Succeeding by withdrawing

What? You want us pundits to stop complaining about what a mess the Bush administration has made in Iraq, and say something constructive for a change?

But sniping is so easy! Did you know that a leaked draft report by the Government Accountability Office concludes that the Iraqi government has met only three of the 18 political and military benchmarks mandated by Congress?

All right, all right -- I’ll stop.

OK, what exactly should we do in Iraq?


Option One: We keep doing what we’re already doing -- the White House approach. Theme song: “Give War a Chance.”

This is not a viable option. Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But you don’t have to be an Einstein to see that the White House approach hasn’t worked, isn’t working and won’t work.

Even if we wanted to maintain our current troop levels and strategy, we can’t. Troops don’t grow on trees, and neither do “up-armored” Humvees or Bradley fighting vehicles. As Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly plans to warn Bush, we risk degrading U.S. military readiness and jeopardizing our own national security interests if we don’t substantially decrease troop levels in Iraq.

Option Two: We do something different. Instead of calling up the last few idle reservists -- the middle-school boys and girls in Junior ROTC, maybe -- we withdraw troops. (Go ahead, call it “redeployment” if it makes you feel better).


Want nitty-gritty details on who/what/where/when/how? For those who like to dig their teeth into think tank reports, I recommend “How to Redeploy: Implementing a Responsible Drawdown of U.S. Forces from Iraq.” Released this week by the Center for American Progress, the report’s lead author is Lawrence Korb, a guy who knows his stuff.

Korb, who served during the Reagan administration as assistant secretary of Defense for manpower, reserve affairs, installations and logistics, recommends redeploying U.S. troops over a period of 10 to 12 months. That time frame allows for the removal of weaponry and sensitive equipment, without the expense and exposure of more extended drawdown periods -- and it gives local and national Iraqi authorities a reasonable opportunity to prepare for our absence.

As troops rotate out at the end of their tours, they would not be replaced; remaining troops would be repositioned from more stable peripheral regions of Iraq and consolidated in Baghdad until only a small number of Marines remain to protect civilian personnel at a downsized U.S. Embassy. Two brigades would also remain for a year in the Kurdish region.

The U.S. would continue to have a strong regional military presence through a carrier battle group and Marine expeditionary force in the Persian Gulf, and through existing U.S. bases in neighboring states.

Fine, you say, Option Two sounds like it works reasonably well for the U.S., but what about the Iraqis? Are we just going to abandon them to a world of endless conflict? Bye, thanks for all the kebabs, and good luck getting that U.S. visa.

The honest (though not very satisfying) answer is that no one really knows what will happen in Iraq after the United States leaves. Interestingly, a poll in March found that a majority of Iraqis thought the security situation would improve immediately after a U.S. withdrawal. But things could also get worse -- and anyone who claims to have a crystal ball is lying.

We long ago squandered any capacity to guarantee a happy ending for the Iraqis. But, as several other recent Center for American Progress reports suggest, there are still steps we can take to minimize the chance that a U.S. withdrawal will make things worse for them.

First, accompany a U.S. troop drawdown with strong support for a robust U.N. presence in Iraq, a move that even Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr has indicated he would welcome.


Then, get serious about engaging Iran, Syria and other regional powers in stabilizing Iraq. All have plenty to lose if Iraq falls apart entirely.

Next, recognize that Iraq’s fate -- and the continued rise of Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism -- is linked to ongoing Arab-Israeli tensions, and redouble efforts to resolve that long-running conflict.

Finally, welcome fleeing Iraqis into the United States. Stingy quotas and idiotic restrictions on where Iraqis can apply for U.S. visas have meant that only about 200 Iraqis have been resettled in the U.S. over the last 10 months. We need to make refugee resettlement easier, fast.

Still don’t like any of my proposals?

Fine. Say we stick with the current White House approach. Iraqis are now fleeing their country at the rate of 50,000 a month. If that keeps up, Iraq will be entirely depopulated in 45 years.

That’s one way to make the Iraq problem go away.