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

 

Horse-trading begins as Tunisia awaits formation of new government

Jihadists flock to fight on ‘unprecedented scale’

UK court says Libyan Abdul-Hakim Belhaj can sue over rendition

Syria accuses Turkey of ‘flagrant violation of sovereignty’

Global campaign to end female genital mutilation kicks off

US to examine troops exposed to chemicals in Iraq

African Union hits back at Somalia rape claims

New scare in Turkey as ‘suspect packages’ found

‘Insults against Netanyahu’ cause embarrassment to US

Kuwait online activist gets four years in jail for insulting judges

Heavy fighting in South Sudan sparks fears of humanitarian catastrophe

Sweden officially recognises State of Palestine

Egypt jails retired general for damaging national security

Israel closes al-Aqsa mosque to worshipers in rare move

Gaza civil servants receive delayed salaries

After US criticism, Israel vows no concessions to Palestinians

Libya internationally recognised PM opens doors of dialogue with rivals

Huthi rebels seize stronghold of Muslim Brotherhood in central Yemen

Will Nidaa Tounes shun Islamists in Tunisia government formation?

Egypt starts work on buffer zone along border with Gaza

Turkey Sultan unveils new palace: Another break with symbols of secular state

Heavy toll as ‘Islamic State’ fights for control of Syria oil field

Iran President suffers fresh setback with rejection of Science Minister

Nuclear deal or no deal: ‘Red lines’ lay bare internal divisions in Iran

Heavy security in Mogadishu as UN chief meets Somalia president

Fighters from Free Syrian Army leave Turkey to join Kobane battle

Israel denies banning Palestinians sharing buses

Kurd fighters leave northern Iraq base for Syria deployment

Jordan requests UN emergency meeting over Israel settler expansion

Jerusalem Mayor visits Al-Aqsa mosque prompting anger

Tunisia reinforces commitment to democracy with ‘transparent’ elections

Turkey ‘decides’ for Kobane future: No Kurds, no Assad... Only Free Syrian Army!

Bahrain suspends Al-Wefaq weeks before parliamentary elections

Huge game changer in Tunisia: ‘In-credible’ failure of Islamist Ennahda Party

Libya PM in Khartoum for talks with Bashir

PKK hijack truck seizing explosive substance

Saudi lawyers get jail time for offensive tweets

Ennahda concedes defeat in Tunisia parliamentary elections

Syria rebels launch assault on regime-held city of Idlib

Iraq peshmerga wait for Turkey stance to depart for Syria

Sisi enacts military trials decree to cover ‘existential threat’

US calls for online war against ‘Islamic State’

Donors pledge $8 billion for Horn of Africa

Acid attacks in Iran: Deputy of Judiciary Chief to lead investigation

Lebanon army enters Islamist stronghold in Tripoli