Leaving Iraq

The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign-policy authorities about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq

Will a significant U.S. troop presence (50,000 or more) still be in Iraq five years from now?
73% No

“No. I doubt the Iraqi leadership will tolerate it, and I am sure the American public will not. 'Should' they be there five years from now? Yes, if we are going to try to stabilize the situation, but I doubt it will happen.”

“No, since you insist, but there are too many variables to make an informed guess.”

“No, there is no political stomach for this.”

“No. Slowly, too slowly I believe, the American public and the next administration will realize that the continued presence of American troops in Iraq does not make Iraq more secure and, even more disturbing, makes us party to a sectarian conflict where neither side adheres to the core values of American society. The American military senior leadership and the administration is being corrupted and compromised by the political necessity of ignoring, explaining away and, too often, simply lying about the atrocities being committed in Iraq in the name of 'democracy.' The real question is not whether the withdrawal of American troops will be followed by increased 'sectarian warfare, growing violence or a slide toward chaos'—it will—but that will also happen if we stay. We began with a fatally flawed war plan that did not look beyond the end of "major combat operations" and then compounded this error with arrogance and faith-based intelligence and leadership that refused to adapt to the realities on the ground as events spiraled in a very different direction than Washington had predicted. The opportunities lost in 2003-2004 cannot be recovered by sacrificing another 3000 soldiers, surging 30,000 soldiers or keeping 50,000 soldiers in Iraq for five years. The real question is how long will it take to realize that prolonging our presence, at any level, is only increasing the damage to our vital military and political institutions and America's reputation and leadership in the world.”

“No, this house of cards will have collapsed well within the next five years.”

“No. At some point in the next five years, some political force (or coalition) will gain sufficient traction to control the country and will not want such a sizeable US presence.”

“No. The United States is likely to have only a small presence (under 10,000) in Iraq in five years, consisting mostly of advisers and trainers of Iraqi forces and police.”

“No. Even if a significant number of troops remain at the end of the Bush presidency, the next president will invariably decide to withdraw most if not all in short order.”

“A presence of 50,000 troops will not be in Iraq five years from now. However, a presence of around 20,000 or so troops very well may be, and many others will be in neighboring states for training and support missions.”

How should the United States withdraw from Iraq?
46% A phased withdrawal, redeploying most U.S. troops over one to two years

“The time when U.S. troops could make a decisive difference in the Iraq's political evolution has passed. Sectarian bloodlust is difficult to stop, and only the Iraqis can stop it. An immediate withdrawal would guarantee more chaos as sectarian militias rush to fill the political vacuum. Washington needs to use the phased withdrawal to prepare Iraq and its neighbors for the departure of U.S. troops. We no longer can have a strategy for victory. We need a strategy to prevent a greater catastrophe.”

“I envision a new mission—a major withdrawal of offensive forces, with a residual (25-25,000) force to support training and pure counter-terror (not counter-insurgency) operations.”

“I expect that after a surge in troop numbers in the first half of 2007 (which will not be effective in reducing the carnage) we will begin a phased withdrawal. Given our justifiable concerns about the possible implications our leaving a vacuum of power in the region, we are likely to redeploy a substantial number of the troops leaving Iraq (30,000 to 50,000) elsewhere in the region (e.g. Kuwait and other Gulf states.) Our naval presence will remain muscular.”

“In practical terms, even an immediate decision to withdraw all forces will be implemented over many months, if not a year or more. The practicalities of disengagement take time.”

“Phased withdrawal, as the next two options would help create a power vacuum before responsible forces are prepared to fill it. And not considering withdrawal does not seem realistic given current trends.”

“It's time to start withdrawal; the Iraq Study Group was on the mark!”

“Phased withdrawal, but you can't disclose your withdrawal until you've done everything you can with diplomacy. The decision to withdraw is either a carrot or a stick in the dialogue.”

“The objective should be immediate withdrawal, but the reality, for purely practical reasons, will be closer to a phased withdrawal over one to two years. We need to draw a sharp line, both for our own values and for our real role in managing an unstable world. We cannot continue to be facilitators for sectarian outrages, such as the Saddam lynching or the daily march of Government-equipped and -shielded death squads. The actions of the 'Green Zone Iraqis' and Washington's defense of their outrages have reached the point where withdrawal on principles that we hold to be core values of American society is the only defensible alternative. Iraq's political leadership has opted not for compromise but vengeance. The only thing now being compromised in Baghdad is the integrity of the American military and the values of American society.”

“The United States should begin immediately to extricate itself from Iraq's civil war, instead focusing on containing the violence to current conflict zones and preventing the regional spillover of the war. This switch in strategy would enable one half of the U.S. presence to withdraw from Iraq in the near future and the other half to withdraw over the next one to two years.”

24% A limited withdrawal, moving most of the U.S. military to a few bases inside the country until Iraq is stable

“A limited withdrawal, but these are false choices in the abstract. 'Withdrawal' cannot be considered, for or against, without considering the political changes the United States should be promoting inside and outside of Iraq. What is the United States is doing to promote a radically different division of power within Iraq? Is it willing to entertain a radically different approach to the Middle East as a whole, including direct talks with Iran and Syria, proposals for a new regional security system, strong support for Lebanese independence, and vigorous pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians?”

24% The United States should not be considering withdrawal at this time

“I think the President is sincere when he says that the question in his mind is not how the United States should withdraw from Iraq, but how we can succeed there in achieving a useful goal. A first step is a realistic definition of success: An Iraq which (1) is not a threat to U.S. interests and (2) despite ongoing serious problems (including the insurgency), is capable of handling its own affairs largely by itself, with minimal outside
support. If we can help contain the magnitude of Iraq's problems and increase the ability of the Iraqis to handle them, we should eventually be able to reduce our presence without causing a collapse of the Iraqi government.”

“We should make one last try, surging into Baghdad with 30,000-plus troops for twelve to sixteen months to get the momentum swinging right. If we don’t jolt the situation there with something dramatic, then we’ll surely lose and should just get out as soon as possible. No gradualism!”

“The premise of the question is totally flawed. The issue in Iraq is mainly political rather than purely military. If we continue to seek for a military solution with little or no political component any withdrawal or no withdrawal will be equally disastrous. Under these circumstances I support not considering withdrawal at this time in the hope that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations or a similar approach can be accepted and the military strategy tuned accordingly.”

“The first step should be to seek a diplomatic/political agreement to end the civil war. If that is possible, then troops will be needed to enforce the peace. If a political agreement fails, then troops should be withdrawn to border areas to try to contain the spillage from the civil war into the region.”

5% An immediate, full-scale withdrawal

“Only because there is going to be no plan offered by the White House (as the Baker-Hamilton report did) linking our military posture to a genuine political strategy that is based on facts on the ground in Iraq. Given this sad outcome, the sooner we leave, the better.”

“The sooner we abandon our enervating efforts to solve the Iraq problem and instead focus on containing it, the better. Unfortunately, given that 'victory' in Iraq, as the President has consistently defined it, is unobtainable, we must begin to think of Iraq in terms of severing a diseased limb that will never heal from a body (the region) that, while still healthy, is nonetheless starting to show signs of incipient disease. Withdrawal from Iraq is triage, plain and simple. It cannot mean withdrawal from the Middle East and moving our forces out of Iraq should only be done as part of a re-deployment designed to strengthen vital allies in the region and show American resolve to continue to play an active, positive role in re-shaping the region and promoting American values for the peoples of that region.”

PARTICIPANTS (44): Kenneth Adelman, Ronald Asmus, Samuel Berger, Daniel Blumenthal, Max Boot, Stephen Bosworth, Zbignew Brzezinski, Daniel Byman, Warren Christopher, Wesley Clark, Richard Clarke, Eliot Cohen, William Cohen, Ivo Daalder, James Dobbins, Lawrence Eagleburger, John Gaddis, Leslie Gelb, Marc Grossman, John Hamre, Gary Hart, Bruce Hoffman, John Hulsman, Robert Hunter, Tony Judt, Robert Kagan, David Kay, Andrew Krepinevich, Charles Kupchan, John Lehman, James Lindsay, Edward Luttwak, John McLaughlin, William Nash, Joseph Nye, Carlos Pascual, Thomas Pickering, Joseph Ralston, Susan Rice, Wendy Sherman, Ann Marie Slaughter, James Steinberg, Anthony Zinni.

Not all participants answered both questions; numbers do not always sum to 100% due to rounding.