Washington should be planning for exit from Iraq

Bob Tippee

The US government should plan better for its departure from Iraq than it apparently did for the occupation.

Just as it should have expected the occupation to be dangerous and prepared Americans and US allies for tough going after the initial military triumph, Washington now should be contemplating withdrawal.

It should not be haunted by the ignominious US departure 30 years ago from the former South Vietnam, a subject now much in the news.

Every imaginable option for an Iraqi exit will inspire protest.

The wrong option would be to maintain a military presence in Iraq indefinitely, which would ratify the region's worst suspicions about US and allied intentions.

If the US decides the troops must stay until Iraq becomes peacefully democratic, it will make that choice by default.

It instead must face the need to walk away from a degree of turmoil. At some point, Iraq must handle its own affairs.

Second-guessers will call such a departure capitulation and fit the judgment to their polemic.

They don't have to make hard decisions. Washington shouldn't worry about them. It should define a set of conditions under which it will withdraw from Iraq—then withdraw when those conditions are met.

The sooner this can happen without leaving behind a bloodbath—the governing condition—the better.

Inevitably, the Iraqi departure will be assessed against the American experience in South Vietnam. Largely because of the frenzied evacuation of Americans and allied Vietnamese under military threat from the north in 1975, the US generally is said to have lost that war.

Yet economic communism is now moribund in Vietnam and its erstwhile sponsor, the former Soviet Union. And, for better or worse, the US—not Vietnam or the FSU—became the solo superpower.

Although exit amid turmoil from Vietnam didn't look or feel good at the time and by itself may constitute defeat, it cannot be said to have vanquished the US or its political and economic systems.

The US can exit Iraq without abandoning hope for the beleaguered country. Indeed it must. The hope, after all, is Iraq's to make real.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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