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Why We Should Exit Iraq Now

 Why We Should Exit Iraq Now

By Bill Richardson
Saturday, September 8, 2007; A15

Hillary Clinton
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/hillary-clinton/>,
Barack Obama
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/barack-obama/>
and John Edwards
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008-presidential-candidates/john-edwards/>
have suggested that there is little difference among us on Iraq
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Iraq?tid=informline>.
This is not true: I am the only leading Democratic candidate committed
to getting all our troops out and doing so quickly.

In the most recent debate, I asked the other candidates how many troops
they would leave in Iraq and for what purposes. I got no answers. The
American people need answers. If we elect a president who thinks that
troops should stay in Iraq for years, they will stay for years -- a
tragic mistake.

Clinton, Obama and Edwards reflect the inside-the-Beltway thinking that
a complete withdrawal of all American forces somehow would be
"irresponsible." On the contrary, the facts suggest that a rapid,
complete withdrawal -- not a drawn-out,
Vietnam
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Vietnam?tid=informline>-like
process -- would be the most responsible and effective course of action.

Those who think we need to keep troops in Iraq misunderstand the Middle
East
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Middle+East?tid=informline>.
I have met and negotiated successfully with many regional leaders,
including Saddam Hussein
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Saddam+Hussein?tid=informline>.
I am convinced that only a complete withdrawal can sufficiently shift
the politics of Iraq and its neighbors to break the deadlock that has
been killing so many people for so long.

Our troops have done everything they were asked to do with courage and
professionalism, but they cannot win someone else's civil war. So long
as American troops are in Iraq, reconciliation among Iraqi factions is
postponed. Leaving forces there enables the Iraqis to delay taking the
necessary steps to end the violence. And it prevents us from using
diplomacy to bring in other nations to help stabilize and rebuild the
country.

The presence of American forces in Iraq weakens us in the war against
al-Qaeda
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Al+Qaeda?tid=informline>.
It endows the anti-American propaganda of those who portray us as
occupiers plundering Iraq's oil and repressing Muslims. The day we
leave, this myth collapses, and the Iraqis will drive foreign jihadists
out of their country. Our departure would also enable us to focus on
defeating the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11, those
headquartered along the Pakistan
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Pakistan?tid=informline>-Afghanistan
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Afghanistan?tid=informline>
border -- not in Iraq.

Logistically, it would be possible to withdraw in six to eight months.
We moved as many as 240,000 troops into and out of Iraq through Kuwait
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Kuwait?tid=informline>
in as little as a three-month period during major troop rotations. After
the Persian Gulf
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Persian+Gulf?tid=informline>
War, we redeployed nearly a half-million troops in a few months. We
could redeploy even faster if we negotiated with the Turks to open a
route out through Turkey
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Turkey?tid=informline>.

As our withdrawal begins, we will gain diplomatic leverage. Iraqis will
start seeing us as brokers, not occupiers. Iraq's neighbors will face
the reality that if they don't help with stabilization, they will face
the consequences of Iraq's collapse -- including even greater refugee
flows over their borders and possible war.

The United States can facilitate Iraqi reconciliation and regional
cooperation by holding a conference similar to that which brought peace
to Bosnia
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Bosnia+and+Herzegovina?tid=informline>.
We will need regional security negotiations among all of Iraq's
neighbors and discussions of donations from wealthy nations -- including
oil-rich Muslim countries -- to help rebuild Iraq. None of this can
happen until we remove the biggest obstacle to diplomacy: the presence
of U.S. forces in Iraq.

My plan is realistic because:

 It is less risky. Leaving forces behind leaves them vulnerable. Would
we need another surge to protect them?

 It gets our troops out of the quagmire and strengthens us for our real
challenges. It is foolish to think that 20,000 to 75,000 troops could
bring peace to Iraq when 160,000 have not. We need to get our troops out
of the crossfire in Iraq so that we can defeat the terrorists who
attacked us on Sept. 11.

 By hastening the peace process, the likelihood of prolonged bloodshed
is reduced. President Richard Nixon
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Richard+Nixon?tid=informline>
withdrew U.S. forces slowly from Vietnam -- with disastrous
consequences. Over the seven years it took to get our troops out, 21,000
more Americans and perhaps a million Vietnamese, most of them civilians,
died. All this death and destruction accomplished nothing -- the
communists took over as soon as we left.

My position has been clear since I entered this race: Remove all the
troops and launch energetic diplomatic efforts in Iraq and
internationally to bring stability. If Congress fails to end this war, I
will remove all troops without delay, and without hesitation, beginning
on my first day in office.

Let's stop pretending that all Democratic plans are similar. The
American people deserve precise answers from anyone who would be
commander in chief. How many troops would you leave in Iraq? For how
long? To do what, exactly? And the media should be asking these
questions of the candidates, rather than allowing them to continue
saying, "We are against the war . . . but please don't read the small
print."

/The writer is governor of New Mexico and a candidate for the Democratic
presidential nomination./

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