McGovern on Iraq: Withdraw in 6 Months

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In the first half of a two-part discussion, guest host Andrea Seabrook speaks to former Sen. George McGovern about his plan for getting the United States out of Iraq. He calls for withdrawal within a six-month timeframe.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Andrea Seabrook. The fiery debate over the Iraq War continues. New details from a National Intelligence Estimate were leaked to the New York Times, then released by the White House last week. They conclude, in part, that the Iraq War is making global terrorism worse.

President Bush disputes that and points to another part of the NIE, which says that if jihadists are perceived to have failed in Iraq, fewer militants would be inspired to fight. By now you're heard the political jabs, the name-calling, the blame game. Now, let's clear all that away for a few minutes and talk about actual plans for what to do now. Stay or go?

We'll hear two different views this morning. First, George McGovern offers a strategy for withdrawal from Iraq. McGovern is the former Democratic senator from South Dakota who ran against Richard Nixon in 1972 and was ardently against the Vietnam War. In an essay in the October issue of Harper's magazine, Mr. McGovern lays out concrete plans for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq now. He joins us by phone from Montana. Mr. McGovern, you write in Harper's that the U.S. should withdraw now because, you say, Iraqi citizens and many U.S. political and military officials don't want U.S. troops there anymore. How would you do this? What's the first step?

Mr. GEORGE McGOVERN (Former Senator): Number one, we announce, after conversations with the Iraqi government, that we're getting out systematically. We're not going to race out, we're not going to cut and run, but a six-month withdrawal period beginning in December of this year and completing it by June of next year, about a six-month period. During that time, the recruitment of a force of about 15,000 police officers from other countries, at the end of which the Iraqis would bring into being their own police force.

After that, we would begin the reconstruction of Iraq - not America doing this, but America financing a major part of it. After all, it was our invasion, the bombardment and so on that produced the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure in the country, and we need to repair that as quickly as possible. It'd probably take five or six years to complete that. Beyond that, we should provide any advice or technical assistance or any other help that the Iraqi government thinks would give them a stronger position with the public. Basically, that's what we're advocating.

SEABROOK: That is what you say would fill the power vacuum there and keep the country from what many critics argue would - it would just collapse into civil war.

Mr. McGOVERN: Nobody can know what happens to Iraq when we remove our troops. We don't know what's going to happen if they stay. But what we think is happening is what's going on now, an increasing violent insurgency in which perhaps 100,000 Iraqis have already been killed. But it's not our troops that can prevent that insurgency. If we take our troops out of there, the fundamental reason for this insurgency will begin to evaporate. When you take an occupying army out of a country, things improve.

SEABROOK: Your next concrete step was having the Iraqi government ask Arab and Muslim countries in the region to bring troops in to sort of fill this vacuum. What makes you believe that any of these countries would actually send troops?

Mr. McGOVERN: They wouldn't be fighting the insurgency. We hope the insurgency will end once we get the American occupation ended. They would serve as police officers do everywhere, to deal with criminals, to deal with law-breakers. We suggest that that not be for more than two years and that during that time the Iraqis would build up their own police force with our help. We'd provide some of the money that's required to do that. The cost of all of these things that we're proposing to help Iraq would be about three percent of the cost to keeping our army there for another two years.

SEABROOK: What do you see as the consequences if the United States does not follow your plan or one like it?

Mr. McGOVERN: I think the insurgency will continue to grow. I think that more and more people will want us out of there. There has been one rather dependable poll indicating that only two percent of the Iraqi people now see us as liberators. The rest of us see us as foreigners occupying their country and setting off an insurgency that's the worst thing that's happened to Iraq. I think the longer we stay, the more we turn Iraq into a recruiting grounds for terrorists, not only in Iraq but creating terrorists in other parts of the world who are outraged by the continuing American occupation.

SEABROOK: Politics aside, although that may not be realistic, you think that your plan is at least logistically feasible?

Mr. McGOVERN: I think it's feasible, I think it's logical, and I think it will succeed. I don't have the slightest doubt in my own mind that we'll be better off, and the Iraqis will be better off, if we remove our troops and bring them home. And I certainly know the troops will be better off.

SEABROOK: George McGovern is the United Nations global ambassador on hunger and a former Democratic senator. His new book, written with William Polk, is called Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now. Thank you so much, Senator.

Mr. McGOVERN: It's been a pleasure to be with you.

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