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Report Calls for Military Disengagement From Iraq

Related Bio: Steven Simon, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
February 7, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations

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Council Scholar Recommends Policy Shift to Containing Conflict

The United States should...make clear now to the Iraqi government that, as the results of the anticipated surge become apparent, the two sides will begin to negotiate a U.S. military disengagement from Iraq,” says a new Council Special Report. “The proposed military disengagement would not be linked to benchmarks that the Iraqi government is probably incapable of fulfilling....The U.S. drawdown should not be hostage to Iraqi performance.”

The report’s author, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies Steven N. Simon, says the surge is a fait accompli and its results will be known very soon: “the surge is going to take place regardless of public or congressional opposition. Thus, the issue is what happens after the surge. Since General David Petraeus has said that he expects the results of the surge to become apparent quickly, the ‘day after’ realities should be thought through now.”

“The United States has already achieved all that it is likely to achieve in Iraq: the removal of Saddam, the end of the Ba’athist regime, the elimination of the Iraqi regional threat, the snuffing out of Iraq’s unrequited aspiration to weapons of mass destruction, and the opening of a door, however narrow, to a constitutionally-based electoral democracy,” says the report, After the Surge: The Case for U.S. Military Disengagement From Iraq.“Staying in Iraq can only drive up the price of these gains in blood, treasure, and strategic position.”

Disengagement “would entail withdrawing the bulk of American forces from Iraq within twelve to eighteen months (that is to say, over the course of calendar year 2008); shifting the American focus to containment of the conflict and strengthening the U.S. military position elsewhere in the region; and engaging Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, members of the UN Security Council, and potential donors in an Iraq stabilization plan,” Simon writes.

“The crisis has now moved beyond the capacity of Washington to control on its own,” says the report. “The United States lacks the military resources and the domestic and international political support to master the situation.” And “even if the United States had the abundant ground forces and reconstruction teams necessary, it is not clear that the situation in Iraq today is retrievable.”

Simon argues that any realistic reckoning for the future will have to acknowledge “six grim realities:”

> “The United States cannot determine political outcomes or achieve its remaining political aims via military means.”

> “Leaving U.S. forces in Iraq under today’s circumstances means the United States is culpable but not capable—that is, Washington bears substantial responsibility for developments within Iraq without the ability to shape those developments in a positive direction.”

> “The ongoing war has empowered and advanced the interests of the chief U.S. rival in the region, Iran.”

> “By siphoning resources and political attention away from Afghanistan, a continuing military commitment to Iraq may lead to two U.S. losses in southwest Asia.”

> “The Iraq war constrains the U.S. military, making it very difficult if not impossible to handle another significant contingency involving ground forces.”

> “The implosion of domestic support for the war will compel the disengagement of U.S. forces; it is now just a matter of time.”

“The bleak truth remains that the United States is incapable of restoring Iraq even to the relative stability of the Ba’athist era...The even bleaker truth is that continued U.S. military operations on Iraqi territory might well leave Iraqis even worse off. In that light, for the U.S. government to sacrifice the lives of its soldiers in the pursuit of an unattainable objective (a stable, pluralistic Iraq aligned with U.S. interests), or an inappropriate one (reputation for toughness and reliability) would be the least morally defensible course that Washington could take.”

The United States should:

Declare its intention to disengage the majority of U.S. combat forces from Iraq within twelve to eighteen months, to begin once the results of the surge become known.

> Retain the forces necessary to secure Baghdad International Airport, the Green Zone, and access routes that connect them.

> During the disengagement period, stage the drawdown to maintain the forces in Iraq needed to protect or relocate vulnerable minority populations and suppress insurgent activity in the largely Sunni provinces.

Shift focus to containment of the conflict and strengthen the U.S. military position elsewhere in the region.

> Plan for humanitarian contingency operations.

> Refocus on containment of the war in Iraq.

> Reinforce the U.S. military presence elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region, for example, Kuwait; explore options for increasing special operations forces deployed to Jordan; increase the number of rotational deployments to the region, including joint exercises.

Engage Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, members of the UN Security Council, and potential donors in a stabilization plan for Iraq.

> Prepare to provide Jordan with help in managing the cross-border refugee flow.

> Work with the UN secretary-general to form an Iraq stabilization group, including Iran and Syria, with an emphasis on control of borders, management of refugees, economic and technical assistance to Iraq, and diplomatic support for political reconciliation.

> Work with the UN, NATO, and neighboring states on plans for humanitarian intervention in the event that violence in Iraq becomes genocidal.

> Act decisively elsewhere in the region, particularly on the Palestine-Israel impasse by articulating a vision for final status, and on support for Lebanese sovereignty.

“Having staked its prestige on the intervention and failed to achieve many of its objectives, the United States will certainly pay a price for military disengagement from Iraq. But if the United States manages its departure from Iraq carefully, it will not have lost everything. Rather, the United States will have preserved the opportunity to recover vital assets that its campaign in Iraq has imperiled: diplomatic initiative, global reputation, and the well being and political utility of its ground forces.”

Contact: Anya Schmemann, CFR Communications, 202-518-3419; aschmemann@cfr.org

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