Escaping the Trap: Why the United States Must Leave Iraq

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Executive Summary

The U.S. military occupation of Iraq has nowlasted longer than U.S. involvement in World WarII. Yet there is no end in sight to the mission.

Staying in Iraq is a fatally flawed policy that hasalready cost more than 3,000 American lives andconsumed more than $350 billion. The security situationin that country grows increasingly chaoticand bloody as evidence mounts that Iraq hasdescended into a sectarian civil war between Sunnisand Shiites. Approximately 120 Iraqis per day areperishing in political violence. That bloodshed isoccurring in a country of barely 26 million people.A comparable rate of carnage in the United Stateswould produce more than 1,400 fatalities per day.

That reality is a far cry from the optimisticpronouncements the administration and its supportersmade when the war began. We were supposedto be able to draw down the number of ourtroops to no more than 60,000 before the end of2003, and Iraqi oil revenues were to pay for thereconstruction of the country.

Even worse, Iraq has become both a trainingground and a recruiting poster for Islamic extremists.U.S. occupation of Iraq has become yet anothergrievance throughout the Muslim world and hasexacerbated our already worrisome problem withradical Islamic terrorism.

It is time to admit that the Iraq mission hasfailed and cut our losses. The notion that Iraqwould become a stable, united, secular democracyand be the model for a new Middle East was alwaysan illusion. We should not ask more Americans todie for that illusion.

Withdrawal will not be without cost. RadicalIslamic factions will portray a withdrawal as avictory over the American superpower. We canminimize that damage by refocusing our effortson al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere, butthere is no way to eliminate the damage. Evensuperpowers have to pay a price for wrongheadedventures.

Whatever price we will pay for withdrawingfrom Iraq, however, must be measured againstthe probable cost in blood and treasure if we stay.That cost is already excessive. We are losing soldiersat the rate of more than 800 per year, andthe financial meter is running at some $8 billionper month. With President Bush's announcementof a "surge" of 21,500 additional troops, thepace of both will increase.

Worst of all, there is no reasonable prospect ofsuccess even if we pay the additional cost inblood and treasure. We need an exit strategy thatis measured in months, not years.

Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of seven books on international affairs and a coauthor of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War against Al Qaeda (2004).