How to withdraw from Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 12-Sep-04 | Author: Robert Dujarric

The continuing violence in Iraq confirms that the United States confronts inevitable defeat in Iraq. Despite claims to the contrary, the United States is at war with a large segment of the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqi men, all of whom have access to lethal weapons, detest the American occupiers, are fundamentally hostile to American values, believe that Israel, whose existence they blame on America, must be destroyed, and think they are at war with Jews and Christians. There is no doubt that a large number of these men are willing to fight and die for their cause. Almost all of Iraq’s religious leaders hold views that put them in total conflict with the United States (Ayatollah Sistani currently does not advocate violence but his views are incompatible with the Bill of Rights and with American goals in Iraq). Outside of the Kurdish areas, there is not a single reliable militia, political party, religious denomination, tribe, or other organization that supports American goals.

In the face of this Islamist, Shia, and Baathist insurgency, to which must be added a virulent crime wave, the United States could only win if it were willing to slaughter hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Iraqis. Fortunately, this is not acceptable to Americans. Moreover, even if the United States were to “win,” it would be an empty victory. A puppet Iraqi government, permanently dependent on American military support, would be more of a burden than an asset to America. Therefore, at this stage, the United States needs to swiftly withdrawal from Iraq rather than continue losing blood in treasure in a war that is even more hopeless than Vietnam. But, while necessary, a withdrawal is not enough. It must be accompanied by a productive recalibration of U.S. policies in the Middle East

First, the United States should engineer a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian War. It could support the Geneva Agreement, negotiated between several Israeli and Palestinian politicians, which would give most of the Occupied Territories to the Palestinians in exchange for their relinquishing the right to return to their former homes in Israel. Since Israel cannot exist without massive U.S. support, Washington can force the Israeli government to accept this plan, which some prominent Israelis support.

Israelis rightly object that armed bands and suicide bombers always void treaties with the Palestinians. Thus, the United States and its Arab allies should foster an effective Palestinian autocracy. Palestinian “democracy” is counterproductive. It deprives the Palestinians of an effective administration while giving power to the radicals and the most corrupt elements of Fatah. The problem with Yasser Arafat is not that he is not a democrat; rather it is that he is weak, duplicitous, and unreliable. Palestine needs a US-backed, but Arab-led, effort to replace him with a strong executive who can subdue by force the enemies of the peace process.

Pressuring Israel and establishing a new Palestinian leadership must be undertaken simultaneously. Israeli reluctance to compromise is fueled by the absence of a reliable Palestinian interlocutor while the hopelessness of Palestinians in the face of Israeli intransigence hinders the establishment of a strong Palestinian government.

Second, Washington needs to push for a Syrian-Israeli peace treaty. Israel and Syria almost closed a deal a few years ago. American pressure on both sides, backed by promises of significant rewards for Syria and Israel if they sign a deal, would make an agreement likely. As a quid-pro-quo, the United States should extract enforceable Syrian commitments to play a constructive role in Iraq. At the same time, Washington should seek a solution to the Sheba Farms area (adjacent to the Golan Heights) which is a source of Israeli-Lebanese tension.

Third, regardless of whether Teheran reciprocates, the United States should drop sanctions against Iran, allow it to reopen its embassy in Washington, and stop accusing it of fostering terrorism. This would open the possibility of some type of modus vivendi, between the United States and Iran. The United States needs help against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Therefore, the United States should not oppose Iranian influence in western Afghanistan. Teheran also wants to avoid a cataclysm in Iraq. It is unwise to ignore the positive contribution that Iran can make to post-Occupations Iraq. In addition, given its influence over Shia militants in Lebanon, Iran, along with Syria, is part of the solution to the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

Fourth, Turkey can play a vital role in Iraq by keeping the Kurdish militia in Iraq from taking advantage of the end of the U.S. Occupation to invade Arab areas. To improve relations with Turkey, Washington can work with Europe to put maximum pressure on the Greek Cypriots to accept a fair compromise for reunification with the Turkish half of the island. The United States needs to simultaneously make it clear to the Kurdish leadership that they must cooperate with Turkey and avoid dangerous territorial claims in Kirkuk, Mosul, and other areas where Arabs, Kurds, and Turcomans live in a fragile equilibrium.

If the United States chooses this path, it will not be bereft of allies. Europeans desperately want a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For Europeans, living close to the region and with millions of Arab immigrants at home, the Israeli-Arab war is a greater threat than in it is for Americans. If Washington adopts a new policy, it will be able to count on tens of billions of dollars from Europe for the Israelis and the Arabs, the possibility of advantageous trade agreements for Middle Eastern states with the European Union, and diplomatic support.

Under such circumstances, the United States will be able to mitigate the consequences of the conflict in Iraq while strengthening its position in the Middle East.

Robert Dujarric is co-author of America’s Inadvertent Empire (Yale University Press). He is a Council on Foreign Relations Hitachi Fellow in Tokyo and a former Senior Fellow of the Hudson Institute.