Senator John Kerry argues that the United States should set a May 15 deadline for the formation of a national unity government in Iraq, and then set a December 31, 2006 deadline for US withdrawal. Kerry seems to be under the impression that the US is fighting “al-Qaeda” in Iraq, which is generally not true. It is fighting Sunni Arab Iraqis, whether nationalists or religious Salafi revivalists or tribesmen or good old boys. But he is right that the US military should stop doing search and destroy missions and withdraw to garrisons, and then ultimately leave. The search and destroy missions have only spread around support for the insurgency.
As for the notion of two deadlines, the first is really unnecessary. The Iraqi constitution sets deadlines, which the Iraqi politicians have more or less announced that they will ignore. All the US has to do is demand that they meet their own deadlines or else we’re taking down the concrete barriers around the Green Zone and going home.
Arthur Greif suggests we just have a California-style referendum in Iraq and ask the Iraqis if they want the US troops to leave within 6 months. He knows that the likely answer is “yes,” and suggests that it would give us an honorable way out. The problem is that the Cheney administration does not want an honorable way out, they want petroleum contracts for their Houston cronies.
The problem with Kerry’s and Greif’s exit plans is that they are only that– exit plans. It isn’t hard to get a US exit. We just pull up stakes and go home. What is hard is not to leave chaos behind us, of a sort that will throw the whole Oil Gulf region into war.
A practical exit strategy has to stipulate what comes next. As regular readers know, I think where we start is by splitting the military command in Iraq, as we did in Afghanistan (there we have NATO ISAF and the US). We need a UN command in Iraq, and need a multinational force (probably in the main Arab League) that can go on helping the Iraqis maintain a minimum of social peace after the US is out.
The US needs to get out. Its troops are a constant provocation of the local population, stirring insurgency rather than quieting it. They have never developed the kind of local intelligence or even language skills that would allow them to do real counter-insurgency. When hot civil war nearly erupted in February, US troops could not intervene between Sunnis and Shiites anyway, without becoming a party to it. So what good are they in such a crisis? Better to get them out of harm’s way. Moreover, the Bush administration is both incompetent and corrupt, and therefore cannot hope actually to accomplish anything good in Iraq. The longer the US is there virtually unilaterally, the worse the final crash and burn is going to be. But the US has a responsibility, having thrown Iraq into civil war, to make the best arrangements it can for the aftermath.
The six neighbors have the highest stakes in Iraq– Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran. They should immediately be called to a 6 + 3 meeting with the United States, Britain and the Arab League to begin the work of constituting a post-US multinational force that might hope to keep ethnic and religious militias from marching against one another in the thousands and killing milions.
Exit is easy. Exit with honor will be the hardest thing the United States of America has ever done in its over two centuries of history. Exit without honor will endanger the security of the United States for decades.