by William R. Polk
(Cont'd) A Time for Leaving: American security and Iraqi
Sat Jul 1, 2006 19:43

Thus, the best America might gain from this option is a fig leaf to hide defeat; the worst, in a rapid collapse, would be humiliating evacuation, as in Vietnam.

The third option is to choose to get out rather than being forced. Time is a wasting asset; the longer the choice is put off, the harder it will be to make. The steps required to implement this policy need not be dramatic, but the process needs to be unambiguous. The initial steps could be merely verbal: America would have to declare unequivocally that it will give up its lock on the Iraqi economy, will cease to spend Iraqi revenues as it chooses, and will allow Iraqi oil production to be governed by market forces rather than by an American monopoly.

The second step, more difficult, is to make a truce and pull back its forces. If President Bush could be as courageous as Gen. Charles de Gaulle was in Algeria when he called for a “peace of the brave,” fighting would quickly die down. This is not wishful thinking; it is what happened time after time in guerrilla wars.

Then, and only then, could Iraqis themselves set about creating a national consensus. It would probably not come through elections, although they might legitimize the process. We would probably not like the government that emerged, but we are already beyond being able to control that choice. What we should help and encourage is the essentially indigenous process of building civil institutions. Only as they emerge will some form of reasonably peaceful, reasonably free, reasonably decent government have a chance. This is the most sensitive and difficult part of the whole affair. It cannot be rushed, and we cannot do it for the Iraqis.

The danger during this period is twofold: on the one hand, Iraq, like Afghanistan, could shatter with local warlords seizing the pieces, or Iraq could split into a sort of eastern Balkans with Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab successor states. The one would certainly create mafia-style terrorism, while the other would promote mayhem as thousands of suddenly created refugees flee from now alien states. Further regional instability would be created, and possibly either Turkey or Iran or both would intervene, Turkey to suppress the Kurds and Iran to protect the Shi’ites. The results are unforeseeable but certainly ruinous.

On the other hand, in an attempt to avoid this disaster, we and our Iraqi protégés could, as we are now attempting, create a new Iraqi army. We should heed the lesson of Iraqi history. In the past, the British-created army destroyed moves toward civil society and probably would do so again, paving the way for the ghost of Saddam Hussein. In the period during and following American evacuation, Iraq would need a police force but not an army. A UN multinational peacekeeping force would be easier, cheaper, and safer. The balance between “security” and cohesion would be difficult to achieve and maintain, and we could be of only minimal help, but either extreme would be worse.

Meanwhile, a variety of service functions would have to be organized. Given a chance, Iraq could do them mostly by itself. With its vast potential in oil production, probably the greatest in the world, it could soon again become a rich country with a talented, well-educated population. Step by step, health care, clean water, sewage, roads, bridges, pipelines, electric grids, and housing could be provided by the Iraqis themselves, as they were in the past. When I visited Baghdad in February 2003, on the eve of the invasion, the Iraqis with whom I talked were proud that they had rebuilt what had been destroyed in the 1991 war. They can surely do so again. More important, in carrying out the rebuilding and reordering process, particularly at the grassroots level, Iraqis would begin to take control of their lives and start building the neighborhood institutions and consensus on which, if it is to grow at all, representative government will depend.

Economically, Iraq will also have to mend itself. Here the American role is primarily negative. We have imposed policies during our occupation that worked against the recovery of Iraqi industry and commerce. Abrogating these would spur development since any reasonably intelligent and self-interested government would emphasize getting Iraqi enterprises back into operation and employing Iraqi workers. That process could be speeded up through international loans, commercial agreements, and protective measures so that unemployment, now at socially catastrophic levels, would be diminished. Neighborhood participation in running social affairs and providing security are old traditions in Iraqi society and allowing or favoring their reinvigoration would promote the excellent side effect of grassroots political representation.

As fighting dies down, reasonable security is achieved, and popular institutions revive, the one million Iraqis now living abroad will be encouraged to return home. In the aggregate they are intelligent, highly trained, and well motivated and can make major contributions in all phases of Iraqi life. Oil production will play a key role. The income it generates can make possible great public works projects that will help to lure back Iraqi émigrés, employ Iraqi workers, encourage local entrepreneurs, and salvage the class of merchants and shopkeepers who traditionally provided security in Oriental cities. In its own best interest, the Iraqi government would empower the Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) to award concessions by bid to a variety of international companies to sell oil on the world market. This is obviously to the best interests not only of Iraq but also of the Western world.

Contracts for reconstruction paid for by Iraqi money would be awarded under bidding, as they traditionally were, but to prevent excessive corruption would perhaps initially be supervised by the World Bank. The World Bank would, of course, follow its regular procedures on its loans. Where other countries supplied aid, they would probably insist on (and could be given) preferential treatment in the award of contracts as is common practice everywhere.

In such a program, inevitably, there will be setbacks and shortfalls, but they can be partly filled by international organizations. The steps will not be easy; Iraqis will disagree over timing, personnel, and rewards, while giving the process a chance will require a rare degree of American political courage. But, and this is the crucial matter, any other course of action would be far worse for both America and Iraq. The safety and health of American society as well as Iraqi society requires that this policy be implemented intelligently, determinedly—and soon.
A former member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Council, William R. Polk was responsible for the Middle East. He has been a professor of history at the University of Chicago and Founding Director of its Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He is now senior director of the W.P. Carey Foundation.

January 17, 2005 issue
by William R. Polk
A Time for Leaving: American security and Iraqi stability

On Saturday, July 1 at 4:30 pm Book TV presents William Polk
The Birth of America: From Before Columbus to the Revolution


Author: "Brith of America"
IRAQ... A Time for Leaving: American and Iraqi Stability

January 17, 2005 issue
Copyright © 2004-2005 The American Conservative

A Time for Leaving

American security and Iraqi stability depend on a prompt handover.

by William R. Polk -


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