Presented by Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book

Table of Comments

Total Comments in Report: 92

Comments on

1. Precipitate Withdrawal

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The discussion of “Precipitate Withdrawal” is flawed by failure to compare its consequences with those of withdrawal at a later time. To date, the longer we have stayed, the worse thinks have gotten. The trend continues; and I know of no persuasive reason why we are likely to do things better in the future than we have done in the past. Yes, the study group is correct, in my view, in predicting that catastrophic results will ensue if we withdraw now; but I believe that even more catastrophic results will ensure when we withdraw later. Cut your losses is political wisdom as well as wall street wisdom. In choosing precipitate French withdrawal from Algeria a half-century ago, Charles de Gaulle strengthened France.

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First, the very use of the word “precipitate” is a way of ending the discussion before it begins, by defining withdrawal as foolish, or in the synonyms given by my Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary “lack of forethought, rashness”. By talking of “a premature American departure, again the coupling of “premature” with withdrawal closes out a discussion. The idea that withdrawing from Iraq after four years of violent occupation is “premature” is almost laughable.

The usual argument is made here of withdrawal leading to “greater sectarian violence and further detetioration of conditions”, which by this very language of comparison tells us that our four years of occupation have brought violence and deterioration. The claim that withdrawal of U.S. troops would lead to more violence assumes that the presence of these troops is inhibiting violence. There is no evidence of that at all. Polls among the Iraqi people show that strong majorities favor U.S. withdrawal, and indeed that most Iraqis believe there will be less internal conflict after the U.S. withdraws. I assume they are in a better position to judge that situation than all the U.S. pundits raising alarms about the consequences of withdrawal.

Granted that the violence and chaos now plaguing Iraq will not end when U.S. troops leave, we would have to also say that at some future date when the withdrawal will inevitably take place, there is no guarantee that Iran will be free of violence. And in those years of delay, how many tens of thousands, Americans and Iraqis, will die?

Furthermore, is not much of the mayhem in Iraq provoked by the U.S. presence, and might therefore decrease with our withdrawal?

The weak criticism of the Bush policy that we find in the Iraq Study Group Report, not forthright enough to bring about a change in policy, reminds us of the criticism of our Vietnam policy, made by “liberal” political figures, which, by foreclosing the idea of withdrawal from Vietnam, helped keep the war going and the casualties piling up for years. In early 1966, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, headed by William Fulbright, held hearings on our Vietnam policy. They showed the same caution, even from critics of the war, that we saw in this Report. George Kennan, for instance, told the Committee that “a precipitate, sudden, and unilteral withdrawal would not be warranted by circumstances now.”

And Senator Frank Church, another critic of the war, said “I do not know any one around this table, certainly no member of the Foreign Relations Committee, that has advocated a withdrawal….” With such timidity, coming from avowed critics of the war, it is not surprising that the U.S. occupation of Vietnam went on from seven more years, costing perhaps 40,000 U.S. lives and at least a million Vietnamese lives. This recollection should sober us before we rush into gratitude for the ambiguous, confused and ultimately cowardly recommendations of the Iraq Study Group.

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I agree with Howard that this is one of the very weakest paragraphs in the whole report. The report’s authors seem to buy into the completely erroneous assumption that the presence of the US occupation forces is having a stabilizing effect on Iraq. This argument is the latest in a long series used to try to “justify” the presence of the occupation troops, and it is equally as unconvincing as all its predecessors.

No national government ever undertakes war or other coercive operations (like maintaining a lengthy and very damaging military occupation) with unjust aims in mind. Leaders of governments that do these things are always convinced that their aims– and therefore also their methods– are very just indeed. However, government leaders like all the rest of us need to be very mindful of the effect our actions have on others; and the net effect on Iraqis of our government’s maintenance of the occupation of their country for 3.5 years has been very harmful indeed.

In light of this, I have been arguing since 2003 for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq that is speedy, total, and generous. I therefore see no possibility of a US withdrawal from Iraq that is “premature”. However, I also judge that it’s far better for both the Iraqis and the US troops themselves if this withdrawal is orderly (and therefore, most likely, negotiated.)

I certainly think there is a lively and ever-increasing possibility that the continued presence of the widely loathed US occupation troops in Iraq will lead to some form of catastrophioc encounter with local resister forces that may well escalate very rapidly and lead to a chaotic withdrawal-under-fire. Clearly, an orderly and negotiated withdrawal would be far preferable to this.

Would a chaotic withdrawal-under-fire be classified as “precipitate”? I think not. It would come about, rather, as a result of delaying the decision to withdraw for too long.

One final note. I diasagree with Howard’s characterization of the over-all report as “cowardly.” I would say, rather, “excessively gradualist.” Gradualism as such is not a bad thing; and there is much of value in this report, as I’ve written elsewhere. But yes, the authors carried their gradualism too far in some places. This paragraph was certainly one of them.