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September 30, 2004

A Win/Win Exit Strategy


by Thomas Gale Moore

The war in Iraq is becoming more and more vicious. Attacks on coalition forces have escalated. Americans are now dying at a rate of over two per day. Iraqi police and militia are suffering major casualties from the constant attacks. Neither presidential candidate has proposed a way out of this morass.

Why has the insurgency been growing and becoming more widespread? The population of almost every country resents being dominated by outsiders. The Iraqis and their allies are fighting the unbelievers and the occupiers. No one likes to have foreigners rule their nation, but compounding that concern in Iraq is the matter of religion. Muslims cannot accept Christian rule.

Although many Iraqis were undoubtedly pleased when Saddam Hussein was deposed, they are turning increasingly against American soldiers and their allies. As they see more and more innocent civilians dying from military action – called by the Pentagon, "collateral damage" – their anger rises. Almost all Iraqis now want the Americans out of their country.

A Canadian reporter, Scott Taylor, who had been held captive, was recently released after being shuffled among various groups. He reported that one group of insurgents was made up of Ba'athist secular Sunnis who wanted to reclaim the country for the Iraqis. Another consisted of religious zealots who hate having Christians calling the shots in Iraq. Those groups and others of various flavors were united in wanting the Americans out. The principal motivation for the attacks on the U.S. and its allies is a desire to force the U.S. out of the country.

Bush and Kerry have both said that they want to bring the troops home. At the same time they claim that our military cannot be pulled out quickly because Iraq would collapse into chaos. (What is it in now?) But would the violence get worse or better if American troops left? Almost all the violence so far has been directed at either the occupying forces or their perceived allies, the Iraqi militia and police. U.S. troops are obviously a major part of the problem. Are they also part of the solution? Were the Americans to leave, civil war might break out; then again, it might not. Nevertheless, if both sides want the same thing – "Americans go home" – a deal may be possible.

After the election, the president-elect should announce that, if the resistance fighters stop the violence, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq within three months. The president or his elected successor should go on to promise that the U.S. will stop its attacks in the country and will return its forces to their bases. In other words, the United States should announce a unilateral ceasefire.

If the Iraqis really just want Americans out of their country, they should welcome the proposal. They have only to stop attacking coalition forces, the Iraqi police and militia. Apparently, there are several groups fighting against the American occupation. It may not be possible to get all of them to stop the violence, but if the violence can be reduced significantly, that would be a step towards peace and the US exit.

The resistance groups have little to lose by a ceasefire. If the Americans failed to start moving their troops out, they could, of course, resume their attacks. If they do agree to cease fighting, violence would decline sharply; if the president-elect acted swiftly after Nov. 2, the election scheduled for January could go ahead. Some violence would undoubtedly continue, especially kidnapping for ransom, which seems to have become a widespread occupation. However, the police would no longer have to worry as much about being attacked regularly and could concentrate on the criminal elements. A ceasefire would encourage recruiting for both the police and the army.

The current interim government in Iraq, made up of many individuals chosen for their willingness to support the U.S., would undoubtedly oppose the prospect of a pullout. They would face losing their jobs and perhaps their lives for having cooperated with the occupation forces. It's a long shot. Nevertheless, the only way out of this mess is to promise the Iraqi people that, if they stop the violence, we will go quickly.

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Thomas Gale Moore is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in economics and has taught at Carnegie Institution of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Michigan State University, UCLA, and in the Stanford Business School. He has written numerous peer-reviewed economic articles and several books.

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