Path Home from Iraq Unclear for U.S. Troops

Consensus on the U.S. occupation of Iraq hasn't been possible in the United States, as anti-war sentiment increases. The number of Americans who think troops should come home as soon as possible is growing, according to a new poll. Edward Luttwak, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Lawrence Kaplan, senior editor at The New Republic, present two sides to the Iraq War debate.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Consensus has not been possible in the United States either. As the war in Iraq enters it's fourth year, anti-war sentiment is clearly increasing. A recent poll by the Pugh Research Center found that the number of Americans who think the U.S. should bring it's troops home as soon as possible has been steadily growing. In September, 2003, when the question was first asked, 32 percent felt that way. Now, 50 percent do.

Joining me now are two men who have very different views about that question. Lawrence Kaplan is the senior editor at The New Republic and is on the phone from his home in Virginia. Hello, there.

Mr. LAWRENCE KAPLAN (Senior Editor, The New Republic): Hi, thanks for having me.

ELLIOTT: And here in the studio we have Edward Luttwak, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Welcome.

Mr. EDWARD LUTTWAK (Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Hello.

ELLIOTT: Let's start with you, Mr. Luttwak. You're among the 50 percent who believe it's time to get out of Iraq. Why?

Mr. LUTTWAK: Well, when I originally said we should disengage, that's not exactly the same thing as leaving the country. Disengage means stop patrolling, stop checkpoints, withdraw to remote desert bases, have no contact with the population but stand behind the government and prevent foreign elements from entering the country. Embark as an invasion of Iraq or something.

ELLIOTT: So Mr. Kaplan, what is your take on getting out of the daily lives of the people of Iraq?

Mr. KAPLAN: I strongly disagree with Edward's assessment. I spent time in a town last month called Tel Afir where American forces did try to withdraw and when they did, the town literally came apart at the seams. Shiia and Sunni tribes began waging war with one another. And then the American forces reoccupied the town and now they largely operate as a buffer, and I think if we're speaking purely in terms of an insurgency, the answer would be, as Edward suggests, to have a much lighter footprint in Iraq.

But I think when you're dealing with what can only be described as an incipient civil war, I think the answer is to have a more visible presence.

Mr. LUTTWAK: I find this quite difficult to understand. Now we have 37,500 policemen in New York City. The population in New York City is smaller, it's somewhat less hostile than in Iraq, and therefore if you believe that American troops should become a Middle Eastern constabulary, to keep Iraqis one from another, then you should also immediately add that we need at least half a million troops in Iraq. We never had even one-fifth of the rightful strength we needed to control the country. And it's really very unfair, actually. It's unfair, because, you know, you're exposing the Iraqis to lawlessness, and lawlessness, for most people, is worse than dictatorial oppression.

ELLIOTT: Mr. Kaplan?

Mr. KAPLAN: The fact is, we all know there are not enough troops in Iraq, but I fail to see how reducing troop strength still further, as both Edward and indeed the Bush Administration argue, can help alleviate the problem. Now, we've had no choice but to largely withdraw from the political arena. Similarly, we've had no choice but to withdraw simply because we've run out of money from the infrastructure arena and there nothing works. But I think to withdraw from the security arena right now would absolutely guarantee a catastrophic result.

ELLIOTT: Mr. Luttwak, is there anything that the U.S. can do to prepare Iraqis to handle this growing, what some have called, civil war?

Mr. LUTTWAK: Well, the cultural structure in Iraq is such that when they drew the border of this thing called Iraq, which was done, as you know, fairly carelessly by Winston Churchill after the First World War, when they drew the border they put together these groups without any thought about them ever ruling themselves by consensus and democracy, and this is the situation that was inherited by the monarchy and then by Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein was perhaps unnecessarily harsh, but there is no doubt in my mind that if you want to have law and order in a place called Iraq, you have to have a fairly oppressive dictatorship, and...

ELLIOTT: So you're saying that this country was better off under Saddam than it is now?

Mr. LUTTWAK: I'm absolutely not saying that. Absolutely not. I'm just saying that you don't have the building blocks of a consensual political system. I think the people are turning against the war because of the futility of it.

ELLIOTT: Mr. Kaplan, do you think the U.S. mission there is a futile effort?

Mr. KAPLAN: No, I do not. We know that if we withdraw, there will be 100 percent chance of catastrophe. If we stay, I've, I'd say our odds of producing some form of stable government, the odds are probably about 40 percent.

ELLIOTT: Three years ago, you were one of the biggest supporters of this war. Now you're saying there's probably only a 40 percent chance of success. Looking back, do you think this was the right decision for the U.S., to go into Iraq?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, listen. What we're debating now is not whether to invade Iraq. We're debating whether to withdraw from Iraq, and I think, having turned the country upside-down, we have a moral and, frankly, a strategic obligation to at least leave things no worse than they were. Now, I realize I'm somewhat eluding your question, but the fact is, had I know three years ago what was to come, would I have been as enthusiastic about the prospect of liberating Iraq? In all honesty, I can't say I would've.

ELLIOTT: Lawrence Kaplan is senior editor of The New Republic, and Edward Luttwak is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you for speaking with us, gentlemen.

Mr. KAPLAN: Thank you.

Mr. LUTTWAK: Thank you.

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