Exiting Iraq: Larry Diamond's View

Larry Diamond on NBC's 'Meet the Press' in August 2005. i i

hide captionLarry Diamond on NBC's 'Meet the Press' in August 2005.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Larry Diamond on NBC's 'Meet the Press' in August 2005.

Larry Diamond on NBC's 'Meet the Press' in August 2005.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institute worked for Iraq's Coalition Provisional Government in 2004. He says U.S. forces are keeping the civil war from getting worse, even as their presence energizes the insurgency. He recommends a negotiated withdrawal and dialogue with secular Sunni insurgents over their role in the future government — especially in Anbar province.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said this week that violence in Baghdad has escalated, even though thousands of U.S. troops have been assigned to patrol the city. And back in Washington, D.C. the Army chief of staff said that the U.S. may maintain its current force levels of 144,000 troops in Iraq for at least another four years. Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University was an advisor at the Coalition Provisional Authority early in the occupation and he's argued against keeping so many U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely.

Mr. Diamond joins us from Stanford in another of our series of conversations about how and when U.S. forces should leave Iraq. Mr. Diamond, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. LARRY DIAMOND (Hoover Institution, Stanford University): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Why do you believe that its important to set what amounts to an end date for the departure of U.S. forces?

Mr. DIAMOND: I don't favor a rigid deadline, and I certainly don't favor the one year and then completely out deadline that Congressman Murtha, a man who I do have tremendous respect for, has proposed for Iraq. The American military presence in Iraq is paradoxical. One the one hand it is the most important bulwark against the descent into a much worse form of insecurity than there exists now. At the same time it is and has been, I think, since the very beginning, a stimulus to insurgency, because of the resentment and distrust of what is regarded as neocolonial presence.

We have what social scientists call a terrific moral hazard problem in Iraq today. The different Iraqi parties do not need to assume moral and political responsibility for their country's future, because they know there are 140,000 American troops holding up the floor of security in the country. They can take maximalist positions. They can organize death squads. They can torture and murder their rivals and know that the country is not going to sink into complete and total chaos.

SIMON: You believe that a substantial withdrawal of U.S. forces would focus the mind, in a sense, of many Iraqi political leaders.

Mr. DIAMOND: I think a clearly communicated plan for a very substantial drawdown over, I'd say, 18 months to three years would focus their minds, yes.

SIMON: Let's say a year from now: how many U.S. troops should be in Iraq and should they be deployed more in Baghdad than other places? What's your feeling?

Mr. DIAMOND: Number one, I think that we have to have a strategy for Anbar Province. This is the overwhelmingly, almost purely Sunni Arab province in the west of Iraq bordering Jordan and Syria which has been the epicenter of the Sunni-based insurgency, containing cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which we've tried to stabilize and which have become centers of terrorist operations and of al-Qaida operations. Anbar Province in particular, the Sunni-based areas of Iraq, including the area around Mosul, more generally have been becoming what they were not before the United States invaded in March of 2003, and that is training grounds, operational coordinating centers, magnets of recruitment for the international jihadist terrorist movement against Western civilization and particularly Europe and the United States.

We first have to have a strategy for withdrawal from Anbar Province that is politically led, that negotiates with the secular-minded elements of the insurgency. We know what they want. They want a clear and unambiguous statement from the United States that it's not going to seek permanent military bases. They want some kind of timeframe for American military withdrawal from Iraq. They don't want immediate withdrawal, because they don't want to be slaughtered by the Shia. They want some kind of movement on and constraining of the de-Baathification campaign, and they want some kind of renegotiation of the constitution on the big issues of federalism and oil, which we could come to.

Now, if we could start that dialogue, then I think we would still have a reasonably good chance of dividing the insurgency in Anbar Province, separating out the secular and more tactical religious elements from the true al-Qaida and jihadist elements.

SIMON: Mr. Diamond, you talked about how it is important for Iraqi political leaders to not rely on the U.S. presence and accept, among other things, moral responsibility for their actions and the consequences of their actions. If there is a U.S. withdrawal and the tailspin becomes even greater and a descent into - and even more violent civil war follows, what's the moral responsibility then of the United States?

Mr. DIAMOND: At that point, I think we will have a heavy responsibility to work with the actors in the region, and all of them, including Iran, to try to restrain the actors, to try to help different communities to be buffered from the violence, to slow the flow of arms into the conflict. But let me tell you: if Iraq descends into that point, it's going to be like an oil refinery catching fire. And it's just going to burn, I'm afraid, for a very long time. So if we don't pursue a different strategy, I fear we're going to wind up with this catastrophe sooner or later and with the cost to the United States being much, much greater.

SIMON: Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, who was an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority early in the occupation. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. DIAMOND: Thank you and good morning, Scott.

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