Iraq Exit Strategy


Having just watched the News Hour, I was struck by the seemingly strong pressure on the current administration to come up with a timetable for leaving Iraq. Such talk is absolute nonsense as well as irresponsible without first talking about attaining the conditions which were the goals of intervention in the first place. Unfortunately, there has never truly been an open an honest debate regarding the conditions which we were seeking as a result of our invasion of that country and the costs of attaining them. Any discussion of a time table for leaving must begin with a review of these conditions, our progress in attaining them, and the consequences of an early withdrawal without having attained them.


The following stated goals of the Iraqi War are taken from Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack." Woodward states that President Bush said he wanted "Saddam out and the weapons of mass destruction eliminated. That was the goal, that was the commitment," and that has been accomplished. In a similar vein, Woodward recounts the President's reminder to lawmakers in Congress that they had decided in 1998 that regime change was necessary. That too has been accomplished. Woodward further delineates the stated objectives with his review, on page 154, of the draft National Security Presidential Directive approved by the Deputies entitled, "Iraq: Goals, Objectives and Strategy." It stated the following. "U.S. goal: Free Iraq in order to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and associated programs, to prevent Iraq from breaking out of containment and becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond. End Iraqi threats to its neighbors, to stop the Iraqi government's tyrannizing of its own population, to cut Iraqi links to and sponsorship of international terrorism, to maintain Iraq's unity and territorial integrity. And liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny, and assist them in creating a society based on moderation, pluralism and democracy."


Unfortunately, the debate of these goals, many of which were obviously long term goals, was constrained to a narrow few, and it has become evident the situation was not of such pressing urgency as to require an immediate decision or precipitous action to protect our national security. Limiting debate and inclusion is necessary where clear and present danger to our national security is apparent and it may be, due to the inherent problems in our intelligence community, that the perception was that this was the case. In order to assess our current situation, however it is important that we reconsider and open debate afresh on the original reasons for action. Such debate should consider not only our progress in achieving the original ends, but also the validity of those ends as originally formulated, as well as how the current situation has altered the cost benefit equation.


Looking at the original reasons for war, many have been achieved, the results being rather impressive. We must not only give credit where credit is due, but also list the many accomplishments that our brave young men and women have fought, bled and died to achieve. Regime change, a national policy begun under President Clinton, was achieved, and achieved in rather short order. The Iraqi WMD threat, or at least the perception of a threat, was removed. The Iraqi people have been librated from the tyranny of despotism, and Iraq's neighbors no longer need fear a presumptuous regional hegemon. The remainder of the goals remains in question. It is on these goals that we should focus the current debate in regards to both establishing a timetable for withdrawal as well as determining both the validity as well as cost of achieving them. The remaining goals include preventing Iraq from becoming a more dangerous threat to the region and beyond, cutting Iraq's ties to international terrorism, and maintaining Iraq's unity and territorial integrity, the first two being in question due to the issue of government legitimacy, authority and stability rather than offensive adventurism or sponsorship of terrorism.


These goals, then, their validity, and the impact of a precipitous pullout on achieving them should be the subject of the debate, not the establishment of some arbitrary timetable for withdrawal or the scoring of political points by asking public servants who serve at the pleasure of the President whether they think it is time for them to resign. What would be the impact of our pullout from Iraq at this point on the Global War on Terror? What would be the impact to the fledgling democracy in Iraq? What would be the impact on the Iraqis and the original goal of helping them to create a free, moderate, pluralistic society? Of course, included in this debate should be the validity, in terms both of national values and means, of achieving these goals. Perhaps, in this renewed debate, we will come to realize more fully that we, alone, cannot achieve these goals for others. Rather, it is only through working collectively with the community of nations, if that community is committed, that we can hope to achieve them. In the absence of this commitment, we must, both out of pragmatic necessity as well as moral obligation, look out to out own.