How to Exit Iraq
By Paul Findley
President Bush faces an agonizing dilemma in Iraq, a challenge that seems to confound most Americans. Few want our forces simply to pack up and run. Fewer still want them to continue their bloody struggle for years.
Amid this imbroglio, a precise presidential announcement could, I believe, inspire a quick reduction in anti-American insurgency and permit a complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces within a year or less.
Here are the essentials. The president must announce publicly the date by which the U.S. government will completely end its Iraqi presence, military and civilian. The statement must promise in unambiguous, unconditional terms that within a precise period (I suggest six months) after the directly elected new Iraqi government takes office, he will order the complete evacuation of all U.S. military forces beyond the normal Marine guard at the U.S. Embassy, all U.S. civilian personnel except for a diplomatic staff of normal size and all U.S. contractors.
He must also state that, if the new government wishes any U.S. units, military or civilian, to remain beyond the stated limit, such requests must first be approved by the United Nations Security Council, a step that will signify international support if an extension does occur. Finally, Bush must promise substantial U.S. financial aid to help repair the damage done by our troops during the invasion and since.
In making these promises, he will respond to grim reality. Iraqis do not trust U.S. intentions as officially stated. Like many other people worldwide, they believe U.S. forces invaded Iraq mainly for Israel and oil, not to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. They see a dozen U.S. military bases already built on Iraqi soil that exude permanence. They hear Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld say on television that U.S. forces will remain until Iraq is stable and "at peace with all its neighbors." The quoted words hint that one of these days U.S. pressure will force the new Iraq to conclude a treaty with Israel that will keep Iraqis from supporting independent statehood for Palestinians. They are convinced U.S. troops will stay indefinitely, enabling the U.S. government to exercise dominance in Iraqi affairs far into the future. These fears may be groundless, but even false perceptions can lead to awful consequences like suicide bombings that are intended to punish U.S. "occupiers" and the Iraqi "Quislings" who collaborate with them.
The presidential promises should temper insurgency. A recent scholarly study shows that most suicide bombers are motivated by fierce hostility to the occupation of their homeland by foreign troops. When the troops leave, suicide assaults almost always cease immediately.
Iraq may be the exception, of course. The U.S. invasion may have triggered a political avalanche that will have to run its course. Iraqis, like other people in all lands everywhere, resent foreign occupation, but the Sunni and Kurdish minorities also fear oppression if the Shiite majority gains firm political control. Perhaps civil strife is inevitable. If so, the departure of U.S. forces by a certain date could shorten it in a way merciful to all concerned. Ultimately, Iraqis will have to solve their own internal conflicts if their nation is to be truly independent.
Even if bloody mayhem continues, the departure of U.S. troops is essential. They prompt more terrorism, not less.
Worst of all, our Iraqi operations already threaten America's well-being at home and our capacity for leadership abroad. The war may already have disabled America for the immediate future. Our country is only beginning to comprehend the deadening impact of the war on our civil liberties, economy, way of life and the opinion of people worldwide.
At the least, the presidential promises will dampen speculation about an emerging U.S. empire and go far in restoring luster to the name America. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, we should quickly retrace our steps and return to the high road.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
Paul Findley is the former Republican U.S. representative from Illinois from 1961 to 1983 and a founding DYR Board member.