First Published: 2008-02-15

 
Walking Away: The Least Bad Option
 

None of the reasons proffered as to why the United States should not (or cannot) ‘walk away’ from Iraq is sound. Withdrawal from Iraq is the least bad alternative, says Immanuel Wallerstein.

 

Middle East Online

Except for a hardy band of neo-con optimists and the official apologists of the Bush regime, almost everyone is agreed today that the United States has gotten itself into a nasty, self-wounding mess in Iraq where it is fighting a drawn-out guerrilla war it cannot win. At the same time, a very large number of the critics of the US invasion of Iraq, both in the United States and in Europe, repeatedly say that nonetheless the United States cannot just "walk away." What not walking away means is not very clear, but it seems to mean maintaining US troops and bases in Iraq for a considerable length of time while the United States tries, vainly, to enable the Iraqi government under its tutelage to assert some kind of reasonable control over its territory and restore a modicum of peaceful life to its citizens.

Let us explore why it is said that the United States cannot just "walk away." There is a long list of supposed consequences that all seem plausible on the surface. One is that it would result in unconstrained civil war in Iraq. This may be true, although many Iraqis feel that they are already living in precisely such a civil war, even with US troops on the scene.

A second reason is that it would mean the takeover by Al-Qaeda-like jihadists in Iraq. This is a remote possibility, although it is not too plausible. In any case, it is the presence of US troops in Iraq that has provided the main basis for recruitment of Iraqis into such organizations. They weren't there at all in the days of Saddam Hussein. The US invasion led to their emergence within Iraq. As for Afghanistan, the Taliban were indeed there before US troops came in. They lost power in the central government as a result of the invasion. But they seem to be in the process of regaining it now, despite the presence of US and NATO troops in some number. Furthermore, how long the NATO troops will be willing to stay is most uncertain.

A third reason is that a US withdrawal would mean the strengthening of Iran's position in Iraq and more generally in the Middle East. Again, this may be true, but most serious analysts feel that Iran has already been the biggest beneficiary of the US invasion. It destroyed a serious opponent of Iran, Saddam Hussein. It has placed Shia and Kurdish groups in considerable power in Iraq, groups that have had close links with Iran and will probably continue to maintain and strengthen these links. There is no indication that the US presence is weakening Iran's position. Quite the contrary.

A fourth reason is that withdrawal would hurt US access to the oil supplies of the Middle East. However, the US presence has led to a decrease, not an increase, in Iraqi production, which will not resume seriously as long as the war is going on. Furthermore, the decline in US power resulting from the failed invasion has led Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other producers to begin to expand their role as a supplier of oil to China, India, and other countries, at the long-run expense of US access.

A fifth reason is that withdrawal of US troops and bases would be an incredible humiliation of the United States, an acknowledgement of its defeat and loss of power. Furthermore, it would be seen as a "betrayal" by all those members of the military who fought and died in Iraq. This is undoubtedly true. The question is whether this is not already happening anyway. And the even bigger question is whether it "supports" those who have fought and died to have still more persons fight and die, in a war that will not be won.

Let us explore the alternatives that lie before the United States. The only two truly realistic alternatives are eviction by the Iraqi government or "walking away." With all the talk about irreconcilable ethnic rivalries in Iraq, we should not neglect the strength of Iraqi nationalism among both Sunni and Shia. After 2009, when they will see that the probable Democratic administration of the United States will continue to waffle about withdrawal, the pressure to find a united front of Sunni and Shia, which can only be constructed on the basis of the need to get out from under the US omnipresence, is likely to become enormous. We already are witnessing the quiet negotiations that are going on in this regard. As for the Kurds, provided they retain a reasonable amount of autonomy, they will reluctantly settle for such autonomy as the best option they have in the situation that now exists. I consider this the most probable outcome of the present situation.

What then would be the plus in "walking away"? First let us clarify what this means. It means a statement by the US government that it will withdraw all troops without exception and shut down all bases in Iraq within say six months of the date of announcement. Is this better than being evicted (that is, asked formally to leave) by a new government, resulting from a new nationalist alliance within Iraq? Yes, of course. US withdrawal would mark the first step on the long and difficult path to healing the United States of the sicknesses brought on by its imperial addiction, the first step in a painful effort to restore the good name of the United States in the world community.

Walking away will indeed be difficult and painful. But it is just as necessary for the United States to withdraw as it is for an alcoholic to withdraw, taking the first step on the path to total renunciation of the addiction.





Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The US in a Chaotic World (New Press).



Copyright ©2008 Immanuel Wallerstein

 

Yemen’s Huthis seize Sanaa state offices

Three years to end Israeli occupation in UN resolution

Iraq Kurds, coalition launch offensive to retake Sinjar

Saudi to carry on massive public spending

Key oil producers face uncertain outlook in 2015

Over $900 million needed to help Syria children

Saudi rules out oil output reduction

Dutch populist lawmaker to be tried for 'fewer Moroccans' vow

Outrage in Algeria over Islamist call for Algerian author's death

Somalia appoints new PM after bitter infighting

Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist

Sharp rise in Syria passport applications

Turkey FM visit to Iran highlights Syria divide

UK troops mistreated Iraq detainees in 2004

Iran to Australia: We warned you about the gunman

From bikini to Jihad in Ceuta, Melilla

Tunisia votes Sunday in second round of presidential poll

Islamist militias launch air strike near key Libyan oil terminals

Egypt refers 312 Islamists to military courts

Turkey rejects EU criticism over media arrests

Kerry meets chief Palestinian negotiator

Saudi cleric sparks uproar for showing wife’s face

15,000 march against country’s ‘Islamisation’ in eastern Germany

Gulf stock markets tumble

Australia mourns Sydney cafe siege victims

Hostages flee as police storm Sydney café

Erdogan to EU: Mind your own business!

Syria PM in Iran for talks with key ally

22 Swiss jihadists fighting abroad

#illridewithyou: Australians stand in solidarity with Muslims

Sydney siege 'lone wolf' or IS-led attack?

EU support UN efforts for Aleppo ceasefire

Saudi policeman killed in Riyadh hostage-taking

Saudi king receives Jordan monarch

Palestinians push UN bid to end Israeli occupation

Hostages held in Sydney cafe, Islamic flag held up

Hamas stages show of strength to mark 27th anniversary

France 'neutralised' 200 jihadists in Sahel region of West Africa

Kerry in Rome ahead of Palestinian push at UN

Drive-by shooting kills two Egypt policemen in Sinai Peninsula

Libya pro-government forces push back Islamist fighters

Wave of arrests targets Gulen supporters in Turkey

Security Council fails and Bashir declares victory!

UAE calls on Arabs to invest in future amid ‘rapid changes’

Dawn collision kills more than 10 Egypt fishermen in Gulf of Suez