We invited readers to respond to our May 24 forum, edited by Scott Sherman, of eleven writers discussing “How to Get Out of Iraq.” Below is a sample of your thoughts.    –The Editors

San Francisco

Leave it to The Nation to offer such a compelling series of articles! Let’s hope your forum is indeed a beginning toward a necessary end in Iraq. Clearly, the exit strategy for Iraq should be a combination of all these ideas.


New Paltz, NY

Our best academic minds have had their say–most persuasively. As I am not an academic (but an artist and an old Zionist), my suggestion on how to get out of Iraq may seem simple, even simple-minded: We were bullied into this fiasco of a war–not only a quagmire but a trap of this mindless Administration’s making. So, let us get out–not sometime in some distant future, but now. Let’s admit our mistake, apologize and pay compensation to the victims. What might follow in Iraq? Quite probably turmoil and even civil war. But nations have survived turmoil and civil wars. “Staying the course” (basically, for this Administration’s geopolitical reasons) is worse. And while cutting our losses, let’s also cut loose from our unholy alliance with Israel. Yes, there is a link between our two deadly entanglements–Iraq and Israel.


Eugene, Ore.

We should just pull out. It’s as simple as that. We should say we have done all that we could, that some of us believed Saddam was a threat to the world and that ridding Iraq of him would free the people. Rather than feed more men and women into the grinder and rather than incur any more of the Arab world’s animosity, we want to apologize for any mistakes we made and go. Spain had the good sense not to play the macho fool, and we could too if we had mature leaders instead of boys steeped in playground ideas. Let’s not revisit the mistakes of Vietnam and go through 58,000 more American lives before someone has the guts and intelligence to call it quits.


Hickory, NC

The way out of Iraq is to leave without winning or slamming the door. This requires more than Donald Rumsfeld thinking outside the box–turn the box inside out. Make US withdrawal market-driven. First, cancel all the sweetheart development deals awarded to US contractors. Place a UN commission in charge of a realistic development schedule, monitored by the Agency for International Development with tight Congressional oversight. The primary rule is that Iraqis get first crack at new contracts.

Second, start funding development at a reasonable incentive level. Development funding then tapers down on a predetermined schedule. The Iraqis will know the economic clock is ticking. Third, draw down US troops in proportion to development funding. For each billion dollars in funding, 5,000 US troops head home. The Iraqis should see that the goal is to make themselves both sovereign and self-sufficient. If the Iraqis blow it, it will be largely their own fault. That’s democracy.


Hartwick, NY

You published many excellent pieces about how to get out of Iraq. The only problem was, not one of the articles was by an Iraqi. Part of the mistake of going into this war was that it was not clear what the Iraqi people actually wanted. Now, as we search for a way out of Iraq, we need to look to articles, polls, websites, interviews, weblogs and quotes–from the Iraqi people.



Those who demand that we “stay the course” often argue that pulling out the troops will result in a bloodbath and anarchy in Iraq. They fail to address the idea that a bloodbath is currently occurring under the occupation. Pulling US troops out of Iraq will only save lives. There will be no peace in Iraq until the people there are free from US corporate colonialism: Iraqis must control the fate of Iraq’s economy. Any plan that does not shut down the schemes of foreign corporate takeover in Iraq is destined to produce an ongoing guerrilla insurrection there.


Carlsbad, Calif.

As a member of the Armed Forces, I believe it is in the best interest, both strategically and from a military-preparedness standpoint, to withdraw. “Staying the course” dangerously stretches our military. Doing so without putting enough troops into the area, to insure the safety of our forces and Iraqi civilians, borders on the criminally negligent. But how can Bush pull out yet still be politically potent? Do we have to wait until a regime change of our own? I know there is no great love for our Commander in Chief at your magazine, but I still wish we could put our animosity aside and work together on a realistic way for Bush to save face. Else I fear no matter how eloquently the case is presented, we will not begin withdrawal for a very long while. Soldiers will continue to die, be wounded at worrying rates and suffer continuing psychological trauma over wasteful months.


Brooklyn, NY

To get America out of Iraq, we first have to get America out of George W. Bush’s hands. For years, this election will be seen as a referendum on pre-emptive, unnecessary war. We cannot lose this. But we must remain an independent voice and an independent organizing forum distinct from the Democrats. Kerry will not pull us out of Iraq unless we pull him to do so. We must also be wary of sectarianism. We can debate but cannot become divided over Kucinich, Nader, the United Nations, etc., not when the stakes are so high. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to build our Out of Iraq movement now while we have the momentum. This means forming the broadest and most vibrant showing possible for the protests at the Republican National Convention this summer in New York City.


Silver Spring, Md.

I have become aware of how similar Dubya’s character is to Macbeth’s. Both are usurpers of power, both are under the spell of witches, both believe themselves invincible–and both are mad. In the words of Lady Macbeth (from which we may draw a lesson on an exit from Iraq): “I pray you, speak not, he grows worse and worse./Question enrages him. At once, good night./Stand not upon the order of your going,/But go at once.”



Those perched above the clouds in the White House may be in denial, but the “F” word is heard more and more in Washington these days. Barring a miraculous consolidation of power by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his new Baghdad government, the present course seems headed into the jaws of failure. The bold new thinking necessary to avert disaster, as suggested by several contributors to the forum, is unlikely.

There are a number of reasons to doubt that the new government will enjoy sufficient moral authority to guide Iraq toward UN-supervised elections by year’s end, not least the demonstrated US intolerance of Iraqi officials unwilling to toe the line. Lakhdar Brahimi has become little more than a multilateral stage prop. The transitional government led by Allawi will find legitimacy elusive unless the United States can be kept at arm’s length, which means reducing visible US dividends from invading Iraq. A Bush Administration bent on re-election will not look kindly on a further whittling of already much diminished dividends. Ambassador John Negroponte will “reel in” independent-minded Iraqi officials or subvert their authority.

US officials have yet to come to terms with the core dilemma in Iraq: to end the insurgency’s momentum, Washington must pay a heavy toll in prestige and reputation, not to mention a domestic political penalty for a tacit admission of failure. Instead, the Bush Administration will cling to the illusion that it can engineer a satisfactory outcome in Baghdad.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most influential voice for Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, offered only a conditional stamp of approval for the new government, which, he emphasizes, is un-elected. He poses key criteria to judge the government’s performance: the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and the establishment of comprehensive security. Neither condition is likely to be met. Iraqi sovereignty will mean little in the face of “military necessity.”

The resistance attacks are unlikely to end or even taper off. Senior US officers persistently underestimate and seriously misread the challenge. Gen. John Abizaid, for instance, has claimed that the fighters are a force of only 5,000. In Lebanon the Israeli army faced a resistance force with a full-time cadre of fewer than 500. Other fighters were weekend mujahedeen–mechanics, optometrists, bakers–who disappeared for a few days on operation and then returned to work. That force prompted a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. In Iraq, as in Lebanon, a village force of five or ten draws strength from cousins, friends and co-religionists and grows accordionlike–5,000 becomes 25,000.

Options and choices that are now visible in the rearview mirror are gone. It is not as though one missed a turn on the freeway and can double back to choose a new route. Early on the United States lost the opportunity to win a broader legitimacy for its occupation because it was determined to marginalize the UN. The United States has effectively checkmated itself in Iraq.

A century and a half ago, Florence Nightingale, the Crimean War nurse who became a leading hospital reformer, offered a wise comment: “It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a Hospital that it should do the sick no harm.” In Iraq, the United States has illustrated the limits of its power, and it has spread disease rather than cured sickness. The Middle East is a much more dangerous region today than it was two years ago.