"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away, and know when to run."
- Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler" (words by Don Schlitz)
Given the fiasco of Iraq – the slide into outright
civil war and the inability of the Shi'ite-dominated government to act – the
U.S. government must consider withdrawing our troops. Practically no one believes
that we can secure a democratic and free state in the next year or so. Why stay?
Opponents make two arguments against pulling our forces out of Iraq. First,
if we leave, the U.S. will look weak, emboldening terrorists and rogue states.
That argument was made during the Vietnam War and kept us there too long, but
after more than a decade of growing conflict we finally arranged an agreement
that allowed us to withdraw from Southeast Asia. Later, we pulled out of Lebanon
after our Marines were massacred by a suicide bomber; we "cut and ran"
from Somalia after 18 of our soldiers were killed. Those were prudent steps
and did nothing to diminish the image of our armed forces. Anyone who believes
we are weak has never looked at our military. Although we often brag that we
have the finest military in the world, it happens to be true. Our armed forces
are better equipped and better trained than any other military on this globe.
We have demonstrated that we are willing to use the military to protect our
The U.S. has tried for three years to pacify Iraq and has failed. Continuing
to try is futile; we should leave before many more Americans are killed. Some
pundits have claimed that, in five or 10 years, we can bring stability to Iraq.
Even if that were true, would it be worth the lives and the resources that we
would have to expend to "stay the course"?
The other argument for staying is that "we broke it, so we own it."
In other words, before we arrived there was a nasty dictator, but he provided
security to most Iraqis. They could walk out of their houses without fear of
being blown up or shot in an episode of random violence. They had no fear that
their children or spouses would be kidnapped for ransom or for sectarian reasons.
If they lived in Baghdad, they had electricity most of the time; gasoline and
clean water were generally available. Now none of that is true. The middle class
is fleeing Iraq, resulting in increased shortages of educated and skilled doctors,
lawyers, accountants, artisans, and other professionals. Practically no one
believes that he or she is better off now than before the war.
Should we stay? True, insurgents are trying and all too often succeeding in
killing our soldiers, but can we put Iraq back together? Or are we more of the
problem than the solution? Those who think we should "stay the course"
assert that were we to leave, Iraq would dissolve into total civil war. That
is possible, but that may happen even if we stay. We cannot stop a civil war.
Which side should we support? Or should we shoot at both sides?
The best way out is to encourage the breakup of Iraq into three separate states,
Kurdistan, Shiastan, and Sunnistan. A great deal of ethnic cleansing has already
been going on as Shi'ites have fled Sunni areas and vice versa. In Baghdad,
the Shi'ites have taken over the east side of the Tigris River while the Sunnis
occupy the west. The major difficulty can be summed up in one word, "oil."
Petroleum deposits are unevenly divided among the regions. The south has the
most; but the north also contains significant oil reserves, mostly located around
Kirkuk, a multiethnic city with Kurds, Arabs (both Sunnis and Shi'ites), and
Turkmen. The central region of Iraq appears to have no significant oil deposits.
No matter what happens, it is likely that a number of the parties will fight
for control of the area around Kirkuk, but this is likely to occur even if we
There are two other red herrings often raised about leaving Iraq. First, President
Bush often makes the point that we are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that
we don't have to fight them in America. Although there may now be some foreign
al-Qaeda operatives fighting in the insurgency, locals are behind most of the
violence; were we to leave, they would no longer be attacking us. They might
turn on each other, but there would be no purpose in their crossing the Atlantic.
The other unwarranted supposition is that neighboring countries would get
dragged into an Iraqi civil war. That seems unlikely. We can prevail upon Turkey
to stay out, except for the occasional incursion into Kurdistan if Turks are
attacked by Kurds. Moreover, we can then freely lean on the Kurds to stop attacking
Turkey. We are now so appreciative of the relative calm and peace in Kurdistan
that we refrain from pressuring them to keep the peace. Iran has no reason to
intervene unless the Shi'ites are in danger of losing a conflict with the Sunnis.
Once again, that would appear to be unlikely.
In any case, that the breakup of Iraq will be messy is no reason to stay.
The present chaos suggests no alternative. Let us take advantage of what has
occurred, declare victory, and go home. We came to eliminate the weapons of
mass destruction and they are gone (that they were never there is irrelevant
to whether we should stay or leave). We eliminated the nonexistent relationship
between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. We removed the dictator Saddam Hussein
from office and created an elected government, which we can call "democratic."
So we have won the war and achieved all our aims. Now we can leave.