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Is the U.S. Government Planning for Withdrawal from Iraq?

Robert Naiman

Here's a question you might consider asking your Representative in Congress, your Senators, and any Presidential candidates who happen to pop by:

"Do you think that the United States should be doing more to plan for the possible withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq?"

After all, when people report on, say, U.S. plans to bomb Iran, the standard answer is, "don't worry your pretty little head about that, we plan for every contingency, it would be irresponsible to do otherwise."

How about the "contingency" of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq? Have you planned for that?When you fail to plan, you plan to fail, as the saying goes.

Or is the default plan to withdraw Vietnam-style, denial until the last possible moment, followed by helicopters from rooftops?

It's not just a river in Egypt, as Stuart Smalley used to say.

There's a growing sense among both America's allies and its enemies that U.S. combat troops, at least, will be out of Iraq by the end of next year, Newsweek reports.

The United States Senate has gone on record favoring a withdrawal by March 2008; the House by no later than September 2008, and quite possibly earlier depending on the progress of the Iraqi government on meeting reconciliation benchmarks laid out by President Bush that they are making little progress towards. Shouldn't the Pentagon be planning for the "contingency" that the people's representatives will, more or less, have their way?

Reviewing the record of previous withdrawals by the U.S. and others, Newsweek says:

the aftermath in every case was made worse by the fact that governments waited so long to admit that a pullout might be necessary. When the moment came, their hasty departures made the chaos that followed that much worse.

If we care what happens to the people of Iraq - and the larger Middle East - after we withdraw, shouldn't we be planning for that?

Kenneth Pollack of Brookings, who has written a study on the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal, says he is "a bit concerned":

"Before the invasion I was going around saying how important postwar reconstruction was, and I was dutifully reassured: 'We got it covered; we have all these planning cells.' Only to learn after the fact that these efforts were totally half-assed. I'm hearing very similar things now."

Regardless of where you stand on withdrawal, you have to concede that it is now in the realm of possibility. Therefore, the Pentagon should be planning for it. To fail to do so would be "irresponsible," as the Vice-President likes to say. Perhaps, as Members of Congress consider the war spending bill, they may wish to earmark some money for this.

Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst and National Coordinator at Just Foreign Policy .

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