Expert: Establish A Vision Before Envisioning Pullout

It would be wrong for president-elect Barack Obama to announce a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq without establishing a new framework of American interest in the world, says Shibley Telhami, professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"The first mission of the president is to put forth a new vision — a new framework for peace and security." Then, he can announce what he wants to do on Iraq, Iran and the Arab-Israeli issue, Telhami tells NPR's Robert Siegel.

All the issues in the Middle East are connected, Telhami explains. "It's very difficult to think about Iraq without thinking about Iran, without thinking about Syria, without thinking about the Arab-Israeli peace process, without thinking about the regional environment," he says.

Establishing a framework assures that all these issues are addressed in a way where they help each other rather than interfere, Telhami says. If each issue is dealt with individually, "you're going to face conflict. So you have to assure some unity."

It's also important that the vision "increases the number of people who are likely to work with you rather than increases the number of enemies," he says. "You have to have more people rooting for you."

It doesn't have to be an idealistic vision, he says. In many ways it must be realistic and pragmatic. But in order to elicit cooperation, allies must be assured that the success of American policy is going to be good for them as well.

Telhami does believe troops should be pulled out of Iraq soon and in coordination with military experts. He points out that risks of increased bloodshed and sectarian warfare will continue whether the U.S. pulls out earlier or later. He warns that should a pullout wait until some of these fears materialize, it will appear that America is withdrawing under duress.

An earlier troop withdrawal could net broad benefits, he adds. It demonstrates that the U.S. doesn't have imperialistic designs on the area and relieves the military to focus on other areas of the world. "When you look at the American people who want us out of there," Telhami says, "I think it all adds up to a very clear policy line."

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