The idea is still a relative whisper in the broader American
political discussion, but more and more people are raising the idea of
withdrawing the 138,000 U.S. forces from Iraq.
It's an idea that President Bush and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John
Kerry of Massachusetts, scorn. Kerry has even indicated he might send in more
troops to stabilize Iraq. On Tuesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
-- one of the architects of the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein --
told the House Armed Services Committee that U.S. forces may have to stay in
Iraq for years.
A U.S. withdrawal would be preferable to what we have now.
The idea that more U.S. troops will improve the situation is wrong. The
truth is the opposite.
But as American casualties mount, with military deaths approaching 1,000
and with more than 5,100 wounded, analysts have begun talking about withdrawal
as a viable option. The idea could become an issue in the presidential
campaign, especially since independent candidate Ralph Nader embraces the
"A U.S. withdrawal would be preferable to what we have now,'' University
of San Francisco politics Professor Stephen Zunes said Tuesday in Washington,
D.C. "The idea that more U.S. troops will improve the situation is wrong. The
truth is the opposite.''
"The war was based on a lie,'' added Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for
Policy Studies in Washington. "We should get U.S. troops home as soon as
Zunes and Bennis are affiliated with the anti-war Foreign Policy in Focus
think tank, which has long been critical of Bush's policy toward Iraq. But
calls for a withdrawal have come in recent weeks from such mainstream voices
of the Washington establishment as the Brookings Institution's James Steinberg
and Michael O'Hanlon. They said Americans should be pulled out by late next
year, after Iraqis vote on a new government and adopt a constitution. Longtime
State Department official Morton Abramowitz has also proposed a phased
An anti-Iraq war umbrella organization, Win Without War, also backs a
phased withdrawal, and has planned protests and vigils across the country this
weekend to make its views heard.
A task force from the libertarian Cato Institute has called for
withdrawal by next January, saying the occupation of Iraq has distracted from
the fight against the al Qaeda terrorist network.
But so far, the withdrawal movement has gained little support in Congress,
although some liberal Democrats have been pressing the White House to set a
timetable for achieving goals in Iraq and bringing troops home. The prevailing
view in Congress is that prematurely leaving Iraq would leave that country in
"This approach could result in Iraq descending into ethnic or religious
squabbling, or both, and national and regional instability and the prospect
that Iraq will become a terrorist haven,'' Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the
Armed Services Committee's ranking Democrat, said at Tuesday's hearing with
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, said, "I'm deeply concerned about a
precipitous withdrawal of troops, for whatever reason, in the short term, if
we don't achieve a political end state that is satisfactory to the American
"If we cut and run in the next few months, none of this will work for the
long-term stability of the region and certainly not for the people in the
United States,'' she said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who recently visited Iraq, said Bush and
Kerry need to talk about the issue with the American people during the
"Regardless of who wins, the American public needs to be ready for the
idea that there will be troops in Iraq at least to December of '05 in large
numbers because internationally we cannot fail; domestically we cannot fail in
Iraq,'' he said. "This is larger than the election.''
Many who are pushing for the United States to withdraw its troops say
that while Iraqis may be grateful for Hussein's departure, they won't accept a
foreign occupation and will never accept the legitimacy of Iraqi leaders
associated with the occupation, such as those in the interim government that
takes formal power next week.
In fact, withdrawal advocates contend, many of the attacks on U.S.
soldiers and civilian contractors arise from nationalist feelings, rather than
terrorism tied to Hussein's deposed Baath Party or al Qaeda or other groups.
"Declaring a timetable for withdrawal would eliminate most resistance,''
said Anas Shallal, an Iraqi American who was a founder of the Mesopotamia
So far, Kerry -- who voted for the October 2002 resolution that
authorized Bush to go to war in Iraq -- has called for creating a NATO
mission to Iraq to further internationalize the forces there; appointing a
United Nations high commissioner to oversee reconstruction; and the increased
training of Iraqi security forces.
But the Democratic candidate has rejected calls for a withdrawal.
"It would be unthinkable now for us to retreat in disarray and leave
behind an Iraq deep in strife and dominated by radicals,'' he said in a recent
But public opposition to the war continues to increase. A Washington
Post/ABC News poll reported on Tuesday that 52 percent of those surveyed said
the war is "not worth fighting." Seventy percent said the level of casualties
Support for the president's handling of Iraq policy dropped to 44 percent
of those surveyed in the new poll, compared with 55 percent who disapproved.
If Nader proves a potent factor in the fall and public opinion continues
to build for a withdrawal, Kerry could face pressure to change his position in
order to keep his most liberal supporters.
Wolfowitz, who just returned from Iraq, told a House committee Tuesday
that he was impressed with the incoming Iraqi caretaker government headed by
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who has plans to set up an Iraqi army and security
forces that can handle more of the country's security burden.
Despite that, he conceded that U.S. forces may be in Iraq for a long time.
"Is it your testimony you think we might be there, then, a good number of
years?'' Skelton asked.
"I think it's entirely possible,'' Wolfowitz said. "But what I think is
also nearly certain is the more Iraqis step up -- and they will be doing so
more and more each month -- the less and less we will have to do.''
© 2004 San Francisco Chronicle