NYT: Withdraw Now!
In an editorial this morning the New York Times urges an immediate withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, moving them temporarily to Iraqi Kurdistan and from there home. Here’s the meat of their argument:
No reduction in forces. No remnant for training. That would be too dangerous:
Continuing to sacrifice the lives and limbs of American soldiers is wrong. The war is sapping the strength of the nation’s alliances and its military forces. It is a dangerous diversion from the life-and-death struggle against terrorists. It is an increasing burden on American taxpayers, and it is a betrayal of a world that needs the wise application of American power and principles.
The United States could strike an agreement with the Kurds to create those bases in northeastern Iraq. Or, the Pentagon could use its bases in countries like Kuwait and Qatar, and its large naval presence in the Persian Gulf, as staging points.
There are arguments for, and against, both options. Leaving troops in Iraq might make it too easy — and too tempting — to get drawn back into the civil war and confirm suspicions that Washington’s real goal was to secure permanent bases in Iraq. Mounting attacks from other countries could endanger those nations’ governments.
The Times acknowledges the hazards of this course of action:
One of the trickiest tasks will be avoiding excessive meddling in Iraq by its neighbors — America’s friends as well as its adversaries.
Just as Iran should come under international pressure to allow Shiites in southern Iraq to develop their own independent future, Washington must help persuade Sunni powers like Syria not to intervene on behalf of Sunni Iraqis. Turkey must be kept from sending troops into Kurdish territories.
For this effort to have any remote chance, Mr. Bush must drop his resistance to talking with both Iran and Syria. Britain, France, Russia, China and other nations with influence have a responsibility to help. Civil war in Iraq is a threat to everyone, especially if it spills across Iraq’s borders.
The primary question I have is this: having abandoned our primary leverage against the situation deteriorating further and spreading to other countries—the presence of American troops in Iraq—what means do they suggest employing to mitigate the consequences of what they’re advocating?
Natan Sharansky provides the rebuttal argument in the Washington Post:
A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to a bloodbath that would make the current carnage pale by comparison. Without U.S. troops in place to quell some of the violence, Iranian-backed Shiite militias would dramatically increase their attacks on Sunnis; Sunni militias, backed by the Saudis or others, would retaliate in kind, drawing more and more of Iraq into a vicious cycle of violence. If Iraq descended into full-blown civil war, the chaos could trigger similar clashes throughout the region as Sunni-Shiite tensions spill across Iraq’s borders. The death toll and the displacement of civilians could climb exponentially.
Perhaps the greatest irony of the political debate over Iraq is that many of Bush’s critics, who accused his administration of going blindly to war without considering what would happen once Hussein’s regime was toppled, now blindly support a policy of withdrawing from Iraq without considering what might follow.
In this respect, the debate over Iraq is beginning to look a lot like the debate about the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s. Then, too, the argument in the United States focused primarily on whether U.S. forces should pull out. But many who supported that withdrawal in the name of human rights did not foresee the calamity that followed, which included genocide in Cambodia, tens of thousands slaughtered in Vietnam by the North Vietnamese and the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of “boat people.”
In the final analysis, U.S. leaders will pursue a course in Iraq that they believe best serves U.S. interests. My hope is that as they do, they will make the human rights dimension a central part of any decision. The consequences of not doing so might prove catastrophic to Iraqis, to regional peace and, ultimately, to U.S. security.