WASHINGTON - Proponents of a United States military withdrawal from Iraq
routinely brush off criticisms that their ideas are "irresponsible". But until
today, the charge that withdrawal cannot be accomplished responsibly - and just
how that would be done - has never been coherently answered.
With the release on Wednesday of the report "Quickly, Carefully and Generously:
The Necessary Steps for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq", withdrawal-minded
experts, analysts and politicians sought to pull all the answers together in
The report, written by the organizing committee after meetings of the more than
20-member Task Force for a Responsible
Withdrawal for Iraq in March, does not address the underlying reasons why the
withdrawal option is the best one - that case, it says, has already been
compellingly made - but rather focuses on how it can be responsibly carried
Whenever the topic of withdrawal is broached, said one of three workshop
participants from the US Congress, Representative Jim McGovern, "the [President
George W Bush] administration screams, 'bloodbath'!" - raising the specter of
Iraq descending into chaos, igniting regional wars, and, as presumptive
Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain has said, al-Qaeda "taking
But far-fetched warnings of worst-case scenarios aside, the alternative of, as
the report puts it, withdrawing "US troops while pursuing a diplomatic and
political solution to Iraq's civil conflict" is out there.
"What we need to argue is how," said McGovern on a media conference call to
discuss the report. "The alternative to not doing anything and not talking
about this is resigning to the status quo."
The report lays out a comprehensive plan for withdrawal of US forces by
internationalizing what is currently the US role as the center of political
power and humanitarian aid in Iraq, engaging in regional dialogue to stem
outside interference in Iraq and convincing neighboring friends and foes alike
to take a constructive role in reconstruction and development, and fomenting
Iraqi reconciliation with international and regional support.
Part of the plan is to create a true national reconciliation between the
sometimes fighting and always feuding Iraqi sectarian and political factions to
be accomplished by a US-endorsed process of a UN-led "pan-Iraqi conference"
that would draft an Iraqi national accord.
While the US media often toes the Bush line that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
is making progress towards reconciliation, the Iraqi government has yet to
significantly accommodate other disenfranchised minority political and
sectarian groups. Organizing committee member Chris Toensing of the Middle East
Research and Information Project disputed this notion - noting that though the
civil war had cooled down, the political structural problems still existed.
"Genuine national reconciliation in Iraq - which is the key to progress on
every other front - requires addressing these structural political problems,"
The Task Force also called for robust diplomacy with all of Iraq's neighbors,
including US regional adversaries Syria and Iran.
"[The report] shines a spotlight on many policy ideas that don't get enough
attention here in Washington," said the Center for American Progress' Brian
Katulis, "and one of them is the need for stepped-up diplomacy."
Syria and Iran, despite their important role in the region and particularly
with Iraq, have yet to be meaningfully engaged by the Bush administration.
"We're changing the rules of the game and we're changing the incentive
structure radically for the neighbors to be engaged," said Toensing. He
stressed the importance of diplomacy under a UN lead and that the Bush
administration has made, at best, half-hearted efforts at engagements.
"Iran and Syria would not be approached hat in hand by the US," he said, "but
rather, by the UN as an equal partner in trying to promote stability in Iraq."
"Wider diplomatic outreach" with all the neighbors, including Sunni powers,
"and trying to bring them together into a more comprehensive and sustained
security dialogue about Iraq" is an important step towards a constructive
regional role, said George Washington University professor Marc Lynch.
The report also calls for a short-term extension of the current UN mandate for
the presence of foreign troops as a means to cover US troops from prosecution
as they prepare to withdraw. The Bush administration, in contrast, plans to
sign a controversial bilateral agreement with the government of Maliki to
continue the status quo of US troops as an occupying force.
During the initial extension, Caleb Rossiter, counselor to Representative Bill
Delahunt, said on the press call, a longer-term UN mandate would be drawn up
that would cover the withdrawal and ensuing international involvement.
Part of that, in the even farther long-term, could be a "blue-helmeted
peacekeeping force" - referring to UN peacekeepers by the distinctive color of
their helmets. But that prospect is clouded by Iraqi resentment of the UN after
corrupt programs that benefited the dictator Saddam Hussein and UN sanctions
that crippled the country in the 1990s.
Asked by Inter Press Service about the issue during the call, Task Force
advisory group member Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives said
that US withdrawal can serve to "alter the spin on blue helmets and troops on
the ground." He said that peacekeeping forces would be "invited" by Iraqi
Rossiter, whose boss, Delahunt, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the
Bush-Maliki security agreement, said that the UN will "need to be able to
operate - as a new force - directly with the Iraqi government," as opposed to
the current set up that has the UN now operates through the "true force" of
160,000 US troops.
A Government Accountability Office report this week - and simultaneously
rejected by the Bush administration - said that some of the administration's
markers of success in Iraq had been overstated. In reality, violence is on the
rise and Bush and Maliki's assertions about the readiness of Iraqi security
forces are exaggerated.