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Bold Thinking - Genl (r) Wm. Odom on Iraq Strategy - LATimes..

www.latimes.com <http://www.latimes.com>
How to cut and run
We could lead the Mideast to peace, but only if we stop refusing to do
the right thing
By William E. Odom

Lt. Gen. WILLIAM E. ODOM (Ret.) is a senior fellow at the Hudson
Institute and a professor at Yale University.

October 31, 2006

THE UNITED STATES upset the regional balance in the Middle East when it
invaded Iraq. Restoring it requires bold initiatives, but "cutting and
running" must precede them all. Only a complete withdrawal of all U.S.
troops within six months and with no preconditions can break the
paralysis that now enfeebles our diplomacy. And the greatest obstacles to
cutting and running are the psychological inhibitions of our leaders and the
public.

Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public
does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured
set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq;
creating democracy there; preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; making
Israel more secure; not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain;
and others.

But reality can no longer be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent
bloody sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout
the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab
states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr
or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability
beyond Iraq. All of these things and more became unavoidable the day that
U.S. forces invaded.

These realities get worse every day that our forces remain in Iraq. They
can't be wished away by clever diplomacy or by leaving our forces in Iraq
for several more years.

The administration could recognize that a rapid withdrawal is the only way
to overcome our strategic paralysis, though that appears unlikely,
notwithstanding election-eve changes in White House rhetoric. Congress could
force a stock-taking. Failing this, the public will sooner or later see
through all of the White House's double talk and compel a radical policy
change. The price for delay, however, will be more lives lost in vain ‹ the
only thing worse than the lives already lost in vain.

Some lawmakers are ready to change course but are puzzled as to how to leave
Iraq. The answer is four major initiatives to provide regional stability and
calm in Iraq. They will leave the U.S. less influential in the region. But
it will be the best deal we can get.

First, the U.S. must concede that it has botched things, cannot stabilize
the region alone and must let others have a say in what's next. As U.S.
forces begin to withdraw, Washington must invite its European allies, as
well as Japan, China and India, to make their own proposals for dealing with
the aftermath. Russia can be ignored because it will play a spoiler role in
any case.

Rapid troop withdrawal and abandoning unilateralism will have a sobering
effect on all interested parties. Al Qaeda will celebrate but find that its
only current allies, Iraqi Baathists and Sunnis, no longer need or want it.
Iran will crow but soon begin to worry that its Kurdish minority may want to
join Iraqi Kurdistan and that Iraqi Baathists might make a surprising
comeback.

Although European leaders will probably try to take the lead in designing a
new strategy for Iraq, they will not be able to implement it. This is
because they will not allow any single European state to lead, the handicap
they faced in trying to cope with Yugoslavia's breakup in the 1990s. Nor
will Japan, China or India be acceptable as a new coalition leader. The U.S.
could end up as the leader of a new strategic coalition ‹ but only if most
other states recognize this fact and invite it to do so.

The second initiative is to create a diplomatic forum for Iraq's neighbors.
Iran, of course, must be included. Washington should offer to convene the
forum but be prepared to step aside if other members insist.

Third, the U.S. must informally cooperate with Iran in areas of shared
interests. Nothing else could so improve our position in the Middle East.
The price for success will include dropping U.S. resistance to Iran's
nuclear weapons program. This will be as distasteful for U.S. leaders as
cutting and running, but it is no less essential. That's because we do share
vital common interests with Iran. We both want to defeat Al Qaeda and the
Taliban (Iran hates both). We both want stability in Iraq (Iran will have
influence over the Shiite Iraqi south regardless of what we do, but neither
Washington nor Tehran want chaos). And we can help each other when it comes
to oil: Iran needs our technology to produce more oil, and we simply need
more oil.

Accepting Iran's nuclear weapons is a small price to pay for the likely
benefits. Moreover, its nuclear program will proceed whether we like it or
not. Accepting it might well soften Iran's support for Hezbollah, and it
will definitely undercut Russia's pernicious influence with Tehran.

Fourth, real progress must be made on the Palestinian issue as a foundation
for Middle East peace. The invasion of Iraq and the U.S. tilt toward Israel
have dangerously reduced Washington's power to broker peace or to guarantee
Israel's security. We now need Europe's help. And good relations with Iran
would help dramatically.

No strategy can succeed without these components. We must cut and run
tactically in order to succeed strategically. The United States needs to
restore its reputation so that its capacity to lead constructively will cost
us less.
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