Commentary

Wisest Move: Leave soon

There are three primary reasons for ending the U.S. military occupation of Iraq.

First, our military presence weakens liberal democratic forces in Iraq. It may be unfair to characterize the new government in Iraq as a U.S. puppet, but such sentiments are widespread. It will be more difficult to prove the government’s legitimacy if it is seen as dependent upon U.S. forces for its survival.

Second, a military presence in Iraq is not needed to protect U.S. security interests, and such a presence is costly. The Bush administration hopes to conceal these costs — $3 billion to $4 billion a month — until after the November election. Meanwhile, we risk undermining the strength and credibility of our armed forces by spreading them too thin. These costs will be measured in faltering recruitment and retention rates. And then there is the incalculable cost of the dead and wounded.

Finally, the military occupation of Iraq is not merely unnecessary and costly. It is counterproductive in the fight against the terrorists who pose the greatest threat to us: al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups.

By withdrawing from Iraq, the United States would be broadcasting to the world, in particular Arab and Muslim populations, that America has no plans to seize control of Middle East oil or to suppress the peaceful aspirations of the region’s population. Withdrawal would undermine the credibility of anti-American propaganda that characterizes the occupation as a vehicle for U.S. dominance in the region. In other words, the United States should leave Iraq precisely because it is what the Iraqis want and what the terrorists fear.

At the same time, the Bush administration must communicate to the people of Iraq: “We have withdrawn militarily from your country, but that does not mean that we will ignore what you do. Do not harbor al-Qaeda or other anti-American terrorist groups, or we will be back.”

The message would be even simpler, and more chilling, for al-Qaeda and its ilk: “Now we are coming for you. Our ability to find and destroy you — wherever you may be — is enhanced by the elimination of our costly and burdensome occupation in Iraq.”

An orderly exit by U.S. forces can be touted for what it is: a victory for the United States and Iraq, the logical conclusion to action that removed a brutal dictator.

Therefore, the Bush administration should commit to a formal plan for military withdrawal that would have all U.S. forces out of the country within one year of the handover of political sovereignty: July 1, 2005.

Military presence is too costly and fuels anti-U.S. propaganda.

Christopher Preble is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.