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America in Iraq: stay or go?

About the authors
Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill in Washington.
William R Polk is author (with George McGovern) of Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (Simon & Schuster, 2006) and of Understanding Iraq (HarperCollins, 2005). His website is here.


Morton Kondracke: reinforce

To salvage stability from the chaos in Iraq, the United States needs a new strategy that produces security, political reconciliation and hope.

That should involve sending more US troops - at least on a temporary basis - while pressuring the Iraqi government for reform and mounting a massive jobs project to reduce unemployment in the country.

It would be politically impossible for the Bush administration to increase US troop levels after Democrats won the mid-term elections on 7 November, but it could be done if the idea is blessed by the Iraq Study Group headed by former secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic member of the House of Representatives, Lee Hamilton.

Even though only 16% of Americans favour sending more US troops (according to election exit polls), they're desperately needed to secure Baghdad and to undercut the population's dependency on sectarian militias.

Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill in Washington, where this article was first published

The only major US politician who is calling for more US troops is Senator John McCain, but he's made a powerful case for years that the Bush administration was refusing to supply enough forces to secure the country.

As McCain said on NBC's Meet the Press on 12 November: "We're paying the price for the failure of our policy in the past; the question, then, before the American people is, are we ready to quit?"

Clearly, some Americans, mainly liberal Democrats, are ready to quit and have been for a long time, some even before hostilities began. Among the books analysing the Bush administration's mistakes in Iraq, Thomas Ricks's Fiasco makes a compelling case that the anti-Iraq war side had it right at the beginning: not only did Saddam Hussein not have weapons of mass destruction, but the Clinton administration's much-criticised 1998 bombing raids nearly toppled his regime and made it possible to contain Iraqi aggression.

Ricks's extensive interviews with (mainly retired) military commanders make it sickeningly plain how carelessly former secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld and his top civilian aides planned the war's aftermath. In Ricks's telling, Rumsfeld and Co were determined not to listen to any advice from any war doubters, and fired or intimidated commanders who called for higher troop levels, seemingly determined to disprove the "Powell doctrine", that US operations should be undertaken only with massive force.

Also in openDemocracy on modern Iraq's history and politics:

Peter Sluglett, "Iraq, Britain, and the United States: new perspectives, old problems"
(3 June 2003)

Omar A Omar, "Kirkuk: microcosm of Iraq"
(21 March 2005)

Zaid Al-Ali, "Saving Iraq: a critique of Peter W Galbraith"
(26 October 2006)

John Sloboda, "Sparing Saddam: beyond victor's justice"
(14 November 2006)

Anthony Dworkin, "Saddam's trial: questions of justice"
(20 November 2006)

Gareth Stansfield & Liam Anderson, "Iraq: divide or die"
(22 November 2006)

Reidar Visser, "Iraq lives"
(22 November 2006)

The result was that, while allied forces won a quick military victory, they could not establish security for the population, and massive looting, destruction and insurgency followed.

Regardless of past errors, however, Bush and newly empowered Democrats have to figure out a strategy that does not result in total chaos in Iraq and the region, the creation of a terrorist state and a strategic defeat for the United States.

An increase in the US troop presence - by, say, 50,000 personnel for Baghdad duty in 2007 - will be possible only if it comes with strong backing from the bipartisan commission. But no stability is possible in Iraq without a political settlement that ensures minority Sunni adequate oil revenues and political representation. Democrats such as Senator Carl Levin want to force Iraqi action by moving toward troop withdrawals.

One good result of the 2006 elections is that both parties are now responsible for Iraq policy. Bush and the Democrats should work together to achieve something that can be called success - or even victory.


William R Polk: get out

The longer we stay in Iraq and the more wars we fight, the more danger there will be of terrorist attacks wherever those who oppose us can carry them out. Including, of course, right here in America.

Americans have been so traumatised by the issue of terrorism and politicians have been so scared of being thought to be "soft on terrorism" that it isn't enough or even persuasive to try to take a detached look at the issue. So where possible, we cite others who cannot be dismissed as liberals to show how misled we have been by Dick Cheney, George W Bush and company.

For example, a man no one could accuse of being a liberal Democrat, Lieutenant-General William Odom, the former head of the super-secret National Security Agency, said flatly that in our policy in Iraq "we're achieving bin Laden's ends." The conservative or libertarian Cato Institute made that case too. And the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute determined that the resistance in Iraq is expanding and becoming more deadly as a consequence of our presence there. As one of the younger officers out in the field in Iraq told a Washington Post reporter in August: "Nobody wants us here ... if we leave all the attacks would stop, because we'd be gone."

We are already in civil war in Iraq, despite frequent denials. It is a very bad situation and will get worse the longer we stay. We cannot end it. The idea of "victory" is worse than wrong; it is stupid.

The overall effect of the withdrawal plan we suggest is to save America about 97% of the cost of doing what we are now doing as well as saving the lives of hundreds or perhaps thousands of young Americans.

William R Polk is author (with George McGovern) of Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (Simon & Schuster, 2006) and Understanding Iraq (HarperCollins, 2005). His website is here

This article is adapted from an interview with William R Polk by Rick Shenkman, editor of History News Network (HNN)

If we remain in Iraq for a couple more years, the result will be more casualties and more wasted money. We are now spending about $100 billion a year and that cost is rising about 30% a year. That is just the "out-of-pocket" expenditure. The real cost to our society will be far higher. Probably Iraq has already cost us, if we figure the costs as an insurance company would, about $1 trillion. That is on the order of $6,000 to $8,000 for every man, woman and child in America.

This drain on our economy has a ripple effect. To shield the public from the real cost of the war, the Bush administration has sweetened the deal by cutting taxes. In order to do that it has had to borrow vast amounts abroad. In 2004, we borrowed $540 billion, mainly from the Chinese. We put our economy in more jeopardy than Osama bin Laden could possibly have done.

Then look at casualties. October 2006 has been a horrifying month. Are November, December and so on likely to be better? Our military commanders certainly do not think so. And consider what they do not like to talk about in public: the "quiet" casualties - the wounded. The war has damaged the lives of over 20,000 young men and women, about half of whom will never recover.

But that is only the start. At least 50,000 have suffered brain concussions that will partially disable them already and at least another 40,000 have suffered severe psychological damage. The monetary costs, to be crass about their disabilities, will be with our society for at least a generation to come. How many more will two more years of senseless war add to these numbers? No one can tell, but we can be sure that they will be significant.

There are several lessons of Iraq. Do not get into such senseless and unwinnable conflicts. Use multilateral diplomacy instead of unilateral force. Be more patient. Be more honest and better informed. Educate ourselves.

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