How Do You Leave a Country?

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And what happens when you do?

On Wednesday the President will reveal the details of his already much-publicized plan to increase troop levels in Iraq. It’s one option, one supported by Senator John McCain and parts of the Pentagon. Another option, however, carries the weight of half of America: leaving Iraq.

Fifty-two percent of the respondents to [a] Times/Bloomberg poll — including nearly 1 in 3 Republicans — said they prefer a “fixed timetable” for withdrawal, while only 26 percent of those surveyed favor the president’s option of keeping troops on the ground until the country is secure.

Maura Reynolds, Poll backs a set time for troops to pull out, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2006

But pulling out of Iraq isn’t the same as pulling out of a room; how hard is it to leave a country? After the fall of Saigon America was left with footage of helicopters on the embassy roof and a single civilian running for the tail ramp of a taxiing C-130. How do you ensure that the last thousand people left in the Green Zone can still leave safely? What happens to the Iraqis — interpreters, police — who’ve been a visible part of the occupation?

And what is most likely to happen when we go?

If we withdraw from Iraq cleanly, it seems to me that the narrative of the war on terror also changes – in ways potentially beneficial for the West.

Andrew Sullivan, Changing Osama’s Narrative, The Daily Dish, January 9, 2007

We’ve been hearing versions of this option — from Cindy Sheehan, from John Murtha and now from Andrew Sullivan — for several years now. But nothing happens in a vacuum; if we leave Iraq, Iraq is still there, and a pullout carries consequences for Iraqis, for the region and for the next thirty years of our foreign policy. What’s the best-case scenario if we go? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Sir Alistair Horne


Author, La Belle France: A Short History

Quang Pham

Former Marine and Gulf War veteran

Author, A Sense of Duty

Williamson Murray

Military historian

Visiting professor, US Naval Academy

Author, Military Effectiveness

Robert Kaplan

Correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly

Author, Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground

Extra Credit Reading

Todd Crowell, The Tet Offensive and Iraq, Asia Cable, 12/29/06: “I’m usually more receptive to Vietnam War analogies than others, but exactly how the fighting in Iraq today compares with the Tet Offensive seems kind of stretched to me. Indeed, the differences seem more instructive.”

Ted Morgan, Algeria and Iraq: Yes, There Are Parallels, History News Network, 3/20/06: “For as soon as the French left Algeria in 1962, the Algerians started fighting among themselves. Civil strife was interrupted by long periods of authoritarian rule. The French left behind a corrupt democratic model, that is, an electoral process that was stacked so the French minority could govern the Arab majority.”

Thomas Ricks, Aftershocks (Alastair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace Reviewed), The Washington Post, November 19, 2006: “A classic on France’s losing fight against Arab rebels contains troubling echoes of Iraq today.”

Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace, New York Review Books Classics, October 2006: “This is the way an administration caught with its pants down reacts under such circumstances… First comes the mass indiscriminate round-up of suspects, most of them innocent but converted into ardent militants by the fact of their imprisonment.”

Quang Pham, Ford’s Finest Legacy, The Washington Post, 12/30/06: “In the end, after two decades of flailing diplomacy in that tiny peninsula, Gerald Ford dealt with the aftermath: empty guarantees made to an ally, promises he could not keep and a “peace with honor” that the congressional Watergate class would not enforce.”

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