July 20, 2007

Pulling out of Iraq: not when but how

Opinion & analysis

15:52 | 20/ 07/ 2007

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - The Democrats were unable to push a bill through the Senate calling for a withdrawal of the better part of U.S. troops from Iraq by next spring.

The United States will go to the polls next year. The nation wants to bring its GIs home, so the House has no choice. It will put the pull-out proposal to a vote again and again, but it will keep losing because President Bush has warned that he will veto all such bills.

There is, however, something of greater importance than the deadline for a pull-out: deciding how to make leaving Iraq as painless as possible for Americans and Iraqis.

When the U.S.-led military campaign was just starting, the Bush administration declared that its goal was to install democracy in Iraq. That objective was later replaced by providing security. It normally takes decades for democracy to take root-longer than the United States can afford to keep a military presence there. Security looked much easier to achieve, but the reality has proved otherwise.

Things may become clearer in September, with two assessments of the situation in Iraq due to be released-one by General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and the other by General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

President Bush's new "surge" strategy involves raising the number of troops and making use of new security tools. It will be clear by September whether it is working. An interim report that the Bush administration gave Congress in mid-July said only that troops had been redeployed too recently to see any significant results.

The Iraqi government and parliament's chances of success are just as vague. The interim report acknowledges that they have made little progress with the political, economic and military reforms that the United States and foreign donors insist on. We can't be sure that any headway will have been made by September, though there is cause for hope-Iraqi political leaders must realize that if they delay implementing reforms, President Bush won't have a leg to stand on in his efforts to prolong the U.S. military presence. A pull-out is inevitable, but Congress should not force it to happen prematurely if it is to be in Iraq's national interests, or at least those of its leaders.

An ideal pull-out should be part of a well thought-out regional security strategy, and it would be wiser for the United States to plan it together with other forces interested in stability in Iraq and the entire Middle East. But then, does the United States have any clear idea of what it should do in the Middle East? Its withdrawal strategy will depend on whom it decides to work with, and to what extent that cooperation will spread.

Planning the pull-out must certainly involve all groups in Iraq except terrorists, as well as the neighboring countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Syria and Iran. There are also Russia and China to consider as UN Security Council members with economic interests in Iraq and a large stake in Middle East security.

The interests of all the parties involved will inevitably clash. The United States must at least clearly determine its own final goal. There is much disagreement in America itself and in the Arab world on whether the former should form an alliance with Syria and Iran. Some think such an alliance is inevitable and necessary, while others find it dangerous. The ultimate decision lies with the Bush administration. It must realize that it cannot join hands with Iran and Syria on Iraqi affairs and at the same time confront them on other matters, such as Iran's nukes and the Lebanese and Palestinian situations. These are only some of the problems the White House is facing.

There are a baffling number of questions to answer, and hiding from them only threatens to sink the Middle East into chaos.

Now, do the Democrats really believe they will succeed? Do they really want the pull-out to follow the pattern they propose in their amendment? What if it is no more than a pre-election gamble in which the opponent is deliberately faced with conditions he cannot meet?

Democrats have a good chance of winning the presidency next year. If they do, they will be entirely responsible for what any pull-out might bring. The consequences may be dire, with disintegrating Iraq turning into a haven for terrorists, and terrorists creating havoc all over Europe, the United States and the Middle East, unleashing turmoil in the region and sending oil prices skyrocketing.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

No comments: