How to Get Out of Iraq
John Brady Kiesling
President Bush promised the Iraqi people and the international community that our military victory would make Iraq a peaceful, democratic state, a model for its neighbors and a bastion against terrorism. If this was our war aim, our victory did not achieve it. The resistance movement has pinned down our soldiers and contractors as enemy occupiers. If our troops pull out, there will be civil war among a dozen rival factions. If our troops stay, in redoubled numbers to suppress the violence, their hulking presence will doom each future Iraqi government to illegitimacy and failure. So let us consider the alternatives to victory.
In the end a fractured Iraq can be held together only by a man wrapped, like George Washington or Ho Chi Minh, in the legitimacy that derives from successful armed struggle. We should note the ease with which a scruffy young cleric united Sunnis and Shiites against the US presence. A victorious Secretary Rumsfeld could not impose Ahmad Chalabi. However, a retreating US military can designate Iraq's liberator. We must select the competent Iraqi patriot to whom we yield ground while bleeding his competitors. There will be casualties and disorder, no matter how brilliantly we orchestrate our withdrawal. But the overwhelming majority of Iraqis will rally around any man who claims to drive us out, and elections would validate his relatively bloodless victory.
The man on a white horse can bring the UN back as invited guests rather than as our despised surrogates. His police will enforce the law, when ours cannot. His debts will be forgiven, when ours would not. America must swallow its resentment and keep a measure of control by doling out the money to keep the Iraqi state functional. Ten billion dollars a year will buy more counterterrorism cooperation than a military occupation that costs five times as much. And we will let the Iraqis do the work. The most virtuous Halliburton employee is ten times more expensive than the most corrupt Iraqi. Democracy and human rights may take a generation, but our defeat will convince a resentful and fatalistic Middle East that change is possible.
The Kurds, admittedly, will resist any weakness in their US ally. Our parting gift to them will be the southern border for an autonomous Kurdish entity. The price will be US cooperation with Turkey to extort a semblance of respect for the Iraqi central government and the rights of Arab and Turkmen minorities.
We were defeated once, in Vietnam, and the dominoes did not fall. We remained the leader of the free world, sadder but wiser. The ignorance and megalomania that brought us into Iraq are far more dangerous to US security and prosperity than would be the symbolic military defeat that gets us out.
A career diplomat who served in US embassies in Tel Aviv, Casablanca, Athens and Yerevan. In February 2003 he resigned from the Foreign Service in protest against Bush Administration foreign policy.