I have been casting about in vain for a clear exit strategy for Iraq. On the one hand, now that we're there we should stay to ensure the job gets done. On the other hand, our simply being there makes things worse by making us a target for opposition, a rallying cry for the insurgents. What do to?
Why, John Murtha's plan, of course, further elucidated on by this article by Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Washington Post.
"Victory or defeat" is, in fact, a false strategic choice. In using this formulation, the president would have the American people believe that their only options are either "hang in and win" or "quit and lose." But the real, practical choice is this: "persist but not win" or "desist but not lose."
"Persist but not win" has been our strategy up till now. I vote for "desist but not lose."
The inarguable fact is that Iraq is in three pieces -- Shiite, Sunni and Kurd. We are not going to change that. At present, the Shiites and the Kurds control the oil-rich regions of the country and have, for the most part, elected the permanent government. The Sunnis dislike of this situation will no doubt result in more insurgent activity. We may not like the details of how those two situations have come about but they are the facts and no amount of wishful thinking or American military power will change that.
So if we withdraw, strategically, carefully, intelligently, we can allow this new state of affairs to solidify, hopefully without breaking down too much. Yes, the Sunnis will be marginalized, yes this could lead to further internal strife, but at least we'll be starting down the road of letting Iraq sort out Iraq's troubles.
Murtha's plan for withdrawal makes sense and has been echoed in Brzezinski's article. Move troops out gradually, re-stationing them in Kuwait and in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, where their presence might actually be welcome.. Keep them ready to jump back in to put out any fires if need be, but for the most part the Iraqis in the government should know that they're on their own. This will be hard for some, but in a sense it's like being a parent -- you have to let the child try, and fail, and learn. Also, naked necessity is a powerful motivator towards compromise; maybe, just maybe, the Iraqi government will start taking steps towards including the Sunnis.
This of course will require additional promises on the part of the United States, to wit:
- A promise to stay out of Iraqi internal affairs unless requested. It may take some more time before we get to this point, but this should be the goal.
- A promise not to keep any permanent military installation on Iraqi soil. I've said this before, I say it again. We need to have no ulterior motive. (At least, not any more.)
- A definite timetable for the partial withdrawal. Let Iraq and the world know in no uncertain terms when the US will have withdrawn to their 'staging areas' in Kuwait and Kurdish Iraq. After that, wait and see.
Critics may say this will be messy, could cost lives, may backfire, etc. Hey, isn't that the situation we're in now?