Cut Losses: Leave Iraq
by Ivan Eland
Independent Institute
November 1, 2003

The brazen missile attack on the Rashid hotel in Baghdad and a recent spate of suicide bombings illustrate that anti-American violence is increasing in frequency, sophistication and deadliness. Moreover, a recent poll by an Iraq research center showed fewer than 15% of Iraqis see U.S. forces as liberators, down from a tepid 43% six months ago. That’s an ominous sign that popular discontent over a prolonged occupation could cause anti-U.S. attacks to snowball.

The only way to let the air out of the resistance is to quickly turn Iraq back to the Iraqis and withdraw U.S. forces. The violence arises primarily as a reaction to the invasion and occupation by a foreign superpower.

To provide for security after U.S. forces leave, the Afghan model could be adopted. Kurdish and Shiite militias could be used to police their own sections of the country. Baghdad and other problem areas could be policed by an international coalition [of the willing approved by the Iraqis]. If the United States were to relinquish control over Iraq’s reconstruction, foreign nations would be more likely to commit their military forces for peacekeeping.

Even if such a plan did not work, stability in Iraq never has been vital to U.S. security interests. The threat from Saddam Hussein’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction was overstated. And economists from across the political spectrum always have been skeptical that Persian Gulf oil needs to be secured militarily. Yet their views have been ignored by vested interests in U.S. national security bureaucracies.

In the wake of an ill-advised U.S. invasion, the Bush administration does not have many good options. Few foreign forces will be attracted unless the United States gives up control over the reconstruction; even then violence will continue as long as American forces remain. Throwing even more U.S. troops into the fray would belie the administration's claim that security is improving. As a presidential election approaches, such a move could be political suicide.

To preserve U.S. “credibility” nearly 40 years ago, American policymakers pursued an escalated war in Vietnam -- when cutting their losses and getting out sooner would have ultimately salvaged more world esteem. The same is likely to be true in Iraq.

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Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World. For further articles and studies, see the War on Terrorism.

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