Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Is it Time to Leave Iraq?

The Los Angeles Times editorial page is generally quite liberal, but they do occasionally provide moderate, center-left editorials from time to time. This was the case with Sunday's lead editorial arguing for a strategic withdrawal from Iraq: "Time to Leave Iraq." Here's the introduction:

WHATEVER THE future holds, the United States has not "lost" and cannot "lose" Iraq. It was never ours in the first place. And however history will judge the war, some key U.S. goals have been accomplished: Saddam Hussein has been ousted, tried and executed; Iraqis have held three elections, adopted a constitution and established a rudimentary democracy.

But what now? After four years of war, more than $350 billion spent and 3,363 U.S. soldiers killed and 24,310 wounded, it seems increasingly obvious that an Iraqi political settlement cannot be achieved in the shadow of an indefinite foreign occupation. The U.S. military presence — opposed by more than three-quarters of Iraqis — inflames terrorism and delays what should be the primary and most pressing goal: meaningful reconciliation among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

This newspaper reluctantly endorsed the U.S. troop surge as the last, best hope for stabilizing conditions so that the elected Iraqi government could assume full responsibility for its affairs. But we also warned that the troops should not be used to referee a civil war. That, regrettably, is what has happened.

The mire deepens against a backdrop of domestic U.S. politics in which support for the ill-defined mission wanes by the week. Better to begin planning a careful, strategic withdrawal from Iraq now, based on the strategies laid out by the Iraq Study Group, than allow for the 2008 campaign season to create a precipitous pullout.
Read the whole thing. The piece reiterates General David Petraeus's recent remarks that the ultimate endgame in Iraq requires a political solution between secatarian political parties. Yet the the troop build-up is not complete, and Petraeus's comments also noted that the surge needed time:

"It is an endeavor that clearly is going to require enormous commitment and commitment over time," he said, adding that he didn't want to predict how many troops might be involved or when.
The question is how much time? In Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek piece last November on a U.S. drawdown,"Rethinking Iraq: The Way Forward," he suggested that we should start reducing force levels as early as January 2007, and then a year later troop numbers should decline to about 60,000 soldiers. Zakaria's troop drawdown proposal was rounded-out with other thoughtful suggestions for fighting al Qaeda and promoting political reconciliation.

Like many other conservatives, I've become frustrated with the pace of progress, but I'm not advocating a drawdown yet. Aspects of the surge are working, despite the high number of bombing attacks in recent weeks. Yet, at some point, as the Times editorial notes, American blood should no longer be part of what's holding Iraq together. As the Times notes:

The U.S. should immediately declare its intention to begin a gradual troop drawdown, starting no later than the fall. The pace of the withdrawal must be flexible, to reflect progress or requests by the Iraqis and the military's commanders. The precise date for completing the withdrawal need not be announced, but the assumption should be that combat troops would depart by the end of 2009. Iraqi political compromise is more likely to come when Washington is no longer backing the stronger (Shiite) party. U.S. troops could then be repositioned to better wage the long-term struggle against Islamic extremism.
That sounds fairly reasonable. But let's hear it from some of my readers as to their suggestions on the need or timing for a withdrawal from Iraq.

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