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Iraq War: Paths Forward

Looking at the Exit Strategies


President Bush hopes to bring enough stability to Iraq that Iraqi security forces can maintain control and allow the new government to gain strength. Others believe this is a nearly impossible task and, therefore, U.S. troops should be withdrawn as quickly as possible. Some see a path forward based on increased diplomacy with Iraq's neighbors leading to regional security. Still others say the only option is to divide Iraq into separate units (or even countries). Plan summaries and resources:

Presidential Candidates' Exit Plan

U.S. Presidential Seal
Photo: White House
Each of the candidates for president of the United States has put forward some kind of thought on the future of the Iraq War. The New York Times put together this summary of each candidates' position. The Council for a Livable World offers this summary.

President Bush's Plan

U.S. President George W. Bush
Photo: Getty/Mark Wilson
This is the plan put forward by the Bush Administration in January 2007. The plan calls for significantly increasing the size and quality of the Iraqi security forces, creating stable space for the central government to strengthen, and promoting economci development. An "Initial Benchmark Assessment Report" of the plan was presented to the president in July 2007. The President has refused to discuss timelines for withdrawing American troops from Iraq saying such talk would give an advantage to the enemy. About Guide to Liberal Politics Deborah White says that while President Bush talks of "winning" this war, it is really a "euphemism for conquering and destroying Iraq."

Partition Iraq

Some experts advocate giving the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish in Iraq more control over their separate geographic areas as a way of ending violence. This might mean dividing Iraq into three independent countries or into three quasi-independent zones with a central Iraqi government to handle a few big tasks (like distributing oil revenues). Former State Department official Peter Galbraith has discussed the possibility of Iraq becoming three countries. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Les Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations support keeping a single Iraq but dividing it into three sections. In either plan, U.S. troops would likely be withdrawn gradually over a year or more with a small U.S. security force in place indefinitely.

Withdraw Immediately

U.S. soldiers prepare to remove a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad
Photo: Getty/Khuzaie
A number of leaders and experts have called for the United States to withdraw most or all troops in a very short time frame (or at least by some certain deadline). These include former Senator George McGovern(D-SD), Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), Representative Tom Allen (D-ME), Representative John Murtha (D-PA), and more. Most of these plans call for a small U.S. force to protect American assets in Iraq (such as the embassy) and other forces to be positioned "over the horizon" from Iraq to be deployed as needed to support pro-American efforts in Iraq. Former U.S. Defense Department official Anthony Cordesman says withdrawal from Iraq in a very short timeframe is possible, but warns it still carries grave risks.

Iraq Study Group

The Iraq Study Group report
This bi-partisan, independent committee was chaired by former Secretary of State James A. Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. Their goal was to offer an assessment of the situation in Iraq and policy advice on how to go forward. Their plan included keeping Iraq whole, diplomatic engagement with all of Iraq's neighbors, greater emphasis on Arab-Israeli peace, a nation reconciliation plan including oil revenue sharing, a robust reconstruction effort, and withdrawal of many American troops with those remaining focused only on support of Iraqi security forces. Many thought the report, released December 6, 2006, would give President Bush political cover to begin a withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, the White House had a cold reaction.

Other Exit Plan Summaries

  • A Washington Post overview in July 2007 said if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq in the near future, Iraq will "effectively become three separate nations."

  • In the Arab American News, Laval University's Azim Moslih says leaving U.S. forces in Iraq is untenable. He argues a transition would best be managed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference."

  • In the Jerusalem Post, Tel Aviv University's Ofra Bengio, concludes, "American policymakers find themselves in a 'damned if you do and damned if you don't' situation. But it seems that withdrawal is the lesser of two evils."

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