not to run away from something scary. The purpose in leaving is as General Odom says: We can't make the place better.

Another reason to leave: We are not furthering our national security interests by staying.


The difficulty is in separating out the Iranian disinformation campaign from the neocon disinformation campaign from the Iraqi exile disinformation campaign. I recall reading some articles that pointed to specific instances of Iranian disinformation. But it has been a few years since I've seen them. I'd be curious to go to some links on this if anyone wanted to spend some time googling and report back here.

Wolf-Dog said at February 12, 2007 8:26 PM:

The old articles about Iran's role in exaggerating and even fabricating the evidence about the weapons of mass destruction of Iraq, seem impossible to find any more, even though these articles were very prominent before and during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This might be a sign of the severe gullibility of the entire nation. Without our collective suggestibility, servility and complicity, this squandering (and looting) of treasure destined to reach $1 billion, would not have occurred.

But let's stop trying to decide who is more guilty of having caused this trap, and let us try to figure out a way out of this situation: a simple U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, will quickly make Iran attain its eternal goal that existed for several centuries: the total control of the entire Persian Gulf (it was Persian Gulf before, but thanks to the Turkish Ottoman Empire that defeated the Persians, the Iranian ambitions were kept in check.) As soon as the U.S. abandons Iraq, Iran will gain total ownership of all the oil in Iraq, which is more than 10 % of the oil in the world, more than doubling the oil reserves of Iran. But this is nothing compared to what can happen if Iran also takes the Saudi oil: note that of the 20 million Saudi citizens, about 15 % are shiites, but this "minority" is located in the oil-rich Eastern side of Saudi Arabia where they constitute a local majority, and they are increasingly emboldened by the recent successes of Iran. Thus if the U.S. simply abandons Iraq, then Iran has a very good chance of taking not only Iraq but also Saudi Arabia within a couple of years.

But if the new US president in 2008, risks assassination of his entire family by the oil companies, and boldly introduces a $250 billion per year Bronx Project for energy research, then we have a chance for resolving this within less than 5 years.

Peter Jones said at February 13, 2007 3:41 AM:

Perhaps an apt an analogy would be this:
An innocent but ignorant householser inadvertently engages an incompetent plumber to a repair a minor job such as leking tap.On the execution of the job the plumber fractures a 1/2 " pipe causing a major leak spewing out gallons of water per second.The plumber panics ana attempts to locate the main internal stop-cock, but finds that it is seized up and inoperable.Knowing what is good for himself, the plumber slinks off unnoticed while the house owner is ignorant and water continues to flood the house.

Ned said at February 13, 2007 7:29 AM:

Peter -

While your analogy has a certain degree of historical relevance, it has no bearing on the current situation in Iraq. Yes, Iraq is a mess right now and likely to get much worse before it gets better. And yes, the US bears much of the responsibility for this mess. However, it could be argued that Iraq has always been a mess. Certainly this was true under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein (remember the mass graves, the rape rooms, the gassing of the Kurdish villages?). But there was order in Saddam's Iraq, just as there was order in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Dictatorships are usually big on maintaining order. Nonetheless, I agree with you that the situation in Iraq today is worse and that the US is mostly responsible. The point is, so what? The past, however tragic and misguided, cannot be undone.

Read General Odom's entire testimony. He correctly states that, short of sending in two or three million troops and instituting a reign of terror, there's nothing more the US can do for (or to) Iraq. The continuing presence of US troops only makes the situation worse. The US has deposed Saddam Hussein and given the Iraqis a constitution and a democratically elected government. Now it's time to see what they are going to do with it. Will this result in civil war? Partition? Some sort of federal system? Democracy? Dictatorship? Something else? Who knows? The time has come to find out.

Big Bill said at February 13, 2007 8:25 PM:

Brethren and Sistren, watch out for the Peter Jones of the world. They are going to insist that we welcome hundreds of thousands of "refugees" from Iraq as atonement for our collective sins.

I have been seeing this train wreck coming for at least two years now. The neocons will insist on transplanting Iraqi to American shores to prove they were really right. Others, such as Mr. Jones and his ilk, will clutch the Iraqi asp to our American breast as divine retribution for America's sins and "moral turpitude".

Our "moral turpitude"! As though we weren't lied to as well! As though regular Americans suckled on liberal "its a small world after all" pap were supposed to know that the Iraqis were bloodthirsty savages completely unlike ourselves. And now that we find they are the type of people willing to butcher and slaughter innocents, our just and true punishment for liberating them and hanging aroud hoping they will come to their senses is to invite them to move to America and live out their Sunni and Shiite genocidal insanity right here.

My friends, fight tooth and nail the guilt-mongers who will tell you to sacrifice your neighborhoods, your schools, your tax bases, your very communities and sanity to a people that has shown itself unable to stop butchering infants and children willy-nilly in service to their god, Allah.

I knew they were savages, but gentle souls like my elderly mother actually thought the Iraqis would lay down their palm branches on the dusty streets and welcome the American liberators gladly into their city. After all, as she would explain, aren't we all alike? Don't good, decent people hate oppression? Don't all people yearn to have their tyrant overthrown?

Brethren and sistren, don't punish my mother for her ignorance. She has lost a nephew to Iraqi savagery, don't make her live in an Iraqi neighborhood right here in the USA. No Iraqi refugees. None. Nada. Let them go live with their kinfolk in Lebanon, Syria, Iran or elsewhere. They have shown themselves completely unable to live together in peace. It is not my mother's fault. She, god bless her, actually believes that liberal clap-trap. She does not have a morally turpitudinous bone in her body. My mother has learned her lesson and suffers her loss. Please, don't let them punish her by inviting them to invade our fair land.

Randall Parker said at February 13, 2007 8:38 PM:

Peter Jones,

We can't suppress the civil war without sending some multiple of the number of troops we have there now. Are you advocating the reinstitution of the draft to build up the needed number of troops? How about tax increases and cuts in domestic spending programs to pay for it?

We are spending enough money and lives in Iraq to waste a lot. We are not spending enough to accomplish anything.

Again, the civil war isn't going to end as long as we do not let the Shias beat the Sunnis.

You may hold us morally responsible for what is in Iraq. That does not mean we can fix it. We've been there longer than the US fought in WWII. The war continues to escalate.

Peter Jones said at February 14, 2007 3:45 AM:

In the final analysis, morality is all that distinguishes civilisation from savagery.Presumably in the stone age rape, murder and robbery were 'accepted' as a matter of course, there being no 'arbiter' to mete out 'justice'.
Perhaps the concept of 'moral responsibilty' exists only as long as the minds of men good enough to carry it exist - think for a moment what would happen if the civil authorities in LA, for example, decided to call it a day - as many black activists want apparently - and let the gangs run rampant doing what the hell they wished - ie murders for a pair of sneakers - Would you call that acceptable?

Peter Jones said at February 14, 2007 3:53 AM:

Big Bill,
Fair is fair.It was a conscious, purposeful American decision to invade Iraq ( a country that never had any beef with America), it was a pure act of terrible unrestrained aggression.
Personally, I don't have any time for Iraqis, but the point is that the dire situation in that nation was perpetrated by US aggression and Us 'strategic interests'.
One is also reminded of the way the US abandoned anti-communist Vietnamese in 1975.

Ned said at February 14, 2007 6:19 AM:

Strategy Page today has some interesting posts on why Arab countries (including Iraq) tend to be such a mess. Here's one quote:

Some members of the Arab Reform Movement is pretty blunt on the subject of what has caused all this. They blame it on Arab leadership. Now an Arab saying that sort of thing in an Arab country can get himself arrested, killed, or worse. For nearly half a century, the lack of progress was blamed on the "legacy of colonialism." Reformers point out that, for most Arab countries, the colonial ruler for most of the last thousand years has been fellow Moslems (usually Turks). That tends to be played down by Moslem media and politicians. The reformers point out, the short period of European colonialism gave the Moslem world an opportunity to start catching up in education and economic development. But instead, Moslem leaders fought among themselves and stole whatever wealth they could get their hands on. This condition has persisted, and the reformers simply ask, "why?" That's become a scary question, and that one Moslem leaders are having an increasingly difficult time dealing with. While there are still a lot of Moslem demagogues who continue to seek traction with the "blame the West" rant, an increasing number of Moslems are looking closer to home for the cause, and cure, for the problem.

There's also an article on the general corruption and worthlessness of most Arab leaders and another on the coming Turkish invasion of northern Iraq-Kurdistan to suppress the PKK. Read the whole thing - http://www.strategypage.com/.

Randall Parker said at February 14, 2007 6:38 PM:

Peter Jones,

First off, I do not feel morally responsible for the actions of others.

When Shias and Sunnis insist that each must rule and that the other group must submit I do not feel morally responsible toward either. Why are we fighting in Iraq? The Iraqis are in a civil war. Neither sect wants to submit.

When freedom-loving Iraqis do not rise up to fight against the far more numerous theocrats I do not feel morally responsible to fight their fight when they will not fight it themselves.

There's not an outcome we can create in Iraq that would resemble something that we consider fair. The Iraqis are too unfair according to our own standards.

Civil authorities in LA: But the Iraqis have their own government. We aren't the civil authorities in Iraq. They are.

Randall Parker said at February 14, 2007 6:42 PM:


If the leaders in Arab countries are to blame how can that be the case for all Arab countries? Surely those countries reflect the character of their populaces.

Peter Jones said at February 15, 2007 4:07 AM:

The answer to your question 'Why are we fighting in Iraq?' is of course simple and obvious - The logical outcome of US aggression aimed at that small country since 1990 (ostensibly to defend Kuwait, but really o safeguard American oil interests), which mestasized into a blood feud between the Tikriti Hussein dynasty on the one hand, and the Bush dynasty on the other. As Sicilian-style blood-feuds go, this one worked extremely succesfully for the Bushes with the two sons and heirs of Saddam murdered as well as the 'old Devil' himself hanged by the neck until dead.
Add in explicitly neocon (ie Israeli) interests, and it really is as simple, promordial anf brutal as that.
Granted, before unforgiving US aggression against Iraq (really the Tikriti dynasty) began in earnest in 1990, Iraq was a bloody, brutal dictatorship, but at least it was safe to walk the streets without being bombed to pieces.
Unfortunately, torn between two brutal, unforgiving tyrannies, the poor Iraqi people have no advocate.

Randall Parker said at February 15, 2007 7:19 PM:

Peter Jones,

The Iraqis aren't torn between two dynasties. They are torn between rival sects of Islam. They are also torn by the blood ties of a consanguineously marrying culture.

Yes, the neocons were motivated by Israel. But Bush wanted to outdo his daddy and win a war that'd make him more popular (at least that is what he believed). I do not think oil was the biggest objective.

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