Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Policy options in Iraq: How and when does the withdrawal begin?

Today the House Foreign Relations Committee met to discuss U.S. policy options in the Iraq crisis. Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) opened by demanding that there be a plan for withdraw from Iraq, and that the Bush administration and Congress choose the “least bad” option.

The hearing continued with opening remarks from the many lawmakers present. Some argued that the troops should pull out immediately, citing a need to put an end to the failures that have plagued the operation from the outset, while others contented that the U.S. must wait and that premature troop removal will result in a regional collapse and the rise of Islamic extremism. Powerful statements were delivered by both Democrats and Republicans, with Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) saying: “Wars are not won by an evacuation,” and Rep. Lynn Woolsey countering with: “You can’t win an occupation.”

The ideological schism that has paralyzed the Committee, and Congress as a whole, was ever-present and well stated, leaving the assembled witnesses with much to contend with. Steven Simon, HasibJ. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, delivered the first testimony, stating that whether or not we have a presence in Iraq, a civil war is happening and will continue to happen. He warned that no matter what occurs, continued indecisiveness and dissent within the U.S. government would only encourage the insurgents and their cause. Simon also addressed several questions that had been posed about the war. He said that the current conditions in Iraq do not lend themselves to the occurrence of genocide, as some have suggested. He also commented on al-Qaeda, saying that a destabilized Iraq that has animosity towards the U.S. is conducive to further recruitment. Simon warned that if the U.S. is to have a drastic and complete troop pullout, it must be prepared to leave much of the military equipment behind, and that care should be taken with respect to whose hands the equipment is left in. Finally, Simon suggested that the support that is currently going towards military operations be reallocated for social programs and rebuilding infrastructure within Iraq.

James Dobbins, Director for International Security and Defense Policy Center, stressed that the U.S. will need the support of the region in order to be successful. He compared the situation in Iraq to Bosnia in the mid 1990s, saying that all parties had to be present at the negotiating table before an agreement was reached there, and expecting any less in Iraq was unrealistic. Afghanistan was also used as an example of a instance where there was much support from within the nation and from neighboring countries. He also stressed that the U.S. could not look to build stability in Iraq, while “destabilizing” the rest of the region by taking on Iran and their nuclear program.

Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research said that the U.S. cannot pull out of Iraq. He said that remaining in the country shows staying power and is the only way that the U.S. can empower Iraqis and safely hand over power. Rubin also made several warnings, including that the argument that redeployment into Iraqi Kurdistan should be avoided. Rubin stressed the importance of the fragile U.S.-Turkey relationship, which he said would be at stake if America oversteps its bounds. Rubin also cautioned that partitioning Iraq would ultimately only result in more displaced people and act as an added catalyst for already high ethnic tensions. All of this, he said, was based on the fact that Kurdish unity is more theoretic than actual, and that the U.S. should focus on Iraq as a whole, and not look for leadership from the north.

Questions following the witnesses opening statements mostly related to one small facet of each plan and never addressed Iraq policy options as a whole. All sides agreed that the U.S. would pull out eventually, but the real question is when and how. Both sides offered realistic supporting evidence as to why the U.S. should or shouldn’t pull out immediately, but by the end of the session both sides were back to the same stalemate they were in when the session began.



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