Kicking the can three more months down the road is as cowardly as it is stupid, frankly. Even though the American people overwhelmingly voted for and wanted a real change of direction in Iraq, we ended up with a half assed increase in troops with no real thought process behind it. At the time, we were told that it would be 60 to 90 days before we knew if it would work. Then, we were told that we had to wait until September to get a full assessment of the “progress” of this new plan, which so far has only served to increase deaths and other disaster.
Now we are told that, once again, September is the magic month that will “force republicans” to reassess just how much they still want to stand by their 28%-approval rating leader. And the bills that are being drafted to replace the already vetoed bill to fund this occupation are focusing on benchmarks, holding back funds unless certain criteria are met or whatever other strings may or may not be attached.
But all of this completely ignores the not-at-all-hidden fact that the Iraqi Parliament, the very institution that is supposed to be cracking down on the increased killings as well as passing laws – the very institution that rarely has enough members showing up on any given day to have a quorum – has already said they will take July and August off. Now, even if they cut their vacation short (my bet is they don’t, or if they “say they will”, they won’t have a quorum for most of the days they are “in session” anyway), there is no way that they can meet any of their obligations or be measured for any of the benchmarks that will be set out for them.
And if they don’t even care enough about benchmarks or stopping the raging civil war to stay in session, then we most certainly shouldn’t be policing this civil war – ESPECIALLY without Iraqi government assistance or involvement. Therefore, we should not only be talking about WHEN we leave, but we should be talking about HOW we leave.
This is the most logical next step in the movement out of Iraq. The proposed vacation (which Eason Jordan’s Iraq Slogger indicates that the US is being told to “butt out” of the decision as to how long a vacation the Iraqi Parliament should take) provides the perfect opportunity to force the debate and discussion towards a comprehensive withdrawal plan.
Just six months ago, there was very little (if any) discussion of a timetable for withdrawal. Now, it is not just accepted in general discourse but it is favored by more and more Americans as each week passes. Just six months ago, there was little (if any) talk about engaging with Iran and Syria. Now, not only did 75% of Americans approve of this after the Iraq Study Group report was issued, but Condoleezza Rice has had the first high level talks with Syria in years.
It is time to take the next step.
Yes, a precipitous withdrawal would be disastrous. Of course, a precipitous invasion was disastrous, but we won’t get into that now. And the report that the US and Saudi Arabia (among other countries) are sponsoring covert actions against Iran make it more imperative that we withdraw (1) smartly and (2) without provoking Iran to, at a minimum, make the withdrawal more difficult. In taking a page out of the republican playbook, if you want something to happen (or make the inevitability of it happening part of general discourse), then it should be discussed as if it is a foregone conclusion. And that is precisely what we should be doing with respect to a withdrawal from Iraq. Not just WHEN, but HOW.
By saying this, I am going to disregard the implication that the administration WANTS to stay in Iraq or WILL provoke Iran into a military conflict, or that it is never their plan to leave. We need to look at this from the other side. We need to make it so that there is enough talk – enough pressure on Democrats in Congress so that they will put pressure on the republicans and the administration to not only have the “when” part of a withdrawal talked about, but also the nuts and bolts behind it.
Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts to a withdrawal plan, including but not limited to the following:
- Engage further with Iran and Syria so that we can get out, set parameters/metrics and they won’t interfere with withdrawal;
- Have peacekeeping troops or some presence (NATO/UN?) to help with humanitarian issues (NATO will be tough though with Turkey);
- Negotiate with Iraqis (al Sadr, etc.) to make sure that our troops can withdraw without being targeted (as much as possible);
- Logistics of getting the equipment out;
- Involve Saudis, Pakistan, Turkey, and Europe to figure out how to rebuild and make everyone have some benefit and skin in the game; and
- Restart all Iraqi state run businesses. This will cost around $150 million and will get hundreds of thousands back to work immediately.
I am sure there are many more, but these are at least the first ones that need to get out there. Of course, all of these will be attacked as “siding with the enemy” or “part of a surrender plan”, but the reality of it is that this was said about talking to Iran and Syria (which the administration is now doing), setting a timetable (which is accepted by an overwhelming number of Americans), and makes sense, in light of the fact that these countries are situation where they are.
Of course, one easy rebuttal would be that if we don’t consider these, then it would be tantamount to a hasty withdrawal with soldiers being airlifted from rooftops just like Vietnam (and there is the Vietnam/Iraq comparison once again that republicans have desperately tried to avoid). In fact, since Americans already support a withdrawal from Iraq, NOT supporting a withdrawal plan that is comprehensive and presents the best chance for our troops to withdraw safely is the ultimate in NOT supporting our troops
It is time to talk about how we leave Iraq. The Iraqi government, which doesn’t care enough on most days to even show up is taking the very time off that they are supposed to be “measured” by the US on the progress it makes towards stopping the out of control violence. And since they don’t care, then we need to figure out how to get out.