View Full Version : Not Too Late for an Iraqi Exit Strategy

11-19-03, 07:35 AM

Not Too Late for an Iraqi Exit Strategy

By David T. Pyne

If only President George W. Bush had listened to his father.

Overly-domineering senior “neo-con” officials in the Bush administration successfully persuaded the president to invade Iraq in direct opposition to the wise counsel of his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

As written in his published 1995 memoirs co-authored with former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, “A World Transformed,” the former president recalled that the reason he decided not to invade and occupy Iraq at the end of Operation Desert Storm in February 1991 was because he realized that to do so would have required a prolonged U.S. occupation that would have been far too difficult and costly for the United States in terms of both mounting casualties and alienated allies with no conceivable exit strategy. He explained:

“Trying to eliminate Saddam ... would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. ... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. ... [T]here was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles .… Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ [1990] mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who until recently was the 2004 Democratic presidential frontrunner, joined with many other prominent, retired general officers in expressing public opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq prior to the war. Clark and his fellow retired senior military officers know a lot more about war-making and when wars are justified than the neo-cons in the Bush administration. After entering the presidential race, Clark demonstrated less certainty regarding his views relating to the U.S. invasion – first declaring he probably would have voted for congressional authorization, then swearing he would never have done so.

However, Clark states in his newly-published book, “Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism and the American Empire,” that his solution to bringing peace to Iraq would be to double the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to nearly 300,000 men. The implementation of such a radical proposal would be all but impossible given the fact that the United States does not have so much as an active-duty Army battalion to send to reinforce the U.S. contingent of Afghanistan, let alone Iraq. In fact, for the first time in contemporary American military history, the United States has no active Army combat brigades in reserve as a contingency to guard against other potential threats.

With the recent supplemental authorization for the war in Iraq, the total cost of the U.S. occupation has risen to nearly $150 billion, money that has come outside of the federal budget, most of which is not even counted in this year’s reported budget deficit of nearly $400 billion, which is by far the largest budget deficit in U.S. history.

It is estimated that next year’s budget deficit will range from $500-550 billion and that does not account for any additional supplemental requests which the administration may ask the Congress to support to pay for the rising costs of the Iraqi occupation. Accordingly, the ongoing occupation of Iraq is going far to help bankrupt the country. Empire, it seems does not pay and has only downsides as measured in American blood and treasure.

The deteriorating situation in Iraq poses a serious threat to the president’s re-election efforts and with the slight upturn in the economy appears to be the main issue that his opponents will use against him in the upcoming presidential campaign.

With 418 U.S. troops now having died in Iraq – over two-thirds of whom having been killed since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1 – and over 4,500 wounded, the time has come to devise an exit strategy which will allow U.S. forces to declare victory and get out.

Such a strategy would require a phased withdrawal from Iraq over the near term with the objective of achieving what Nixon referred to as his exit strategy from America’s other no-win war, “peace with honor.” In response to a mid-October attack in which a U.S. ammunition truck was destroyed in a spectacular explosion and several Iraqi civilians were mistakenly shot and killed by American soldiers retreating from the ensuing firefight, the current president of the Iraq Governing Council, Iyad Allawi, called upon the United States to begin an immediate mobilization of the Iraqi Army.

CPA head Paul Bremer unwisely ordered the Iraqi Army demobilized back in May, a step which created a massive security vacuum in Iraq which facilitated the recent spate of terror attacks directed against U.S. forces. Mobilizing a large part of the old Iraqi Army to takeover internal security and policing duties particularly in Iraq’s largest cities, where US troops are suffering the most casualties from guerilla attacks, would enable our forces to quickly extricate themselves from these duties and enable a swifter withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Once the United States has finished calling up much of the Iraqi Army and passed on security responsibilities to it, then issues an edict allowing former Ba’athists to hold government, military, police and security positions in the new Iraqi government, it should immediately withdraw 100,000 troops, leaving only 30,000-40,000 U.S. troops as a hedge against a radical Shiite takeover of the country.

The United States can continue to ban the Ba’ath Party itself while welcoming in former Ba’athists who would like to participate in a new, legitimate Iraqi government. That might be enough to mollify many Ba’athists into abandoning their resistance against U.S. occupation forces. Despite recent reports that the administration plans to cut a substantial number of U.S. troops in Iraq over the next 18 months, there is little chance that it will do so, given that such reductions are entirely dependent on security conditions in Iraq, which are continuing to worsen, not improve.

If the United States lacks sufficient troops necessary to occupy and pacify Iraq, how will the U.S. military fare if called upon by the president to invade other more pressing threat nations like Iran or Syria, which some reports indicate might be next on the neo-cons’ list of imperial conquest?

With the coming hemorrhage of tens of thousands of our troops fleeing the service to escape further tours of duty in the no-win war that is Iraq, the administration may soon have to seriously consider reintroducing the draft to provide the manpower necessary to wage perpetual war and occupy conquered lands in pursuit of the neo-con vision of establishing a new American Empire. Indeed, the Pentagon has already begun advertising for volunteers to staff the thousands of draft boards, which would be required for it to do so.

Ultimately, the administration is unlikely to resort to such a drastic measure as it would amount to political suicide.

That leaves as the only realistic option a fast-track exit strategy to extricate ourselves from the Iraqi quagmire.

Contributing Editor David T. Pyne is President of the Center for the National Security Interest. He can be reached at pyne@national-security.org. © 2003 David T. Pyne.