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The US exit from Iraq: how to steer clear of danger

The strategy must focus less on elections and more on political bargains that promote a new Iraqi national compact.

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President Obama's announcement that he intends to withdraw most US troops from Iraq by August 2010 is most welcome, heralding the end of the Bush administration's disastrous war. Relieved as we may be about the looming exit, however, we should be concerned about the design of the exit strategy. Just as the invasion was a momentous event for Iraq and the region – liberating to many but devastating to many others – so will be a US departure. Danger lurks in a pullout done in haste that prioritizes military over political considerations, fails to consult a broad range of Iraqis and Iraq's neighbors, and is heedless of Iraq's enduring fragility.

On this point, Obama has said all the right things. In his speech at Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Feb. 27 he spoke of a three-part strategy involving the responsible removal of combat brigades, sustained diplomacy to secure a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq, and comprehensive US engagement across the region. Specifically, he mentioned aiding the United Nations to support national elections, brokering agreements on basic issues dividing Iraqis, and building the capacity of Iraqi institutions.

In the same tenor, US military commanders, from Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno on down, have warned that if the withdrawal is not thought through and implemented carefully, the gains of the past two years may yet be undone.

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