Two polls say it all: just about half the US population is in favor of a quick withdrawal from Iraq, and over seventy percent of Iraqi lawmakers want the US troops to leave immediately. If the US people and the Iraqi elected officials want the US troops to depart from Iraq, what keeps the Occupation going?
Recent polls shows that while a large plurality of Americans feel the war is a disaster, a significant number are cautious about withdrawal for two reasons. Some feel an obligation to a country that we have helped to devastate. Others feel that the departure of the troops will result in a Civil War, and in a nightmarish security situation for both Iraqis and for the US. These are legitimate fears, particularly because little in the mainstream media offers a window to counter them. We only hear of Iraqi
sectarianism: the resistance has been reduced to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the suicide bombers have come to represent the mayhem. Fear is a natural consequence of alarmism.
(1) If the US troops leave, Iraq will collapse into Civil War. Instead of creating fellowship in Iraq, the US Occupation has intensified sectarian differences. The US Occupation purged the Ba’athists, then reintroduced some of them, brought the pro-Iranian parties to power, and then began to demonize them, painted the “Sunni triangle” as the natural home of the resistance and then linked them against all evidence to the Islamism of al-Qaeda. The US Occupation made al-Zarqawi into a legend, when in fact he is reviled by many sections of the resistance who have attacked al-Qaeda redoubts in Husaybah and Ramadi. What the US Occupation claims to prevent is what is has promoted.
(2) US Troops can only leave when the Iraqi security forces are ready to take over. President Bush said, “As Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down”
(October 6, 2005). Before the US invasion there were 115 battalions of the Iraqi army and many detachments of its police force. A year ago, the Pentagon said that three battalions were in frontline operations. In October, the Pentagon admitted that the number had slipped to one. Bush and al-Zarqawi have a mirror image strategy: the former won’t allow the US to leave Iraq unless the Iraqi army stands up, and the latter will attack the Iraqi army to make sure the US will not leave Iraq. Al-Qaeda and al-Zarqawi have a plan: they want to make Iraq the Afghanistan of the US. If al-Zarqawi believes that al-Qaeda bled the Soviet Union with its guerrilla war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, he believes that it can do the same to the US now.
As long as the US Occupation continues, al-Qaeda’s strategy will operate in Iraq. As the forces withdraw, the Arab League and the Iraqis will be able to take up security, and al-Qaeda will move on to its next battleground (Jordan, Saudi Arabia). As the US stands down, the Iraqis can stand up.
(3) If the US withdraws, its prestige will be damaged worldwide. US prestige is at an all-time low according to the global surveys done by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The slip is dramatic: in 1999-2000, for instance, 75% of Indonesians had a favorable attitude to the US, whereas in 2005, the number dropped to 38%. In Germany the decline was from 78% to 41%, and in Britain from 83% to 55%. When Bush went to Mar del Plata to the Summit of the Americas, he was jeered. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez normally calls Bush “Mister Danger,” but he has now demoted him to “Mister.” When Bush went to Asia after that failed summit, he received verbal brickbats from stalwart allies of the US. While in South Korea, Bush was embarrassed by a national discussion for the pullout of South Korean troops (the largest continent in Iraq after the US and UK). A US withdrawal will only lift the US prestige.
No one doubts the US ability to bomb any part of the world into smithereens.
There is, however, now common belief that the US is not capable of pacification.
It’s not that there are no measured plans for a withdrawal. The fracas in Congress in November importantly posed the question, and for their forthrightness, a section of Democrats received the scorn of the President, the Republicans and the Dinosaurs (DINOS- Democrats in Name Only, such as Joe Lieberman and others). But one among their ilk, Lynn Woolsey, had convened an informed hearing in late September that took up the question of withdrawal. The Woolsey hearing produced five concrete steps toward withdrawal:
(1) The US President must make a public statement that the US has no strategic interest in permanent bases or oil. The Iraqi people must control oil resources.
(2) The US Occupation must pull troops back to the barracks, and all offensive operations must cease. Operations Phantom Fury and Steel Curtain in Fallujah, for instance, deeply scarred the reputation of the US forces.
The use of White Phosphorus is only one part of the scandal, another of which is the widespread revenge attacks on Fallujah for the acts of the resistance. Saddam Hussein is being tried for a revenge attack on the village of Dujail in 1982 (143 dead). The death toll from Fallujah is easily in the thousands. Where US troops move, attacks follow. And resistance attacks are followed by maximum force response. This is no climate for the construction of democracy.
(3) The US Occupation must begin a dialogue with the non-al-Qaeda resistance. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the resistance has “no political program, but [they] simply want to destroy innocent life.”
This is not so. Ayham al-Samarrai, former Electricity Minister is in touch with currents of the Islamic Army and the Mujahideen Army, both of whom revile al-Qaeda and have a political program.
(4) An appointment of a Peace Envoy. The US government can turn to a credible Arab leader or else to a senior Scandinavian diplomat, someone like Erik Solheim of Norway who is currently at work in Sri Lanka. This person will be a go-between to talk to the various factions and parties, and continue a regional political dialogue for the future of Iraq. The Arab League’s Amr Moousa convened over hundred Iraqi leaders in Cairo on November
21 for a reconciliation conference, at which the parties demanded “a withdrawal of foreign troops on a specified timetable, dependent on an immediate national program for rebuilding the security forces.” In this climate, the Arab League or its head, could be the peace envoy.
(5) A commitment to reconstruction of Iraq based on Iraqi economic needs, with US funding and loan guarantees. For those of us who feel an obligation to Iraq, and others of us who fear that the Halliburton-style cannibalization of Iraq, this is a crucial point. After the Ba’ath chaos, the Iran-Iraq war and the long US-Iraq war (1990 onward), Iraq will need measured social development. Part of this development will have to be in the best use of resources toward a people’s agenda, and for the reformation of Iraqi nationalism.
The Woolsey plan has been buried. It needs to be discussed both among us ordinary people, and in the halls of our delegates. It is a very good baseline for the necessary march out of Baghdad. If the US Occupation does not end now, it is likely that in some decades, we’ll get another photograph of expectant people standing on a building (this time in the Green Zone) trying to get onto the last US helicopter out of Iraq.