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Americans Ponder their Options in Iraq - 2004-06-08


American officials say the new interim government of Iraq will have what they call, “full sovereignty.” But they indicate coalition forces will remain in Iraq in order to provide security. Recently, three American analysts presented contending views on the proper U.S. role in Iraq after the transfer of power and the timing of coalition forces withdrawal.

While announcing the creation of the Iraqi interim government, President Bush pledged that America will not be deterred by violence and terror, and will stand with Iraq to “ensure that the future of Iraq is a future of freedom.” But some analysts believe U-S led forces are no longer welcome in Iraq and their presence can only provoke more violence. Ted Carpenter, foreign affairs analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, says a prompt withdrawal is the only practical strategy for the United States. “Staying the course in a deteriorating security situation doesn’t make much sense, especially when public opinion surveys indicate that the Iraqi people are turning against us, and a growing majority wants us to leave.”

Ted Carpenter admits that withdrawing now would damage American credibility. But he thinks Americans can minimize the damage by refocusing the war on terror. “Al-Qaeda will have difficulty portraying the U-S withdrawal from Iraq as a great victory if al-Qaeda operatives around the world have to run for their lives,” he says. In Mr. Carpenter’s view a withdrawal timetable should be measured in months, not years. He adds that the United States should transfer real sovereignty to the interim government, and prepare the ground for the election of a permanent Iraqi government by January 2005.

Gale Smith of the Center for American Progress agrees the United States should have an “exit date.” But she points out it must be chosen in consultation with Iraqis. In her view, the invasion of Iraq has made the region more dangerous than before and a hasty withdrawal would have disastrous consequences. “Abandoning Iraq at this point,” she says, “is not in the interest of the United States, certainly not in the interest of the region, nor of the rest of the world.”

Gale Smith believes the United States should seek the cooperation of the international community by sharing genuine responsibility for the future of Iraq. In her view, a truly international security and reconstruction effort would help earn the trust of the Iraqi people, who want to know the agenda is really the future of their country.

But Andrew Apostolou of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies doubts Americans can count on significant foreign help. He does not believe that NATO is ready to replace coalition security forces in Iraq: “NATO cannot cope with a tiny six and a half thousand person mission in Kabul, known as ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force. Turkey promised three helicopters for that mission in January and they have yet to arrive. If NATO cannot manage six thousand five hundred men in Afghanistan, which we all agree is a critical mission, how on earth it is going to deal with Iraq, I do not know.”

Mr. Apostolou says America is “stuck with Iraq” and has no “exit strategy but success.” It must accept its responsibility and be prepared to rely mainly on its own resources: “We’ve never said that it is going to be easy. It is going to be very, very tough going in a very tough weather. But it is certainly worth it, because think of the improvement in the Middle East and the removal of Saddam Hussein. It has changed everything.”

Analysts point out that both President Bush and the likely Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, advocate similar policies in Iraq – to remain involved in the country, but to seek greater international participation. The United States and Great Britain have asked the U-N for a new resolution on the transfer of power in Iraq. Commentators say that whoever occupies the White House in 2005 will have to cope with the same Iraqi dilemmas and choose among the same limited set of options.

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