ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now, we turn to Shibley Telhami, who is Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland and also a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Welcome to the program once again.
Professor SHIBLEY TELHAMI (Peace and Development, University of Maryland; Fellow, Brookings Institution): My pleasure.
SIEGEL: First, Barack Obama, 16 months to withdraw from Iraq, did you find that realistic and feasible?
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, I think it has to be done in consultation with the military to make sure there's a responsible withdrawal, but I do think that we should pull out relatively rapidly, whether it's 16 months or 24 months. But I should say that this is actually not the right way to look at it. Let me tell you why. I think it's wrong to announce an Iraq policy before you have a new framework of American interest in the world, and in the Middle East. Look, if we evaluate the options that are available today, in the context of the existing Bush administration framework that we know has failed, that's not an environment which you can evaluate options properly, and you can't evaluate your prospects properly.
But I think the first mission of the president is to put forth a new vision, a new framework for peace and security in the region, in the context of which you can then announce what you want to do in Iraq, what you're going to do in Iran, what you're going to do on Arab-Israeli issue. You have to have more people rooting for you. You have to have an alternative vision dangled before people, and then make an evaluation of what the options are.
SIEGEL: Well, let's say that sometime in 2009, you had the ear of the president or his policymakers, and could contribute some bullet points for the speech, A New Framework for the Middle East. What would you say in a few nutshells?
Prof. TELHAMI: First of all, the issues are connected. 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. Therefore, any framework has to assure that you address these issues in a way where they help each other, not hurt each other, because if you deal with each one alone, you're going to face conflicts, so you have to assure some unity.
Second, you have to have a vision that increases the number of people who are likely to work with you, rather than increase the number of enemies. And so in that sense, yes, it has to have a component on Iran and regional security in the Gulf. It has to have a component on Syria, and therefore, some mechanism to draw Syria into negotiation with Israel. And you have to have an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
These don't have to move all at the same time. It doesn't have to be a kind of an idealistic vision. It has to be in many ways, realistic and pragmatic. But you have to put forth an alternative future for people because they feared the success of our policy in Iraq in the past seven years. We need to assure them the success of our policy is going to be good for them.
SIEGEL: What about the risks in Iraq that as US troops pull-out, if we are not to be completely optimistic, there could be bloodshed in Iraq, there could be more sectarian warfare. And our troops are packing up and going home at that moment, just when they could be needed?
Prof. TELHAMI: There's no question that there is that risk, that risk exists if we stay as well, by the way. And then of course if we pull out, we'll look like we're pulling out under duress. And that risk will remain five years from now, in my judgment, and it might increase in some arenas. Where the Kurds are becoming more and more autonomous, the chance that they will declare independence is higher five years from now. The military is going to be stronger and the chance that they may carry out a coup d'etat is higher in five years, if they're stronger.
So, yes, the risks are there, but when you evaluate the broad benefits, particularly in the context of the new framework of withdrawal, where we're stating a) that we don't have imperialistic designs in Iran, with the public in the Middle East and Iraq want us out. Where we are relieving our military from great burdens to focus on other issues that are now important. When you look at the American people who want us out of there, I think all of that adds up to a very clear policy line.
SIEGEL: Well, Shibley Telhami, thank you very much for talking with us.
Prof. TELHAMI: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: That's Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland. We also heard from former Senator George McGovern, part of our week of conversations about what's next for Iraq.