Declare Victory, Bring Troops Home

February 3, 2005
Micah Zenko

The Baltimore Sun
Anti-war liberals, George H. W. Bush Republicans and even some neoconservative hawks have begun to coalesce around the same accurate position: America's continued troop presence in Iraq has only fed the insurgency. So with the elections over, it's time to bring the soldiers home.
These diverse sources agree that what is required is carefully planning and executing a phased withdrawal while training and equipping Iraqi security forces.
But what is required above all else in order for the United States to pull out of Iraq is a strategy that allows the White House to declare victory.
For a president unwilling to admit mistakes, a Pentagon unwilling to recognize them and a secretary of state unwilling to provide a timetable for withdrawal, the White House should immediately begin to spin the war as a success -- a "mission accomplished" redux. Here's how:
First, lie about the numbers and capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.
President Bush recently told The Washington Post: "The sooner the Iraqis are prepared -- better prepared, better equipped to fight -- the sooner our troops will start coming home."
But how many of the 270,000 Iraqi security forces that the Pentagon believes are needed to secure the country have been "prepared" to fight?
No one knows for sure, and we never will -- until U.S. troops pull out -- so just lie and say we're halfway there.
Second, take the road map for Baghdad straight through Jerusalem.
Before the war, the administration argued that Saddam Hussein's removal would jump-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
While that never happened, his removal, combined with the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the establishment of a democratic Iraqi state in the heart of the Arab Middle East, should finally compel Mr. Bush to spend his political capital to help negotiate peace between the two parties.
Pulling out of Iraq, and making a good-faith effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, would remove Islamic terrorism's two weightiest recruitment tools.
Third, simply stand alongside the next Iraqi prime minister (somewhere safe) and declare victory.
Because it will take time to tally the Iraqi overseas vote, final results cannot be expected for more than a week. Also, allow a few more weeks for the formation of a government. At the inauguration ceremony in Baghdad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John D. Negroponte, should surprise the Iraqis by announcing that the United States would begin gradually withdrawing its troops immediately.
Announcing victory and beginning the withdrawal as the next government takes power would allow the White House to avoid facing an elected regime shouting, "Yankee go home!" in Arabic.
Such an announcement would be a major victory for the new Iraqi government since nothing unites Iraqis as much as their strong dislike of America's military occupation of their country.
For far too long, since the fall of 2002, Iraq has diverted attention from America's more-pressing foreign policy crises.
They include North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its further reprocessing of spent fuel rods for the plutonium needed for six to eight nuclear weapons, Iran's acceleration of its nuclear weapons program and al-Qaida's presence with what the International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates are 18,000 committed members worldwide.
Given Iraq's strategic importance in the Middle East, and our ongoing battle with fundamentalist Islamic ideologies, failure is not an option, and a large sustained American presence in Iraq is part of the blueprint for insurgency, not U.S. victory.
The only thing keeping 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq is the inability of the White House to find a politically expedient way to say "we won."
Mr. Bush may be twice shy for having been bitten by his May 1, 2003, speech aboard an aircraft carrier under the "Mission Accomplished" banner.
But it's time for him to declare victory, staunchly defend his position and bring the troops home.
Micah Zenko is a research associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.


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