I have tried to select some key components from suggestions for how to get out of Iraq. I take these ideas primarily from Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Advisor, and Juan Cole, Professor of Middle East History at University of Michigan and originator of the very popular blog, Informed Comment. (The primary source for Brzezinski's ideas are Iraq: Next Steps for U.S. Policy). With the recent election of Democratic majorities in Congress and the report of the Iraq Study Group next month, it is crucial that we begin to think carefully about how we get out of Iraq now. It is especially important because the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group may be so focused upon some kind of "compromise" position that they end up providing cover for continuation of the war. You know what they say: A camel is a horse designed by a committee. If you're my age you recall how many times we were told the Vietnam War was about to end. I begin with some "psychology" that I see as the prime underpinning for a disengagement strategy.
The major key to U.S. withdrawal is using some “psychology” to which the Bush 43 administration has seemed singularly closed. This administration thrives on being “tough”, and military and forcing opponents to “knuckle under”. This strategy of coercion has been a notable failure. As in Judo, one doesn’t try to force one’s opponent; one uses the opponent's forcefulness to defeat him. The U.S. needs to stop trying to force the Iraqis to do things our way and arrange to withdraw our troops thereby encouraging Iraqi initiative to develop. We say: “Call us slow, but we’ve come to the realization that we are seen as an occupying force and are thus adding to your problems. We have therefore decided to withdraw our combat troops. Let’s start talking about when and how we should leave and whether, at your request, we can be of any further help. We stand ready to help, but only in those ways that you Iraqis want us to help.” Note that in one fell swoop we have dropped our role as dreaded “occupier” and become simply an available resource if we are called upon for help.
Doesn’t this more fully accord with Republican Party belief that only those who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps are likely to succeed? Don’t local people know what is best for themselves? Don’t we want to get Big Brother and his $1.4 Billion a week dole out of there and stop sapping Iraqi initiative? We should ONLY be doing in Iraq those things that Iraqi’s representatives have asked us to do.
NEGOTIATE U.S. DEPARTURE. Brzezinski: I favor a decision by the United States to leave Iraq. And the way I would go about it would be that I would ask the Iraqi leaders to ask us to leave. I would not announce it arbitrarily, but I would talk to the Iraqi leaders about our decision, our inclination, and I would encourage them to ask us to leave. The assumption of responsibility by Iraqi leaders who know that they are now going to be responsible for the future of the country is more likely to produce leaders that are prepared to lead and have the capacity to lead. Some U.S. forces might garrison in Kurdish area and Kuwait and might return to help police if requested by Iraqi government.
Informed Comment 11/13/06: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki… pressed his plan to have US troops withdraw to garrisons to be called on only in emergencies. He wants to deploy Iraqi troops more actively instead.”
Brzezinski: In addition, it is likely that both Kuwait and the Kurdish regions of Iraq would be amenable to some residual U.S. military presence as a guarantee against a sudden upheaval.
SET DEPARTURE DATE. Brzezinski: I think we should set a date for the termination of the occupation…. But I would think that within a year we should be able to complete an orderly disengagement and the process would be extremely useful in concentrating Iraqi minds on what will follow and encourage them to assume responsibility.
I do not believe for a minute the argument that setting a date somehow or other would help the insurgency, that somehow or other the insurgents would go into their hiding caves or wherever and wait until the moment we leave and then suddenly they will surface and pounce. It’s not the kind of an insurgency. It’s an insurgency that is much more dispersed, spontaneous, in the crevices of Iraqi society expressing itself, also sometimes on the basis of monetary opportunity.
EMPOWER IRAQI GROUPS TO CRAFT A COMPROMISE. Brzezinski: How certain are we in the judgment that if we were to desist, the Shiites and the Kurds would not be capable of compelling an arrangement with the Sunnis. The Shiites and the Kurds together account for about 75 percent of the population and they have an overwhelming advantage. The Shiites then would be faced with a difficult decision and the Sunnis then would be faced with a difficult decision: whether to accommodate or to resist, to challenge. And I think a reasonable judgment is they will probably be divided. Some will choose the path of accommodation and we know even some Sunni leaders who advocate that. And some will choose the path of resistance. But the outcome, I think, of such a confrontation is also predictable: namely, that the Kurds and the Shiites will prevail. Is that an outcome necessarily worse than staying on course if one makes the judgment that staying on course involves a more and more difficult war of attrition, not to speak of its international consequences, but focusing purely on the Iraqi context?
In an Iraq dominated by the Shiites and the Kurds -- who together account for close to 75 percent of the population -- the two peoples would share a common interest in Iraq's independence as a state. The Kurds, with their autonomy already amounting in effect to quasi-sovereignty, would otherwise be threatened by the Turks. And the Iraqi Shiites are first of all Arabs; they have no desire to be Iran's satellites. Some Sunnis, once they were aware that the U.S. occupation was drawing to a close and that soon they would be facing an overwhelming Shiite-Kurdish coalition, would be more inclined to accommodate the new political realities, especially when deprived of the rallying cry of resistance to a foreign occupier.
EMPOWER IRAQIS TO CALL A REGIONAL CONFERENCE. Brzezinski: I would also encourage the Iraqi government – not have the U.S. do it – to call for a regional conference. I would have the Iraqi government call for a regional conference of Muslim states, some immediately adjoining Iraq, others more distant. By way of example, one might mention Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, perhaps also Turkey (although that is sensitive because of Kurdistan), Algeria, Tunisia, and maybe even Iran. If the Iraqis wished it a post-US multinational force might be organized; onethat might hope to keep ethnic and religious militias from marching against one another in the thousands and killing milions. The UN might be involved if the Iraqi government wished.
Cole 04/05/06: “The six neighbors have the highest stakes in Iraq-- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran. They should immediately be called to a 6 + 3 meeting with the United States, Britain and the Arab League to begin the work of constituting a post-US multinational force that might hope to keep ethnic and religious militias from marching against one another in the thousands and killing millions.”
From the San Jose Mercury News of 11/13/06 demonstrating the motivation of regional powers to help end violence in Iraq:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia's interior minister on Sunday called Iraq a major base for terrorism, a sign of growing alarm over the neighboring country where U.S. forces are struggling to prevent Sunni-Shiite violence from escalating into full-scale civil war. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif said the situation in Iraq is deteriorating daily and the country has become a threat to the whole region. "There is no doubt that Iraq now forms a main base for terrorism," he told the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya television station in the capital Riyadh. "The situation in Iraq is changing day after day, and this situation has numerous threats," he said before his departure to the United Arab Emirates to attend a meeting on security issues in the Gulf states. The minister also said Saudi youth were being lured to fight in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials have long complained about Saudi extremists crossing into Iraq to join the battle against American and coalition forces. U.S. officials announced last April that Saudis were one of the top five nationalities among foreign fighters captured by coalition forces in Iraq. The oil-rich kingdom has been moving forward with plans to build a fence along its frontier with Iraq to prevent militants from crossing the border.
Cole 04/05/06:” We need a UN command in Iraq, and need a multinational force (probably in the main Arab League) that can go on helping the Iraqis maintain a minimum of social peace after the US is out.”
Brzezinski: Once the United States terminated its military occupation, some form of participation by Muslim states in peacekeeping in Iraq would be easier to contrive, and their involvement could also help to cool anti-American passions in the region.
Brzezinski: I noted in the news today the Iranian willingness to talk to us about more stability in Iraq, to deal with the issue of post-disengagement stabilization, something which is in their own interest, and so therefore it is not a plea, a desperate plea for help. It is not a plea to replace one occupier with another set of occupiers, but it is to ask them to be engaged with the Iraqis on an Iraqi initiative regarding stabilization after the United States has left.
I would be pleased to hear from others any criticisms of these ideas or any additional ideas to help us get out of Iraq.