So some House Democrats now say they want to put forward their own plan for Iraq, as a counter to Bush’s? Here is an excellent plan that I have thought long and hard about that I urge them to use.

(Please note that, unlike the vast majority of the people now producing “plans” for Iraq, I have extensive experience in both Middle East studies and strategic studies, as well as the study of peacemaking. Readers might want to see some of what I was writing back in February ’03 or April ’03 about the US and Iraq….)

So here is my current, Three-step program for a US disengagement from Iraq:

(1) The President makes an authoritative public statement in which he announces,

    (a) His firm intention to pull all US troops out of Iraq by a date certain, perhaps 4-6 months ahead;

    (b) An assurance that the US has no lasting claims on the land or resources of Iraq;

    (c) An expression of the US’s goodwill towards the people of Iraq, and its sympathy for all the harms that they have suffered in recent years; and

    (d) An invitation to the UN Secretary-General to oversee the process of negotiating all the modalities of the US troop withdrawal, including the formation of an Iraqi negotiating team of his (not the US’s) choice, and the convening of a parallel negotiation that involves Iraq, the US, and all Iraq’s neighbors.

(2) The clock starts ticking on the timetable announced by the President. That fact and the other new diplomatic realities created by his announcement all act together to start transforming the political dynamics within Iraq, the region, and indeed the US, as well. The Iraqi parties and movements all have a powerful incentive to work with each other and the UN for the speedy success of the negotiation over the post-occupation political order. They and the UN also start planning for the many tasks of social, economic, and political reconstruction that the country needs. Another important function for the UN will be to resurrect and re-stress the principle of Iraq’s territorial integrity and national soveriegnty against all the pressures that its powerful neighbors may exert in this fragile period. In these months the US troops in Iraq might come under some form of UN command (as happened– imperfectly, but with ultimate success– during an analogous process of a negotiated troop withdrawal in Namibia, in 1989.) But anyway, the US troops’ main mission in this period will be to organize and start implementing their own orderly departure from the country.

(3) On the date certain the last US troops leave Iraq and there is a handing-over ceremony.

… For those who don’t believe such a program is feasible, I’ll just note that when I was growing up in England in the 1950s and the 1960s this kind of thing was happening almost every week as our “empire” got dismantled. It truly ain’t rocket science.

Iraq is lucky that it has hundreds of thousands of very well-trained technicians, administrators, and other professionals who can– in the right political circumstances– set to work to rebuild their country. They did that successfully after the end of 1990-91 Gulf War, even in the difficult situation of ongoing UN sanctions. (The US should contribute some “reparations” payments to help Iraq’s next reconstruction program along, but should absolutely not seek any control over it.)

Can Iraqis reach and sustain the kind of internal political entente that will allow an orderly, negotiated US troops withdrawal to take place? If they are convinced they can truly regain their national sovereignty through a process like that outlined above, there is no reason to believe that they can’t do so. Unlike the way Iraq is portrayed in most US media, there is still an ongoing process of cross-sectarian politics underway in the country, alongside the many, more widely publicized, episodes of sectarian killing and ethnic cleansing.

The US and the rest of the international community have a strong incentive to allow (or even quietly help) Iraqis to reach such a withdrawal-focused entente. Apart from anything else, the lives of 150,000 US Americans may well depend on it.