|Rosa Brooks: Abandon Iraq to save it
The presence of troops will only make things worse; the U.S. should
find other ways to help.
December 1, 2006
CONDITIONS IN IRAQ grow more appalling each day, and a substantial
majority of Iraqis now believe that the continued presence of U.S.
troops is a major cause of the ongoing carnage. Despite this,
supporters of the Bush administration continue to insist that if we
withdraw U.S. troops, we'll be "abandoning" Iraq.
"Abandoning" Iraq to what, exactly? To civil war? Iraq already has
that, thanks in large part to us. Maybe things will get worse if we
leave — but maybe our departure is the only thing that can save Iraq.
The Iraqis think they'll be better off without us.
The U.S. does have a deep responsibility to aid the Iraqis. But let's
talk about what is, and isn't, "abandonment." Invading Iraq without a
plan for protecting crucial infrastructure and civilian lives was a
form of abandonment.
Failing to complete — or even begin — most of the reconstruction
projects we promised was a form of abandonment.
Taking such a heavy-handed approach to combating insurgents that
thousands of civilian deaths were written off as "collateral damage"
was a form of abandonment.
Refusing to engage with Iran and Syria, the two regional powers whose
cooperation is most crucial to slowing the violence, is a form of
Most of all, keeping 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when their presence
is only making things worse is a form of abandonment.
If we're serious about helping the Iraqi people, there are still some
things we can do. For a start, we should withdraw U.S. combat troops
from Iraq — something the bipartisan Iraq Study Group appears likely
That doesn't mean there's no longer any role for the U.S. military. In
the shorter term (the next six months to a year), redeploying some
U.S. troops to secure Iraq's borders might diminish the likelihood
that Iraq's civil war will morph into a full-scale proxy war among
regional powers. Similarly, U.S. military advisors should continue to
provide training to the Iraqi army and police in the shorter term, but
such programs need to be constantly reassessed to make sure that the
Iraqis we're working with don't simply become U.S.-trained members of
ethnic death squads.
At this point, though, most of what we can do for Iraq won't directly
involve the U.S. military. In a May 2006 report written for the Center
for American Progress, Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis call for the
U.S. to help organize an international peace conference on Iraq,
bringing together Iraqi government and militia leaders, along with
representatives of key neighboring states, including Saudi Arabia,
Turkey, Syria and Iran. The goal: get leaders of the various rival
factions to hammer out a cease-fire agreement, an agreement on
federalism and division of resources, a timetable for disbanding the
militias and, perhaps, agreement on a regional or international force
to help keep the peace.
Such a conference — modeled on the 1995 Dayton conference that ended
the war in Bosnia — wouldn't produce pretty results. But in Iraq, as
in Bosnia, even an imperfect peace would be better than ongoing
We should also redouble the U.S. commitment to Iraqi reconstruction.
Though our credibility in the region is shot, our money could still
help make things better, and we should push other donor states to pony
up as well. A genuine international commitment to Iraqi reconstruction
— job creation, the restoration of basic services such as electricity
and healthcare and support for civil society and honest, effective
local government could help give Iraqis the motivation to pull
together. If we don't want our financial help to be seen as poisonous,
though, we need to let the United Nations or a regional entity
administer the funds (sorry, Halliburton).
But the next year is likely to be bad for Iraqis, no matter what. So
what about those Iraqis who would rather not hang around, ducking
suicide bombers and hoping things will get better?
The least we can do is make it easier for them to get out of Iraq —
starting now. We should encourage neighbors such as Jordan to welcome
refugees — and, as George Packer insists in this week's New Republic,
we should make Iraqi refugees welcome in the U.S.
Last year, Packer reports, the U.S. quota for Iraqi refugees was fewer
than 200, and our Baghdad embassy doesn't even issue visas. The
administration should grant temporary protected status in the U.S. to
Iraqis fleeing the civil war. And, as Packer warns, we should get
ready now with "contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground
escorts" for the most vulnerable Iraqis, in case the worst happens.
"We had to destroy the village in order to save it," an Army officer
reportedly said during the Vietnam War. With so many dead, and so many
Iraqis calling on us to leave, insisting that the withdrawal of U.S.
troops is "abandoning" Iraq comes to much the same thing.
Rosa Brooks is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center,
currently taking a leave of absence to work on a book and serve as
special counsel at the Open Society Institute. Prior to joining the
Georgetown faculty, Brooks taught at the University of Virginia and at
Yale. She has also served as a senior advisor at the U.S. Department
of State, a consultant for Human Rights Watch, a board member of
Amnesty International USA, a fellow of the Kennedy School of
Government's Carr Center, a term member of the Council on Foreign
Relations, and a member of the Executive Council of the American
Society of International Law. Her government and NGO work has involved
extensive travel and field research in countries ranging from Iraq and
Kosovo to Indonesia and Sierra Leone.
Brooks is the author of numerous articles on international law, human
rights, and the law of war, and her book, "Can Might Make Rights?
Building the Rule of Law After Military Interventions" (with Jane
Stromseth and David Wippman), will be published in 2006 by Cambridge
Brooks received her A.B. from Harvard in 1991, followed by a master's
degree from Oxford in 1993 and a law degree from Yale in 1996. More
information can be found at www.rosabrooks.com.