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The Strongest Tribe

Interviewee: Bing West, Correspondent, the Atlantic Monthly; Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org
September 26, 2008

After more than five years of war, military and security analysts are in near-agreement that Iraq has turned a corner. With violence down and U.S. troop deaths at their lowest point since 2003, the discussion now tends toward maintaining the gains of U.S. and coalition forces. But unlike some analysts who see America's commitment to Iraq being deep and long-term, Bing West, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, says the fighting is largely over and the war is winding down. "I would be very surprised if we didn't see significant withdrawals after the new commander, Gen. Odierno, is there for a couple of months," says West, whose new book, The Strongest Tribe, recounts the story of the Iraq war from the war fighter's perspective. "I'd be very surprised if we don't see that we continue to go down, because the fighting has gone way down."

Yet West says orchestrating America's eventual departure will not be easy. Sunni tribal leaders, including those who contributed to security improvements in many parts of Iraq, have expressed deep concern for a U.S. troop withdrawal, and West says their concerns must be addressed. "They even told Sen. Obama when he was over there, they handed him a petition, the sheiks in Anbar, and startled him and said, 'We don't want the Americans to leave.' So ironically, here you have the Marines in Anbar saying, 'Hey, we've wrapped up here, let's get on. There's fighting in Afghanistan, let's go to Afghanistan. And you have the Sheiks going to Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain saying you can't let these guys leave." The solution, says West, is "we gradually have to extricate ourselves from that situation subtly (and) not on the front page of the newspaper."

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