Reaction To An Iraq Timetable

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For some, an 18-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq — President Obama is now targeting summer 2010 — is too short. For others, it's far too long. Tom Andrews, a former congressman who is now national director of the group Win Without War, talks about how President Obama's plan is being received.


Well, as we heard Tom say, there will be up to 50,000 troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future. They may be advisers; they may protect U.S. interests. And that does not sit well with former Democratic congressman from Maine, Thomas Andrews. He is now the national director of a group called Win Without War. And Congressman Andrews, what problems do you have with leaving these residual forces behind?

Former Representative THOMAS ANDREWS (Democrat, South Portland, Maine; National Director, Win Without War): Well, the problem is who are they, how long will they be there, what will their role be. We've already heard in published reports, New York Times yesterday, for example, that military planners are looking at meeting the withdrawal deadlines of the combat forces by simply redefining a combat force as a residual force. Our commander on the grounds in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, for example, said that the Status of Forces Agreement that United States has with Iraq - that requires all U.S. combat forces be out of the cities and villages of Iraq by June of this year, June of 2009 - that can be met with U.S. combat forces in the cities simply by putting them in what they describe as joint security stations. So, as long as there are Iraqi soldiers in these joint security stations, U.S. combat forces can be on the ground and that will meet the definition of removal of U.S. combat forces. It's extremely important that we're clear about what we mean by a combat versus residual force. And you know, call me crazy, but if I'm in uniform, if I have a weapon, if I am being fired upon and firing back and taking casualties, I'm in combat regardless of what a Pentagon official describes it.

BRAND: Well, the argument, though, being that, you know, if we don't leave some residual forces behind and some Americans there, it might evolve into chaos and it'll be worse and we'd have to send more in later.

Rep. ANDREWS: The bottom line is, is that this is a deeply unpopular military occupation in Iraq. As a matter of fact, the Status of Forces Agreement that was signed in December, there was enormous pressure on Iraqi political leaders not to sign this, which would've forced the U.S. out on January 1st because of the opposition of the Iraqi people; they want us out. And so, yes, there are problems, there are security problems, there's lots of negotiating and accommodation and agreements that have to be forged there, but that's a job for the Iraqi people. And they're saying to us unequivocally, we want you out, and I think it's important that we make - meet our commitments and get out.

BRAND: Now, the president has said that he wants to reduce the troop levels in Iraq in order to increase the troop levels in Afghanistan, where he says there's a greater threat to the world, actually, from terrorism. What about Afghanistan? What about Pakistan?

Rep. ANDREWS: I think what we need to do is take a collective deep breath and take a look at the entire region and look at our full range of options and then make some decisions. I mean, the fact is, is that this Afghanistan escalation, military escalation, could be an albatross around the neck of our country and around the neck of this very promising administration. And just as another example, in addition to increasing the strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan, we now know that our military actions in Afghanistan is having the effect of driving Taliban into northwest Pakistan and that is causing the destabilization of Pakistan, a very weak government. And of course, if we continue to destabilize Pakistan, the risks to our national security, of course, increase exponentially with the nuclear power.

There's no easy or simple solution. It's going to take a lot, both diplomatically in terms of development aid and in terms of working with our partners. In country, in that region, there are many stakeholders that have to come to the table, including Iran. But I think what you have to do, again, is take that deep breath, look at what all the options are, consult with your allies and those who we should be talking to, starting with Iran, and come up with a comprehensive policy. But you do that before you commit more combat troops, which could actually end up undermining our interests.

BRAND: Thomas Andrews is a former congressman from Maine and the national director of the group Win Without War. Thank you very much.

Rep. ANDREWS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Stay with us on Day to Day from NPR News.

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