Knight: Out — without ‘Bloodbath’ or ‘Regional Chaos’

Charles Knight writes

In October of last year a Boston-area activist called me and reported that he’d recently visited an antiwar Massachusetts congressperson in order to urge that more be done to get the US out of Iraq quickly and completely. Representative Jim McGovern (MA-03-D) had replied that he was doing what he could, but was frustrated by how often colleagues retorted with a version of, “Won’t there be a bloodbath and regional chaos if we leave?”

McGovern had suggested that maybe a conference of experts could advise him and other leaders on how to respond to this challenge. I told my activist friend that I was sure there were some good pieces of a response around and that McGovern’s challenge was an opportunity to collect these pieces and further refine the arguments and policy proscriptions for withdrawal.
`
Over the next weeks we pulled together a four person organizing committee and decided to organize a workshop focused on a scenario of a full withdrawal ordered by the President and a task force charged to come up with policy initiatives that could help mitigate violence and instability that might accompany withdrawal. The task force was not trying to fix things in Iraq or create conditions of ‘victory’ for the U.S. We limited our task to thinking clearly about how the US can exit Iraq in a relatively short timeline while also being responsible to the very real needs of Iraq and its people.

We decided that the best way to proceed was to organize a small workshop of specialists who supported withdrawal and also had particular expertise in Iraqi politics, the neighboring countries, and pressing issues such as how to help refugees. Meanwhile we were doing a literature review of the relevant ideas and policy proposals. That helped to identify the people we wanted to invite and soon commitments to participate overflowed our budget capacities (which we were gathering on the fly.) Among those we invited was Juan Cole who declined because of other commitments.

In early March an extraordinary group assembled (one participant traveling from as far away as Beirut) for an intensive day-long workshop. While we had never imagined that a consensus program could emerge from our process, the workshop deepened my appreciation of how complicated and difficult the issues are that we had taken on. In the workshop, itself, some participants were sharply pessimistic that much could be done to curb violence while others thought there were promising initiatives if adequately supported.

The organizing committee took the day’s discussion and the extensive compilation of ideas we had from the preparation for the workshop and decided to cull the best ideas for mitigating violence and regional repercussions of US withdrawal from Iraq and present them in a short report.

We came up with twenty-five initiatives which we grouped by central purpose: national reconciliation; regional cooperation; Iraqi security; and Iraqi recovery. Wherever possible we made connections between the items and identified logical sequences. For instance, stating a clear intention to fully withdraw its troops and leave its bases is connected to the US backing the internationalizing of support for Iraq and to a stance of non-interference in Iraqi politics. And those changes can only succeed in the context of a very different diplomatic stance toward regional states, in particular Iran and Syria.

I will not summarize the initiatives in the report here, because the report itself is essentially a brief summary of the twenty-five initiatives and, furthermore, includes an even briefer executive summary.

The task force’s work was informed by a political analysis that says that any President who decides to bring U.S. troops home (especially quickly and fully) is going to want to take all available steps to minimize the chances that the American right-wing will later be able to accuse him or her of being responsible for creating a new Somalia, Rwanda, or Cambodia. Our report is a briefing on such steps. It is not meant as a definitive policy guidance. However, it should be useful in re-energizing the politics of withdrawal.

Quickly, Carefully, and Generously: The Necessary Steps for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq, Report of the Task Force for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq, June 2008. Commonwealth Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts USA.

Printable Fulltext PDF

Printable Executive Summary PDF

Charles Knight
Co-director
Project on Defense Alternatives
Commonwealth Institute

Juan Cole adds

See also the notice of this proposal at Marc Lynch’s site; he was a participant in the conference. He summarizes the main points thusly:

‘ * seek a short-term renewal of the UN mandate instead of a bilateral US-Iraqi security agreement, followed by the drafting in 2009 of a comprehensive new UN mandate governing international assistance for Iraqi rebuilding and reconciliation

* establish an International Support Group for Iraq, which would go along with engaging with Syria, Iran, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in a much more sustained and systematic way, and strengthen the International Compact

* announce a timetable for withdrawal, and then plan that withdrawal around likely flashpoints, while preparing now for the introduction of UN blue helmets rather than waiting until it’s too late

* greater focus on the refugees and internally displaced, and the humanitarian needs of the entire population – inside and outside of the country. ‘

Of course there are many more points in the full document, which deserves a read.