Get Out of Iraq Now

In Iraq we are repeating the terrible mistakes of Vietnam. Arizona Senator John McCain and (apparently) President Bush claim the way to victory is to increase U.S. military forces vastly and “surge” into Baghdad to stamp out the sectarian fighting. This would not work. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Iraq Study Group recognize that in Iraq, as in Vietnam, we are taking sides in a civil war, a war we cannot win.

We have come hard up against the limits of superpower strength. All of our aspirations for improving the political landscape in the Middle East and for making life better for the people of Iraq have come to little. The reason is that we have (and have had) no influence over the emotions of the people we are purporting to help.

We were right to oust the murderous dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. He posed a danger to the world. He was a threat himself, and could have used Iraq’s oil wealth to assist the Islamic terrorists who want to destroy Israel and evict the West from the Middle East.

But Saddam’s removal was the sum total of our success in the region. We have failed in all of our other endeavors—not because our aspirations were wrong, but because, as outsiders, we could not change the thinking and behavior of the extremely combative sects and interests there.

The democratic government of Iraq is incapable of surmounting these deep historical divisions. There are strong indications that the majority Shiites in the government are condoning or turning a blind eye to atrocities carried out by government forces or by Shiite militias, especially those of the radical cleric Moktada al Sadr.

There is no hope that the United States can change the dynamic by exerting more military force. Colin Powell said on CBS on December 17, 2006, that the U.S. Army is “about broken,” and another surge of troops into Baghdad would not halt the civil war.

The Sunnis and the Shiites are locked in a bitter struggle for power. They are conducting this struggle by guerrilla methods. A foreign army cannot counter guerrilla warfare, because the guerrillas can disappear into the “water” of the population that supports them. It was precisely this withdrawal of guerrillas into the populace that led to our defeat in Vietnam. A foreign army, by contrast, cannot disappear, and remains vulnerable to attacks as long as it remains in the country. As a result, our casualties are rising relentlessly, and we are achieving nothing.

Adding troops in massive numbers did not bring victory in Vietnam, and it’s not going to bring victory in Iraq. Encouraging the Iraqi army and police to defend their own country also has little hope of success. The Iraqi government is massively and perhaps fatally incompetent. The New York Times reported on December 10, 2006, that the government is failing to spend billions of its own oil dollars to repair oilfield infrastructure, build new pumping stations and pipelines, and construct much-needed refineries. Since oil provides 100 percent of Iraq’s income, the government’s inability to act in this its most basic interest is damning and gives us little reason to believe it will improve.

It is unrealistic to expect the Iraqi military and police to measure up to their responsibilities. The Iraq Study Group reported that the Iraqi army exacts no punishment for soldiers who are absent without leave, and that unit readiness rates are often at 50 percent or less. It would be a tremendous mistake to “embed” additional American troops in Iraqi army and police units to train them. These Americans would become sitting ducks for kidnappers and hostage-takers. It is dangerous for foreigners even to walk the streets for fear of being seized and killed. If small groups of Americans were isolated inside Iraqi military and police units of doubtful loyalty, they would be in great peril. If seized as hostages, the United States could do little to free them.

The United States should withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible. The situation will be no better and no worse for our departure. The killings will go on for as long as the Iraqis want them to do so and will stop when they decide to stop. The decision rests with the Iraqi people, not with the American army. We should maintain aircraft and swift-action Special Forces in Kuwait and other friendly places on the Persian Gulf to help the Iraqi government out of tight situations if, against all odds, it begins to confront the militias and the death squads. But what will most probably happen when the Americans pull out is that the Iraqis—seeing that the main prop to stability is gone—will reach some compromise to end or reduce the killings.

Indeed, the departure of the Americans will most likely precipitate an agreement. This agreement will be influenced by pressure exerted not only by the factions within Iraq but also by the states surrounding Iraq.

We are likely to make progress by diplomatic efforts, playing the interests of Iraqi factions and neighboring states against each other. There are three major political and religious disputes at play in the Middle East—1) the Muslims’ hatred of Israel, 2) the Sunnis’ hatred of the Shiites and the Shiites’ hatred of the Sunnis, and 3) the fear of Syria, Turkey, and Iran that an independent or autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq will lead the huge Kurdish minorities in these three border lands to seek to join their Iraqi brethren to form a greater Kurdistan.

Our diplomatic efforts should be directed at pointing out to the Iraqis and the states in the region—Sunni Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan; Shiite Iran, and secular but mainly Sunni Turkey—that it’s in everybody’s interest to quell Sunni-Shiite violence and figure out a way for Iraq to remain a united country, if merely a loose federal state like Bosnia. These border states can do far more than the United States to convince the Iraqis to paper over their differences. If the Iraqis could be induced to stop killing each other for just a bit they would realize that a mutual settlement is the only way that Iraq’s oil wealth, located almost wholly in Kurdish and Shiite regions, can be shared equitably. Unless an oil settlement is reached, there will be no political settlement and no end to the violence.

A regional effort to reach an agreement in Iraq will not solve the problem of Muslim hatred of Israel. But, if the dreadful disturbances in Iraq can be stopped, sensible people may be able to find ways to reduce the tensions in Palestine.

Without the distraction of Iraq, we also can address a little more logically the threat of an Iranian atomic bomb. Far more than chaos in Iraq, an Iranian bomb is the most severe danger the Middle East will face in coming years. We must address ourselves to its solution. Aside from a most-unlikely renunciation by the Iranians of their determination to build an A-bomb, only two courses of action seem possible: 1) massive and repeated bombing of the atomic sites in Iran to eliminate or delay the creation of a bomb, a course of action that would likely cause a new and even greater upheaval in the Middle East, or 2) a clear international statement to Iran that any use of an atomic bomb anywhere by any party—and here we’re speaking especially of terrorists—would result in the immediate eradication of Iran by an annihilating nuclear strike.

It was this threat that brought Nikita Khrushchev to heel in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. President John F. Kennedy made it plain that—if the Soviets launched a missile from Cuba on any target in the Western Hemisphere—it would be taken as an attack by the Soviet Union and the United States would proceed to destroy the Soviet Union. We can employ this same strategy to deter the North Koreans from using or selling their A-bomb. But it’s not clear whether the governments in Tehran and Pyongyang have enough sense to recognize their interests and to act on them. If we cannot deter the Iranians and the North Koreans from abandoning their atomic programs, our diplomatic effort should be directed at pointing out to them that, if they use the bomb or allow it to be used, they will be behaving like Sampson, who pulled the temple down on his own head.

In comparison to these greater dangers, the Islamic terrorist movement is only a fringe concern. The Islamic terrorists’ aim is to eliminate all secular Muslim states and create in their place a rigid, repressive, totalitarian society or universal state ruled by a caliph or religious dictator. The only place where this warped movement has had any success is among the Taliban of Afghanistan. It has little chance of succeeding in the remainder of the Muslim world because of the restrictions it places on human behavior—repression of women, basing all law on the sharia, or harsh, ancient Muslim legal practices, and rejection of modern society.

The Islamic terrorists’ war on the West is designed to oust Western influence in the Middle East to make this religious revolution possible. The effort against the West thus is only a part of the terrorists’ main goal of establishing a caliphate in the Middle East.

Other terrorist groups have other goals. Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank of Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon are targeting their hate against Israel, not the West. The resurging Taliban in Afghanistan are trying to restore their Islamic dictatorship in that country, not attack the West. Al Qaeda, though still an important ideological force, has been marginalized because it has lost its secure base in Afghanistan and is being pursued without letup in the West.

There is little hope that we or anybody else can heal the divisions in the Middle East. We can only hope for an armistice or cease-fire. The natives have been in conflict for 1,300 years, and have advanced scarcely an inch. We are locked into taking part in the disputes because of our support of Israel and our dependence on Mideast oil. But we should give up any ambition to create Jeffersonian democracy in the region. The Muslim world has been ruled by authoritarian governments from its genesis. This is going to change only when the people decide to do so, not at the behest of foreigners like ourselves. Democracy is an unrealistic goal. Only President Bush seems to retain any residual expectation of achieving it.

But if we recognize that our possibilities are limited, we may be more likely to gain the two goals that are most important to us—quiet in the Middle East, and no A-bomb use by Iran.

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