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Innovative Solutions for Iraq
February 16, 2006
Lawrence J. Korb, Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, D. Gareth Porter, Ivan Eland, Peter Brookes


David Theroux
President, The Independent Institute

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux and I’m the President of The Independent Institute. I’m delighted to welcome you and our viewers from C-SPAN to our forum this afternoon. This also is the first of a number of events we’re holding at our new office in Washington, D.C.

Those of you who are familiar with the institute know that our headquarters are actually in Oakland, California. But we’re delighted to begin our presence in a more active way in Washington with events like this.

Our program today is entitled “Innovative Solutions for Iraq,” and we’re extremely pleased to have a distinguished panel of experts who will be addressing that today.

For those of you who are not familiar with The Independent Institute, there’s information in the packets that you all hopefully received. The institute is a nonprofit academic public policy research institute. We are nonpartisan. We’re non-politicized. Our program is designed to deal with major issues by not skipping over hard questions.

You’re invited to visit our website, which is at You’ll find many, many studies and information about our books and other publications. This is our quarterly journal called The Independent Review, and there are sample copies here for everyone who is here and also on the website. You’re welcome to get a copy.

I also want to introduce, since this is also going to be our open house, a few people who are associated with the institute. One is our Research Director, Alex Tabarrok. If he could stand.

Also one of our Senior Fellows, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, who directs our Center on Global Prosperity, is with us today. And I’ll introduce some others as we proceed.

One other thing I should mention before we begin our program—here’s Alvaro right here in fact. He’s a Senior Fellow at the institute and directs our Center on Global Prosperity.

We also, among many things, have a weekly e-mail newsletter called The Lighthouse, which is complimentary, and you’re welcome to sign up for that by just leaving your e-mail address with us.

The recent elections in Iraq have in the minds of many people not resolved the main problems there. There’s a constitutional crisis. There’s continued terrorism. There’s a potential Sunni rebellion. There’s fighting between religious and ethnic groups that could result in a full-blown civil war. Is the Iraq war a hopeless quagmire that has been lost? Or is the U.S. still able to foster a united, peaceful and prosperous Iraq?

If the latter, how can we achieve this? How can the Iraqis achieve this? Should the Iraqi constitution be revised? And if so, how? Should the U.S. withdraw its forces, with Iraqi partitioned, or use the threat of withdrawal to pressure groups in Iraq for a negotiated settlement? Should the U.S. extract its troops rapidly, or gradually, or perhaps not at all?

These are the issues that our panel is here to address as well as others and these are not easy questions. Hence we’re delighted to have the panel today. I’d like to introduce our first speaker.

Our first speaker is Lawrence Korb, who is Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. He’s former Vice President and Senior Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and former Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan administration. His many books include The Fall and Rise of the Pentagon, and the Center for American Progress has a new report called Strategic Redeployment, which I wanted to point out to everyone here, which obviously relates to our topic today. Larry?

Lawrence J. Korb
Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense

Thank you very much. It’s a real pleasure to be here. I was hoping I wouldn’t go first because then the other people can sort of pick up on your arguments and hit you. But nonetheless I’ll do that.

In thinking of innovative solutions to the situation in Iraq, I was reminded of a story that Brent Scowcroft told years ago. And, of course, you know you’re an academic, you make sure you always attribute the things that you hear. And he’s a person I think we should have listened to an awful lot about the situation in Iraq.

But anyway, Brent tells a story about a very religious man who before he went to meet his maker decided he would like to visit the Grand Canyon. So went out there and got on this donkey and started down toward the bottom. And as luck would have it, the donkey lost its footing and the poor man began to fall head over heels toward the bottom. Fortunately, though, he reached out and he was able to grab onto a branch. As you might expect, he started to pray. And pretty soon a voice came down from on high and said, “Son, do you have faith?” He said, “Oh, yes.” He said, “I have faith.” The voice said, “Let go of the branch.” He thought for a second and he said, “Is there anybody else up there I can talk to?” (laughter)

Now, I think what we have had about the situation in Iraq and why we do need some innovative solutions is, you’ve had a false debate. It’s between stay the course and cut-and-run. And it really isn’t. There are other things to do.

I also might point out that no matter what tack you take, there are no good solutions because of why we went in and how we went in. So no matter what innovative solution you come up with, there are obviously going to be some risks.

Now, as was mentioned here, at the center we put together a plan we call Strategic Redeployment to deal with the situation in Iraq. And those words were chosen carefully, because we’re not saying cut and run or stay the course. What we’re basically saying is you need to redeploy your forces to enhance your overall security.

Now, the first thing we need to do is we need to set a timetable for withdrawal. Because if you’ve been to Iraq, you’ll find a significant number of Iraqis are fighting us because they simply don’t believe that we’re going to go. So you need to set a specific timetable.

Now, in our view, my colleague Brian Katulis and I, when we put together our plan, we said that timetable should be to withdraw all American forces by the end of two years. Starting in 2006, take about 80,000 of the 138,000 ground troops out, and have the bulk out by the end of 2007.

Now, what that will do is will defuse a large part of the insurgency. We hear an awful lot about the people that we’re fighting over there. But if you go to Iraq you’ll find out that a lot of people are fighting, not because they buy into this vision of the radical Jihadis of establishing a caliphate from Spain to Indonesia. They simply don’t want us there and they want us out. You also will find a significant number of the Sunni population who basically are giving aid and comfort to the insurgents because, again, they don’t believe us.

Now, to the extent that we can look at opinion polls—and I think it’s interesting when people want to stay the course they’ll cite the polls—but when you cite them, they say, well, those polls are not reliable. But if you take a look at what you see in the opinion polls in Iraq, the vast majority of Iraqis wants us out and wants to set a timetable. It’s even larger numbers in the Sunni areas where most of the insurgency is.

And the other is that you see a large number of Iraqis, particularly in the Sunni areas, who think it’s okay to kill Americans. So I think that by announcing a timetable and beginning to withdraw, you’ll defuse a lot of that opposition.

Now, we call it redeployment because you don’t leave the area. We’ve been in that part of the world for quite a while. You can leave some Special Forces in there to work with Iraqi units. You can leave a brigade army as we had in Kuwait. And you can put the Marines and naval power over the horizon so that if, for example, Iran should decide to intervene, you would be able to go in and help the Iraqis.

Now, what would that do? It would give the Iraqis an incentive to get their act together. Because before you can create stability, you need a nation. And as long as we’re basically giving the Iraqis a blank timetable for us staying there, saying we’ll stay there until you’re ready to handle it, there’s no incentive to them to make the compromises. I think you saw it very recently by the new Prime Minister they picked, Mr. Jaafari. I mean, he is not the person that can really make the compromises necessary to make Iraq a nation.

The next thing you can do is you can keep our volunteer army from breaking. Whether you support it or didn’t support the invasion, the fact of the matter is our army is overstretched. I mean, you’ve seen all the statistics about lowering the educational and aptitude standards and increasing the age. A startling statistic I saw about a week ago, and it showed up in The Baltimore Sun, is one out of every six recruits coming into the army is getting a waiver for some very serious offenses in many cases. Now some of us, like General Odom and myself, who went through this in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, know what happen when you cut down the quality of the people that you bring into the force.

The next thing it would do is it would allow us to bring the National Guard home to where they belong, so that they can deal with whether there’re manmade or natural disasters here at home.

You can also send troops if you follow our plan over to Afghanistan. In case you haven’t been following, it is not going too well there, and, I would argue, you could use about 20,000 more Americans on the ground. It would enable you also to put some of the troops back into Korea where we’ve taken them out to go to Iraq.

Now, you would also need, I think, once you announce a timetable and it was clear that you’re getting out, you could get the other countries in the region to work with us to make sure Iraq is stable. None of the countries in the region want an Iraq that becomes another Afghanistan or becomes a homeland for the radical Jihadists. Even the Iranians don’t want that because it would threaten them.

And then the final point is, by announcing a timetable, we, the United States, get control over events. Right now we’re placing our security in the hands of the Iraqi government. And, for example, let’s say that somebody assassinates the Ayatollah Sistani and a large-scale civil war breaks out and the Shiites are killing—we’ll be right in between. We’re basically giving our control.

Now I never thought Iraq was the front in the War on Terror. I always thought it was a diversion from the real enemy. But if you stop and you listen to where people say we’re fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here. Well, if it’s that important to us, how are we saying that, well, when the Iraqis are ready to stand up, we’re going to stand down. Which basically means we’re placing our security in the hands of another country.

And I don’t think we can do that and that’s why we have to get control of events by announcing a plan for strategically redeploying our forces. Thank you.


David Theroux

Thank you very much, Larry. Our next speaker is Lieutenant General William E. Odom. General Odom is Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University. He’s former Director of the National Security Agency and Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence for the US Army. He’s also the author of numerous books, most recently of America’s Inadvertent Empire. General Odom?

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.)
Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, Former Director of National Security Agency

Thank you very much for the opportunity to come and share my thoughts with you today.

I don’t think we can think clearly about what to do next unless we reflect on some past decisions and mistakes in those decisions. It’s conventional wisdom to say, we’re here today, forget what we did in the past, we’ve got to move on.

Let me give you a little diversion into an earlier time where the refusal to go back and look at the strategic rationale for the predicament you got yourself into led to getting further in and paying a much bigger price you had to.

So my basic proposition is that unless we go back and reevaluate the President’s strategic rationale for this war in the first place, we won’t make really clear-minded decisions about what our interests are as we go forward.

A quick way to introduce this is to remember—which some of you will and some of you won’t, depending on your age—1961 to 1965 to ‘68 in Vietnam. That period, 1961-65, I call Phase I of that war. And there was confusion about the strategic realities of the time, and Kennedy was ambivalent about deeper involvement. Johnson in 1965 changed his mind, went in. The staff at the White House that supported both Presidents drew the conclusion that containing China was in our interest for fear that the Sino-Soviet block, if we let South Vietnam fall, would soon acquire domination over the entire of Southeast Asia. So it made sense for them for us to backup this regime.

What we knew at the time, but the White House didn’t seem to be aware of it, but you could read it in the public press, you could read it in Donald Zagoria’s book Sino-Soviet Conflict in 1962, is that this block was breaking up.

We also knew, because Ho Chi Minh had been an agent for the OSS during World War II, that he did not like China. I remember being told in 1959—by a couple of OSS veterans—that we probably would leave Vietnam in 1965 because he was a Southeast Asian Tito and also a Vietnamese Nationalist. But we went ahead under this illusion that we were containing China and that it was in our interest. By ’65, Soviet documents, public documents, were making the containment of China and Asia their first priority. Not just only in Asia, but also fighting Chinese Communist parties on other continents.

If those are the facts, then why should the U.S. commit half a million troops in pursuit of Soviet foreign policy in Southeast Asia? The consequences, of course, were to weaken NATO and other sorts of things.

But then how do we get into the war with these facts? Well, we have this phony intelligence on what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, and we get a resolution, and we launch. During ’65 to ’68, no one would come back and revisit this basic strategic question. Not even out to the end of the war.

Now let’s come forward and look at 2001 to 2003. The run-up to the invasion of Iraq looks to me like the rerun of an old movie. Arguments about the strategic rationale for invading Iran were limited, and no serious analysis about whose interests this war would serve did I see. And to the extent anybody wanted to offer an alternative view on what those interests were, they weren’t tolerated. And certainly the media didn’t give much attention to them.

And the war aims? I think you can remember them. Very briefly, they were get rid of WMD in Iraq, overthrow that regime, Saddam’s regime, and let the Iraqis establish a liberal democracy, which we were assured they would do on their own hastily.

The first proved bogus. The second, the regime change, was accomplished fairly easily. And the third, establishing a democracy, also proved easy. That only requires voting. What nobody paid attention to is the liberal part, constitutional order, limiting the state. Creating that is a hopeless undertaking in a short amount of time in an Arab and Muslim political culture and in a state with deep fissures along both religious and ethnic lines. Look how long it took us to do it here. The Civil War, 1865, finally resolved the unresolved constitutional issues.

Now, the phony intelligence on WMD and Iraq’s relations with Al-Qaeda remind us of Lyndon Johnson’s phony intelligence on the North Vietnamese patrol boats, which allegedly were attacking U.S. combatants without any provocation, when he knew that there were SEAL operations in North Vietnam that had much to do with inspiring that. Thus the stated rationale for Iraq looks to me incredibly naively ill informed, falling into the category that I would put it in too ridiculous to refute.

But that’s not all. That’s just the first problem. Whose interests were being solved or had been served by the war? Primarily those of Iran and Al-Qaeda. Both wanted to overthrow Saddam. A tentative following of the news reporting in this region over the decade before is sufficient to make anybody clear-minded about that. No secret super intelligence needed to be available to reach that conclusion.

The invasion also made Iraq, for the first time, safe for Al-Qaeda cadres to operate. And they soon begin trickling in. It made it easier for them to kill Americans, something made more difficult to do in the United States after 9/11.

Iran gained enormously from the U.S. democratization policy. It virtually insured that any new government would be placed in the hands of Shiite Iraqis. Their militias, of course, were probably—and probably today still are—receiving a lot of aid from Iran. Invasion has hugely increased Iran’s influence in Iraq. And that may well make Iraq, although I think this is far from certain, to a considerable degree an Iranian client state as things work out.

At the same time the occupation insures that no leader able to govern the whole of that country can afford to be pro-American. So we’ve insured an outcome that is eventually anti-American.

Other consequences beyond our power to avert became inevitable once the invasion began. We damaged by just the minute you cross the border, you’ve opened up the Kurdish issue for Turkey. And we’re seeing the damage to our relations play out there. If you watch what’s going on in Turkey today, you will see demonstrations, not only against the United States but also against Israel, condemning it as an enemy of Turkey, and of Islam in general. Suggesting that not only we have lost a good ally there, but Israel has been very dependent on it for a long time.

Second, the civil war in Iraq became inevitable. It started as soon as the invasion began. Continues today. And it will continue after we withdraw. Those are just facts we cannot cause to go away.

Third, the Shiite-Sunni conflict, and I think this is more problematic but not out of the question, will spread beyond Iraq into Kuwait and probably Saudi Arabia.

Fourth, intensified dangers for Israeli security were foreordained. Iraqi Shiite terrorists, trained by Iranians, will probably be moving into Lebanon and the West Bank on a scale they have not seen before. Israeli leaders’ enthusiasm for this invasion in the first place cast real doubt on the clear-minded strategic thinking that goes on in that country. It looks more suicidal than wise.

Finally, by alienating our European allies and becoming bogged down in Iraq, Washington has lost all of its strategic and diplomatic flexibility for altering the course in ways that are being discussed here today. Too many Europeans are busily engaged in schadenfreude, enjoying our pain. And I do not think they will respond to effective U.S. leadership, or trust U.S. leadership, until we have pulled out and they are awakened that they too—will have very unhappy consequences to pay as a result of what’s going on there, and then become interested in cooperating with us because it’s too big for any one country to manage by itself.

Now, this brief review of the fallacies of the President’s strategic rationale for the war makes it clear to me that we cannot extract our troops fast enough. The longer we stay, the worse it becomes. There are no damage-free or cheap ways out of this.

Yet all of our debates thus far—and I must say I heard one from Larry Korb today that seems to be moving beyond that—have been just like those in 1965 to ’68, where the original strategy was—off limits for debate, and it turned only to how we’re fighting the war, pacification development, search and destroy, body counts. Today we’re in a similar predicament. And I think we have no chance of defining sensible and effective alternative ways until we recognize that we have advanced our enemies’ interests and damaged our own.

Now I’ve suggested elsewhere that this war may prove to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history precisely because it is destroying the foundations of American hegemony, which has been built up over the past 60 years.

A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq might not avert such a disaster—or it might have averted it. But staying the course—whatever that means—I don’t know what it means—cannot.

Just let me end by saying, I don’t think it matters whether we decide to get out next week or within six months, but a clear, unambiguous decision that this war is not in our interest and we’re withdrawing has to be the starting point for serious innovative techniques and gambits for any progress whatsoever. Our course today leads us deeper into the big muddy. Thank you.


David Theroux

Thank you very much, Bill. Our next speaker is my colleague, Ivan Eland, who is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty here at The Independent Institute’s office in Washington. He’s former Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office and Evaluator in Charge for National Security and Intelligence at the General Accounting Office.

His most recent book is The Empire Has No Clothes, which is published by the institute. I also want to point out his recent policy report, which is very timely called The Way Out of Iraq. So I’m glad to introduce Ivan Eland.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, The Independent Institute

Thank you, David. I’m going to sort of take up where the other speakers left off. And I also think that the United States should withdraw from Iraq, but I also think that we have a problem—or the administration has a problem, in that you have to save face.

The solutions, I think, that Larry and General Odom have put forth are the right ones, but I think the main problem with them is that they don’t give the administration a face-saving way out of this. And I also think you can do other things that might increase the stability after we pull out.

Now, the U.S. is under domestic pressure to withdraw, and I think—even the Republicans on Capitol Hill are feeling that pressure, and they’re scared that they may not get reelected if they don’t do something about this. But Vietnamization didn’t work, and no one has explained to me or anybody else, I guess, how the ragtag Iraqi forces will defeat the insurgents and stabilize Iraq when the best army in the world couldn’t do it.

Now, you can have all the elections you want—and there have been elections—there were elections that brought Hitler to power and other tyrants to power. But the real problem here and the key thing, I think, is to get the Sunnis to quit fighting voluntarily.

Now, that’s hard to do, because it’s in their interest to keep fighting, because they know they’re better off if the U.S. leaves. And I think with all the talk of withdrawal in the U.S., they’re going to do the same thing that the North Vietnamese did. And they may pretend like they’re negotiating, but they’re not really going to. They’re just going to wait it out and wait for us to leave.

And I think the U.S. is making overtures to negotiate with the Sunnis, because they’re worried now about the Shiite government being dominated by Iran. But I don’t think the U.S. is going to switch sides in the conflict and support the Sunnis against the Shiite government.

But I think what’s going to happen, or what’s already happening, is that the United States is going to try to create this grand coalition and govern Iraq by getting everyone involved, which, of course, is—if you just had an election and somebody won, then you’re saying, well, we’re bringing in the losers. So it’s very interesting that the democratic process is sort of one party getting control of the government, but now we’re trying to be inclusive. And I think that’s a good thing, actually.

But I don’t think the Sunnis are going to buy it. We have to examine why the Sunnis are fighting. It seems to me they’re fighting for three reasons. The first one is that all groups are suspicious, because of Iraqi history, of the other groups getting control of the central government and using it to oppress their particular group. And I think we see that, of course, with—the alarm in the Sunni community about the Shiite militias, which are some affiliated with the government, and some—have infiltrated the ministries, and some of it’s done independently. But nonetheless, the Shiite militias are oppressing. And of course, the Sunnis have been killing Shiites too. So we have this problem that there’s a low-level civil war going on, which will only get worse.

The second reason that the Sunnis are fighting is to get the U.S. out, and that may be actually the primary reason that they’re fighting. And I think Larry and the General have covered that pretty well, that if we do withdraw, we’ll take a little bit of fire out of the insurgency and maybe even a lot of fire out of it.

The third reason is that the Sunnis are the only group that doesn’t want Iraq to break up. And the reason that they don’t is because they’re afraid that they won’t have any oil, they’ll be left with a rump state with no resources.

So you have to have some sort of a solution that creates incentives for all parties to negotiate, and I don’t think we have that now. Larry and the General went over the fact that a U.S.-declared timetable for withdrawal would certainly give the Shiites and the Kurds some incentive to get their act together. But I’m not sure it really gives the Sunnis any incentive to do so. The Sunnis will simply wait for the U.S. to leave.

So I think my solution to this is to decentralize. Take the power out of the central government so that no—contrary to Iraqi history, we have either a confederation or—and in this case, I think—a partition. And the reason I think that that’s about the only way to go is because it would give the Sunnis an incentive. If you give them some sort of an oil share—revenue sharing or even actually oil fields—they too will be ready to go their own way. Certainly the Kurds are, and the Shia are also on the way out of Iraq as well. So this artificial state would essentially be broken apart.

Now, people say, well, there’s all sorts of downsides to that, but I think we’re at the point where, to me, Iraq is sort of partitioned already. You’ve got different militias running around. You’ve got at least three Shiite militias. You’ve got the Peshmirga for the Kurds. You’ve got, of course, the Sunni insurgency.

None of these militias are going to be disarmed. In fact, the U.S. is using some of them as —as security forces, because we don’t have enough troops there. So we’ve got this de facto partition on the ground, so why not recognize it, and throw in this oil sharing, and simply divide up the country?

Now, you could have a free trade area—or a common currency, that sort of thing, to enhance the market, but I think security should be provided on a local area.

Now, of course, people have said, well, there are problems with this. And some of the criticisms that they’ve come up with to this plan have been that, number one, Turkey will invade because this Kurdish area that would be created would draw their own Kurds, which are a minority in Turkey, and cause them to want to have the same or to join in with the Iraqi Kurds. But I think this has been overstated, because the Turks want to get into the EU. That’s a big thing for the Turks, and this will moderate their behavior. Also, I think the Turkish Kurds, with the prospect of getting into the EU, would be, at least marginally less enthusiastic about breaking away from Turkey, since they’ll enjoy some of the economic benefits of that.

Now, the second thing is, well, that would allow the Iranians to get influence over this rump Shiite sub-state. Well, I’ve got news for you. The Iranians are going to have influence there no matter what, and I’d rather have them have influence only over a part of what is now Iraq than the whole thing. So that’s sort of a fact on the ground, which we have to accept, and we have to go back to the strategic rationale that this has really helped Iran, and we should have thought of that before we did it in the first place, the invasion.

Now, one other thing is this oil sharing agreement. Well, how would you do that? Well, what if one side that had the oil said we’re not giving any oil revenues to the Sunnis—which is a viable potentiality. But I think we have to realize that there are intermingled populations, there are oil wells that are outside the Sunni area, and perhaps we shouldn’t be wed to the contiguous lines on a map. Perhaps we can give some of the actual oil fields to the Sunnis. If there are intermingled populations, either they can form their own sub-state. We don’t necessarily have to have a three-state solution. You could have a four or five or six-state solution. Baghdad could be its own locality. Or if you thought the Shia and the Sunni would fight within Baghdad, you could even divide up the city and that sort of thing.

Now, I don’t want to over-prescribe this, because I think it’s a real problem that the Iraqis haven’t been given full self-determination in the first place. I mean, we’re imposing a Western-style federation on them, yet the academic literature that I looked at was very pessimistic about a federation working. When you have a society that has ethnic and religious cleavages, they tend to pull the federation apart. So you need some sort of a looser confederation or a partition. And so I really think that we don’t have many good options, but this would allow the President to say, well, we took out Saddam Hussein, and we’ve given the Iraqis the best chance of peace and prosperity. Now —as I say, I wouldn’t over-prescribe this, because I think any solution, the Iraqis have to come to this negotiated settlement by themselves. Otherwise, they won’t support it.

And the other problem that we have is, I would not guarantee this solution. In other words, I would say, well, we are done with Iraq. We’ll withdraw our forces. We’ll help the parties negotiate the breakup of Iraq, if that’s what they want to do—which I think is the most likely outcome—and then we’ll be done with it. We’re not going to reinvade the place if the settlement goes bad. Because as someone said—I think it was Larry—there is no risk-free solution here. And of course, my solution isn’t perfect.

But in Sudan, where we had a civil war that killed millions, they recently had a similar solution. They gave autonomy to the south and they got an oil sharing agreement. And it’s no guarantee that it would work in Iraq, but I think it’s the best shot that we have left.

I was originally kind of tilted toward a confederation, because it would solve some of the overlapping population or intermingled population problems. But I think at this point, we’re probably down to the partition, and that may not even prevent a civil war. I think we’re deep in the hole here, and we’ve got to try to figure a way out. And to me, the partition, although not perfect, is the way to go. Thank you.


David Theroux

Thank you, Ivan. Our next speaker is Peter Brooks, who is Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs and Director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation. He’s been Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, and he is author of the new book, entitled A Devil’s Triangle. Peter?

Peter Brooks
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs, Director, Asian Studies Center, Heritage Foundation

Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be with you today.

It’s interesting, I was trying to think about what I would talk about today, and General Odom and I went hammer and tong last week in New York City over Iraq before several hundred people, and we talked about the military aspects of it. And I’ve seen Larry Korb on television about a billion times, talking about this issue. And I thought, what am I going to say that’s a little bit different?

And I actually took the easy way out, and I’m going to talk about my column this week from the New York Post. I write a weekly column for the New York Post, and it took a little bit of a different angle on the situation. So it’s not necessarily going to be military, it’s not necessarily going to be heavy political, but it’s all going to be tied in here.

Conventional wisdom has long been that without security in Iraq, political and economic progress would be stymied. But a corollary to that is actually becoming true: Halting advances in reconstruction and economic development are hampering progress on the political and the security fronts.

In fact, just last week, if you were watching C-SPAN or were over on the Hill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had some hearings on this, on Iraqi reconstruction and stabilization. And Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who’s the chairman, said, and I’m quoting here, “If Iraqis perceive that their daily lives are improving, they are more likely to take risks to oppose the insurgents and restrain factional groups that seek to fragment the country.”

I think Senator Lugar’s right. While many factors likely doom the insurgents’ cause, their bloody campaign gains from the absence of marked progress in improving the lives of everyday Iraqis, especially the Sunnis.

The insurgency remains significant. I’m not going to tell you it’s anything otherwise. But my view is that it’s a nearly hopeless cause on their part. And the General and I talked about that last week in New York. We had differing views about whether Iraq is Vietnam is not, and whether the insurgency had a chance. I don’t think it really does in the long-term.

One of the first things I know is that the insurgency has failed to develop any clear ideology beyond spilling blood and twisting metal. None of its groups proposes anything resembling a positive agenda for Iraq’s future. At the moment, the insurgents offer the Iraqis either an authoritarian, Saddamist jackboot, once again squarely set on their collective Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish necks, or the imposition of Al-Qaeda’s repressive Islamist sharia law. And in my mind, what kind of choice is that?

Unfortunately, we face the same sort of dilemma, meaning the coalition or the United States. I think we’ve done a solid job of providing the Iraqis with a positive vision for their political future, and we have improved the security of most Iraqis. But we haven’t done as well in convincing the average Iraqi that the prospects for their economic future are bright as well. My sources in Iraq say that the greatest danger is that we’re losing the active support of the common Iraqi, especially the Sunni. Without economic development, this swing group could become wholly passive towards the insurgency or actively support it, and this certainly would allow the Saddamist dead-enders and the Al-Qaeda killers to prosper.

As recent audits and Congressional testimony reveal, progress in reconstruction and economic development has, to be kind, been less than adequate. Some programs are riddled with both mismanagement and corruption. In testimony to the Senate last week, the Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction noted some was grim. In fact, only about a third of the planned water and sewage projects and two-thirds of the electricity projects will be completed without more money, without more funding beyond the $18 billion that has already been allocated. And the State Department’s senior advisor in Iraq, James Jeffrey, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that same day that nearly half of the U.S. funding for Iraqi reconstruction to date—meaning $13 billion of $18 billion spent—has been diverted to security.

Now, despite massive effort that has brought lights and clean water and sewage disposal to millions of Iraqis, the insurgents have kept oil production and electricity production generation below pre-war levels by masterfully attacking the over 4,000 miles of oil pipelines, high voltage lines, and power plants.

You’ve got to give some credit to the U.S. government and coalition forces and most contractors. They’ve had good intentions here. You have to cut them some slack. They’ve had to work with three different Iraqi governments, countless ministries, and contractors over the last few years. But the bottom line is that the results just aren’t good enough.

So what needs to be done in the area of reconstruction? First of all, I think one of the things that needs to be done is that we need to get the deadbeat donors to pay up. Back in Madrid in 2003, there was a large donor conference on Iraqi reconstruction. The international community pledged $13 billion, and to date they’ve only delivered $3 billion. So only $3 billion of $13 billion that was promised in Madrid in 2003 has been sent to Iraq. Interestingly enough, the Middle East states are the worst offenders. Japan and Europe have been pretty good in paying up on their pledges. So my view is that it’s time to twist some arms and get people to pay up.

Another thing, I think, that is important is that we increase high visibility projects. Power plants are obviously critical. And even though we’ve made a lot of progress—we’ve actually gotten above pre-war levels, the insurgents have taken down power lines. It’s not really that hard to do. So it’s pushed us back below pre-war levels. But we’ve made the right efforts, but there’re other things that can be done. High visibility projects, especially communal projects—schools, clinics, hospitals, and even generators—are a great way to make the locals stakeholders in the community’s future. These projects, I think, are real crowd-pleasers. They’re tangible and they also give the Iraqis a reason to oppose the insurgency’s destructive ways. I also think you need to publicize plans and results. I think all Iraqis need to see that there’s both an economic strategy, development strategy, and progress on the ground, especially in the 13 stable provinces.

Now, the people in the five restive provinces—like I said, most of Iraq is rather stable and quiet. Then there’re these five very troubling provinces. And I think that if the people in these other five provinces, once they see or they’re aware of the progress that’s being made in other parts of the country, that they will take action to take back their streets, to ensure they’re not left out or left behind.

Now, there are three strategic tracks to success in Iraq, and they remain the same as ever. As we’ve talked about today, there’s the security track. There’s the political track. In fact, I was just on Alhurra Television yesterday talking with three leaders of the political parties in Iraq, and it’s a very interesting conversation. They certainly have some challenges, but I think the positive aspect of it is that they’re actually talking. And we’ll see what happens in the coming days. But we’ve got the security track, the political track, and the economic and reconstruction track that I’ve talked about today. Progress along all three of these vectors is essential to success. And each is dependent upon the other, whether we like it or not. The challenge is to advance them as concurrently as possible. While all Iraqi politics seem to be moving forward at a reasonable pace, the fact is that we’ll never get the insurgency off our back and our troops home if we don’t drive forward more effectively and efficiently with reconstruction and economic development. Thank you very much.

David Theroux

Thank you, Peter. Our final speaker is Gareth Porter who is an historian and independent analyst with the Inter Press Service. He’s a foreign policy and Focus scholar, and author of the book Perils of Dominance. Gareth?

Gareth Porter
Independent Analyst, Inter Press Service

Thank you very much, David. I want to express my appreciation to the Independent Institute for sponsoring this event, which, to my knowledge, and it’s very possible I’ve missed events here in town, but as far as I know this is really the debate on U.S. Policy toward Iraq that has been made available to the country that really gives people a range of views about this issue. And it’s really quite astonishing.

And I think back on the Vietnam period when, you know, debate was really the order of the day for the crucial period of the early period of U.S. involvement particularly. And one wonders really what has happened to the national discourse in this country in the early 21st Century because of the absence of this kind of debate.

What I want to begin by saying is that, if the policy choices available—and I emphasis the word available—were the present course of an indefinite U.S. war and occupation in Iraq, and a complete and unilateral withdrawal on a timetable, I would unhesitatingly choose unilateral withdrawal as the only honorable course.

Unfortunately, under the present political system, unilateral withdrawal is not a choice that is politically available to the American people. The leadership of the Democratic Party has abandoned its role as opposition party on foreign policy and has accepted the legitimacy of the occupation. And as long as that is the case, there will be no legislative vehicle based on the withdrawal policies so courageously advanced by General Odom and Representative John Murtha. Because of this lamentable fact, those who care about ending a dishonorable war and occupation must try something else.

But there’s another point that I must make about unilateral withdrawal. The specter of Iraq descending into sectarian violence has been shamelessly used to justify indefinite occupation of Iraq.

Now, since the United States has not only failed to prevent the escalation of low level civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, but has actually accelerated that trend, the civil war argument has virtually disappeared, thankfully, from the discourse on Iraq. But the issue of Iraqi civil war, of sectarian violence, needs to be discussed, because it is an argument for doing the right thing and trying to make peace rather than stoke war between those two groups.

Hence the policy alternative that I propose today. It is to use all the leverage available to the United States in Iraq, and outside Iraq as well, to bring the warring parties to the table, including ourselves, and to end the counter-insurgency war, to end the Sunni insurgency, to end the militia, the paramilitary violence between Shiites and Sunnis, and to arrange for the withdrawal of United States and coalition troops in a series of orderly stages. And finally to get pledges of assistance from the Sunni insurgents in tracking down the Al-Qaeda bases and operations in Iraq, which is surely one of the legitimate interests that Americans generally support.

This settlement has to involve, as has already been pointed out by other speakers, an end to the paramilitary violence that’s going on, partly, of course, from Al-Qaeda jihadist elements, but also by Shiite militia and commando units which have been trained, supplied, and supported by the United States.

This is certainly at the heart of the problem, but in addition to that, there has to be a new political compact, which Ivan has referred to, that will more fairly divide the oil resources of Iraq than certainly was done under the existing constitution, which was adopted last year.

Now, the feasibility of this kind of settlement, in terms of the Sunni insurgents, has certainly been confirmed over the past year.

The problem is not to get the Sunnis to the table, and here’s where I do disagree with Ivan Eland. The Sunnis are not inclined to simply wait around for the United States to leave and then pounce. They have, in fact, been proposing to the United States for at least a year, for more than a year now, that we have a negotiated settlement of the conflict. And more recently, they have in fact offered, reportedly, through Arab League sources in Cairo, to turn over Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which I take to be a symbol of a broader willingness to help track down and eliminate Al-Qaeda bases and operations in the world as part of a negotiated settlement. And, of course, that settlement has to also involve a commitment by the United States—formal commitment—to withdraw in orderly stages as the other provisions of the agreement are being implemented.

So we do in fact have the Sunni insurgent leadership, a number of leaders of Sunni insurgent groups who are motivated to negotiate. Why are they motivated to negotiate? Because if they don’t have negotiated settlement, they face a very long, bloody war, in which the Iranians will, in fact, continue to support the Shiites, the Shiite-dominated government, if the United States does not. And in which the prospects are uncertain at best.

They would prefer to have a settlement in which Sunni interests are protected, the minority interests of the Sunni are protected. They prefer that to the uncertainty of that kind of very long conflict. And so the problem is really not the Sunni insurgents. The problem is the United States and the Shiite-dominated government.

Now the United States cannot broker this kind of settlement on its own. So the first step in a serious policy of negotiating peace in Iraq has to be to ask at least a selected group of Arab League States—Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria—as well as Iran and Turkey to join the Iraqis and the United States in arranging a compromise political settlement.

We would need the neighboring Arab states —to ensure the Sunni insurgents are fully on board. But even more, we need the Iranians to moderate the Shia leadership. And we would need Turkey and Iran both to approve those elements of the agreement which would confirm an agreement on the Kurdish problem, which has to be part of an agreement in order to avoid a future war over the ambitions of the Kurds to move out of their present area and to take over territory which is mixed Kurdish and Arab.

Fortunately, all of Iraq’s neighbors are seized with the importance of stabilizing Iraq and ending the violence because of the danger that this war presents to their interests. And I include particularly Iran in that generalization. I don’t really have time to go in to that given this very, very brief presentation, but that’s something that certainly can be discussed further.

Now, many in the audience, I’m sure, are thinking, sure, this sounds like a perfect solution, but the Bush administration would never buy it. Well, perhaps not. But the situation is much less clear-cut than you may think. What is generally not realized is that this administration has been compelled by realities on the ground in Iraq, namely political realities, of solid Sunni support for the insurgents and the unbending posture of the Shia-dominated government to backtrack from its original unrealistic pursuit of victory over the insurgents in Iraq.

By Autumn 2005, both the administration’s military strategy and its political strategy for ending the insurgency were in serious trouble. The insurgency had not weakened, but had become even stronger in 2004 and 2005. And the U.S. command had admitted that the war could not be won militarily, that it had to be ended by a political settlement.

But the political strategy that was adopted in late 2004, to draw the Sunnis into the political system through a new constitution and electoral representation, or participation, had run aground because of the obstinate refusal of the Shia party leaders, the militant Shia party leaders, to compromise with the Sunnis. The administration was drifting toward stalemate, which in this instance means ultimate defeat.

Then, in the fall of 2005, came the decision to turn up the heat on Iran over the nuclear issue. And it is no accident, I would submit to you, that a series of policy adjustments, very far-reaching policy adjustments, have been carried out by the Bush administration beginning in November after that decision on Iran was taken—from November through January—which alter significantly the landscape of the war.

First, the administration recognized that the Sunni insurgents are potential allies of the United States in the broader politics of the region, and that the militant Shia, on the other hand, with whom the United States has been aligned in the war, are not. Not only are the Sunni insurgents anti-Iranian, but they’re willing to help rid the country of the Al-Qaeda jihadist presence as soon as they can stop fighting the Americans and their Kurdish and Shia allies.

Thus Ambassador Khalid Al Zahid and the United States’ command, both began using much more favorable terminology in referring to the Sunni insurgents, who were previously regarded as the —anti-Iraqi forces—and began to refer to them as nationalists, and to intimate that they could in fact be part of the solution.

Then Khalid Al Zahid began to get tough with the militant Shia party leadership even during the campaigning for the parliamentary elections in November-December. Issuing an ultimatum, an extraordinary ultimatum to the Shia to give up control of the defense and interior ministries or face consequences, at first undefined, but later clarified explicitly as being the loss of U.S. military assistance.

Then just before the parliamentary election in December, the U.S. command negotiated local cease-fires with Sunni insurgents for the electoral period, in joint defiance of Al-Qaeda’s strict opposition to any Sunni participation in those elections.

And finally, in January the administration embarked on high-level negotiations with insurgent leaders both inside Iraq and in neighboring Arab countries. The U.S. command spokesman now publicly refers to the Sunni insurgents as part of the solution.

Now, connecting these dots, we can see that the administration has already made a major reversal of its policy toward the very forces who were explicitly called the primary enemy of the United States in Iraq. And that reversal has been accompanied by a distinct distancing of the administration toward its erstwhile Iraqi allies, the Shia parties. These shifts create the essential conditions in which a peace settlement could be carried out, could be negotiated. In fact, this kind of settlement represents, arguably, a logical extension of what the administration has already done to address this policy.

Now that’s the good news. What about the bad news? What are the political obstacles to a settlement?

Well, the first one is that this administration has yet to show the political vision and political will to go the extra distance from repositioning the United States, rebalancing its policy in terms of Shia and Sunni forces in Iraq, to actually shift from making war to making peace. And indeed, I’m afraid that this shift, in fact, is part of a broader preparation for at least the threat of war, if not the actual carrying out of war against Iran.

And so I’m afraid that the initiative for negotiating a settlement will not come from this administration. It will have to come from a responsible, bipartisan group of Senators. And that would require an unprecedented exercise in statesmanship on the part of Congress. But I think we must all hope that that statesmanship will be forthcoming.

I’ve already alluded to the resistance by the Shia party leaders to a compromise with the Sunnis. That obviously is a crucial obstacle to agreement. But I should add that the Shia have an alternative to U.S. support, and that, of course, is to turn to Iran. And the Iranians have more or less alluded to the fact that they do in fact hold a strategic position to foil U.S. strategy in Iraq in a recent speech by the president. If the United States gets too tough, in other words, with the Shia, they feel that they have an alternative.

But there is a way around this obstacle. And that is for the United States to bring Iran into the process of a settlement, from the beginning, as a full partner with the role of helping broker a new political compact in which the Shia would make the compromises necessary to protect minority rights, but, in return, would be assured that majority rule would be protected in Iraq from a possible bid by the Sunnis.

Now, the problem here, of course, is that the United States right now is moving in the opposite direction from actually engaging the Iranians in a diplomatic process in which we would ask them to be a part of negotiating peace in Iraq. Instead, the United States has forsaken negotiations with Iran, despite the fact that the Iranians as recently as two-and-a-half years ago approached the United States with what has been termed, “the grand bargain,” a set of negotiations on the full range of issues that divide the two countries, not only Iraq, but also Iranian support for Hezbollah and other anti-Israeli forces, its nuclear program, but, in addition to that, U.S. policy of regime change, its refusal to normalize relations with Iran, and, of course, implicitly or explicitly the threat of using force against Iran.

So in order to have a reasonable chance of peace in Iraq, the United States is going to have to change its policy towards Iran.

So the bad news, in a sense, is that two conflicts, Iraq and Iran, have really fused; that there is one conflict with two sides to it. The United States to it, of course, is the primary connection between those two conflicts.

The American people are going to have to make a choice: are they interested in trying to end the existing war, and at the same time avoid yet another much more serious war, in terms of its consequences, or will they opt passively, or otherwise, for a policy that will result in the continuation indefinitely of the existing war, and very possibly a much more serious war against Iran? That is a choice that I hope will be discussed and debated in the future. Certainly it has not been updated up to now, and therefore I would simply close by saying that in order to end the Iraq war, we need to be much more serious about the posture that we take toward Iran.

Thank you very much.

David Theroux

Thank you, Gareth. I’d like to open our forum up for questions from the audience at this point. If you wait for the microphone and identify yourself, please, and also keep your comments to a short question. How about the gentleman right here.

Audience Member

Do we really know who these insurgents are? They’re certainly not monolithic. They’re not all Sunni either. But do we really understand what the interrelationship is among those groups?

Gareth Porter

Well, I think there is certainly enough knowledge to base good policymaking on. Imperfect, obviously, but what we know is that the vast majority—I mean, you know, 90 percent percent, 95 percent of those who have taken up arms are Sunnis.

There is the Mahdi army of Maqtada al-Sadr in the Shiite region, and he’s playing a very complicated game of aligning, in some ways, with Sunnis, in other ways opposing them, supporting the Shia militant parties.

But the Sunni insurgents who originally sort of scattered about coming from widely varying viewpoints, and most of them not having much connection with one another, have really formed a much more coherent grouping over the past year and are now arguably in a position to negotiate peace with the United States and with the government.

This has been one of the major changes that has taken place, certainly over the past year, which makes the proposal for a broad peace, a military political settlement in Iraq, feasible, whereas a year ago it would have been easy to say, well, that’s just not possible. And so I think those are really the most essential points about who these people are.

They are largely people who are secular. They are not, for the most part, Islamic militants. Certainly not Islamic extremists. Many—I’d say most—of the leaders of the military wing of the Sunni movement are people who came out of the Iraqi army in security forces, so they are virtually all secular in their outlook and have no use whatsoever for the jihadists coming from outside the country.

David Theroux

Anyone else want to comment?

Lawrence J. Korb

Well I think that’s a good point, because too often we try and lump them all together as one enemy, and if we do that I think that makes a difficult job even more difficult. And the point I tried to make was, I think if the United States announces a timetable, you’re going to defuse a good part of the resistance, because it’s not part of this idea to spread the caliphate effect from Spain to Indonesia.

David Theroux

How about this gentleman right here?

Audience Member

Stanley Krober with the Cato Institute. For Mr. Brooks, you said the insurgency can’t win because it doesn’t have an ideology, and I've heard this before, and it puzzles me. It seems to me George Orwell had it right in Animal Farm when he said, “Four legs good, two legs bad.” That’s really all you need, isn’t it? My group good, your group bad. And consequently, the war is based on this sense of identity of who is my friend, who is my enemy. Why is an ideology so important?

Peter Brooks

I think there’s a number of reasons why the insurgency won’t succeed. I mean, I think there’ll be plenty of bloodshed. There’ll be plenty of twisted metal. As we talked about, there are a number of different groups in Iraq, first of all. I mean, a couple of them hadn’t been mentioned. We have the foreign Jihadists. We have the Al-Qaeda types of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We’ve got the Saddamists. We have disaffected Sunnis who are not necessarily Saddamists. We’ve also got organized crime. I mean, there’s a lot of things. There's Iranian agents. There's militants. There’s a lot of things going on there. And they don’t all agree. I don’t think any of them have the same vision of a future of Iraq as the other.

Let’s take the two main groups, I would say probably are the foreign Jihadists and the Saddamists. I think the Saddamists are about three-quarters of the insurgency, which is I think about 20,000 or so out of 26 million people—which is a minority. But the Saddmists—wanted to come back into power in a similar situation that they had under Saddam Hussein. And as Larry said, the Al-Qaeda types are looking at this broad Islamic caliphate that would stretch from Andalusia in Spain to Indonesia and Philippines and Asia. They’re not going to agree on the future of Iraq, but I think there’s other things. So I don’t think there is a clear ideology.

And the other thing is that they don’t have what I see is any great power backing. They are getting money from abroad. There is help from Iran. But they don’t have a great power backing that will sustain them. They have no positive agendas, I mentioned, for Iraq. Have they proposed a political platform or an economic platform for how to deal with the problems that the Iraqis, everyday, whether you’re Kurd, Shia, or Sunni, are dealing with? No, they don't. They don’t have a reconstruction plan. They don’t have an economic development plan. They don’t have a political plan. All they have is fear and intimidation. So I don’t think so.

Another thing, there is no charismatic leader. The most well known leader in Iraq today among the insurgency is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian. I don’t think anybody is going to rally around him to lead Iraq.

They hold no territory. You have 18 provinces and 15 of them are pretty quiet, especially in the north and in the south. I mean, we see the mainstream media everyday, and we see attacks and things like that, but that’s in a country the size of California. Twenty-six million people. So I think they hold no territory. They run from spider hole to spider hole from house to house, but they’re not holding territory. And so —like I said, I don’t think they have any significant support among the population.

If you want to contrast this with Vietnam, I mean, we could go on about this and the general and I could debate it, but I think it’s very different from Vietnam. You had superpower support. You had a charismatic leader in Ho Chi Minh. They held territory. They had an organized Army. They had an ideology.

So I don't think that the insurgency, although they will kill many people, and there’ll be plenty of bloodshed and plenty of twisted metal, that they really have a chance because I don’t think they provide anything positive for the 20-some million people of Iraq.

David Theroux

Any comments?

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.)

Yeah, I’d like to comment just briefly. The outside supply is huge, and a lot of it comes from the U.S. I think you’ve seen reporting lately on the diversion of funds given to Sunni and Shiite officials, and they’re skimming it off and putting it into the insurgent’s hands.

I saw that firsthand in Vietnam. You could go out and open up caches that the Viet Cong had stored, and you’d find wheat from Kansas and medical supplies from the U.S. side. So we’re an outside supplier. Iran is an outside supplier, and probably Jordan and Syria are outside suppliers.

And on ideology, I’d make the following point. Clanism, tribalism, provides hugely powerful ideologies for social cohesion and for fighting. I think this is a multilevel ideological basis. You have religious ideology taking over among the Shiites, probably stronger than the Sunnis. With the Sunnis, if you remember what Saddam said right about a week or two or three before we invaded, he made reference to the Mongols when they had come in, and he really talked about an insurgency. I remember thinking about that, and I didn't take it seriously enough. I think the organizational capacity for the insurgency is probably the Iraqi military and the Baathist party. They team up, opportunistically with Zarqawi and his people, because they provide the bombers. So it is a complex group of people.

Let me just end by saying, if you want Al-Qaeda out of Iraq, just pull U.S. troops out. Al-Qaeda cannot operate in Kurdistan now. It does so with difficulty among the Shiite areas unless it’s assisted by Sunni officials who are able to take them in there. And the Sunni secular officials that you're talking about have no use for them whatsoever.

So the first damaged party to a U.S. withdrawal will be al-Qaeda.

David Theroux

Ivan’s been wanting to have a comment too.

Ivan Eland

I think the need for a positive program and an ideology is somewhat reduced when your country has been invaded by an outside power. I mean, if we were invaded in this country, the Democrats’ opposition to George Bush would probably evaporate. So when this is perceived as an outside invasion. And so I think if you're fighting for the cause, fighting to repel the foreign occupation etc., a positive agenda, particularly as the general points out, tribalism triumphs, there's probably less of a need for that.

David Theroux

So there’s a question right here with this gentleman.

Audience Member

The United States’ hegemony is changing. We have to take that into reality. We need to craft a new way of our foreign policy—and I’ve heard a lot of good things. Is there a way to start to establish a dialog internationally? Because this is going to affect the whole world, the whole region. Is there a way to include all parties, including the insurgents, to put this forum out there, so that if they have nothing to offer, they can be marginalized, and those who have their real concerns can bring everything forward, put it on the table, and start something that not only can get us out of this but possibly create a different way of dealing with international problems in general?

Gareth Porter

I think that’s exactly what I’m suggesting needs to be done and can be done. It is perfectly feasible to have an international conference where all of the Iraqi parties, all the Iraqi forces, are represented. All of the neighboring countries are represented. Everybody knows that their interests will be represented at the table—that the purpose of the conference is to stabilize the country—to have a grand bargain within Iraq as well as outside Iraq, if you will. And this process, as I’ve suggested, should be the beginning of a broader process of moving from confrontation to conflict resolution in the Middle East, between the United States and Iran, and that is the most dangerous situation the country has faced and the world has faced for a generation now. And we need to face it squarely.

Lawrence J. Korb

I think the United States can't deal with the immediate threats to its security by itself. I mean, you have the radical Jihadists, you've got these extreme regimes like North Korea and Iran, you’ve got weak and failing states—all of which threaten us. You can't do this by yourself. We are powerful, but there are limits to our power, so the more people we can get to work with us, I think the better off our security will be.

If you take a look at this war, we’re borrowing money from China to fight it, which is rather ironic, given the fact that a lot of people think the long-term threat is going to come from China.

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.)

I want to add to what Gareth’s saying, because if you recall, I made a point in my own remarks: as long as we’re bogged down in Iraq, we’ve lost diplomatic and strategic flexibility. To proceed to the kinds of solutions that are being offered here, I think we have to get out first. I don’t think there’s any painless way to get out. Then these kinds of programs can take place.

I have no difficulty whatsoever in supporting Gareth’s approach here. I would say that we would be better off if we were to pull out. And then I think the Europeans would be here begging us to lead a coalition to try to do something about the bigger region. Then when you start talking about what you can do about the region, these kinds of issues can be brought up.

The single thing that would change the strategic relationships out there favorably to us, would be an opening between the U.S and Iran. Then the kind of thing he talks about becomes eminently feasible. As long as we block that, we were going to have problems.

Your question, is there a policy that we can get there? I think our problems with Iran and the sort of what I would call breakdown in the Palestinian-Israeli situation, where the elites on both sides are more or less incapable of finding an effective solution. In the case of the Palestinians, they can't rule their own people. In the case of the Israelis, I think they’re somewhat polarized on peace for land and how far they’re going to go in maintaining the settlements, etc.

But, until you settle some of those major problems, I don’t think these more tidy and sophisticated, terribly sophisticated, impressive, diplomatic gambits will have much prospect of success.

David Theroux

A question right here.

Audience Member

Actually, the general took my thunder on that one, because that was the question I was going to ask, and that is, the quid pro quo is to get out.

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.)

Yeah, but you gain flexibility. The only way you can get –

Audience Member

On your comparison with Vietnam, I think it’s very, very real, in fact more real than we realize, because having lived through that period, I can recall the foreign policy establishment of the United States parsing all of the possible solutions, which was just wishful thinking. And we won’t be able to advance. And so that was the question I was going to propose.

But there's another element of wishful thinking, and I think Gareth touched on it—that is, if we had the leadership, we could do something? We do not have the leadership. At least Richard Nixon was trying to get out with face. This president does not want to get out. He thinks we can win. And, of course, looking to Congress for leadership is additional wishful thinking.

Lawrence J. Korb

I think if you go back to Vietnam, one of the great things was you had was a Democratic president. The Democrats controlled the Congress, but that did not stop people like Fulbright from raising the questions, and that’s really what you need now. It has to be both parties.

David Theroux

Anthony, over here.

Daniel Ellsberg

Thank you. Dan Ellsberg. General Odom, I want to congratulate you. I think you've been talking very good sense with a kind of candor and forthrightness for which there was no counterpart that I can remember in the Vietnam War from someone of your credentials and background. So I congratulate you and I want to thank you. And we needed that voice very much.

Now Gareth has raised the point here that I think the others haven’t addressed. That our prospective policy, our emerging policy toward Iran, is very connected with the subject today, both with the prospects of getting out and the prospects of not worsening it. You've described this, as I say, with a kind of candor, as a policy in Iraq, as a terrible blunder. Do you feel the same way about a possible attack, an air attack on Iran, and if you do, what could you say about the prospects for this society, this actually existing democracy, for avoiding that attack?

Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.)

I agree with Gareth completely on this. I was just telling him privately up here, how glad I was he brought in the Iranian factor, because it’s absolutely critical. I think if we strike Iran, if we use military power there, we have dug ourselves into a hole of conflict in this region from which we will not extract ourselves from for the next 20 years. You can just say goodbye to U.S. hegemony in the world. It opens all sorts of prospects for much smaller powers to leverage against us in a way that we haven't had before.

The book I wrote America’s Inadvertent Empire explained how we’ve been able to amass allies, people, even the neutrals, who have very productive economies of constitutional orders, produces 70 percent of the world’s gross product. When the British Empire thought it ruled the world in 15 percent, 20 percent, we ourselves have been 25 percent to 30 percent consistently. So we have a massive power, and we built this whole system, like the IMF, the World Bank, etc., the military alliances, since World War II. And that wasn't just against the Soviet Union, that allowed the West to prosper and become this community of very productive, powerful states.

What we’re doing is now just pulling the rug right out from under this structure, which gives us the power. We’re throwing it away. And what that eventually, I think, will mean, is that we’ll be driven out of the region. But I shudder to think of the consequences of serious military action.

The things that work against it: First, the President has virtually exhausted his ground power in Iraq. Therefore, a ground invasion strikes me as really not feasible. Bombing will really make things bad for you, and I keep thinking that maybe somebody inside the administration must understand this. In fact, I’ve seen several signs that I think the plan for victory in Iraq is really covert to cut-and-run.

If you listen to Rumsfeld of late, he talks about redeployments, realignments. This is language that could be elastically wrapped around cut-and-run. And with the elections coming up in the fall and some rumblings within his own party, we might find ourselves surprised. I hope so. But if we don’t—this could turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history. To start with this power, and to throw it away in a year or two or three—tell me anything in the past that’s come close to this.

David Theroux

Before I get around to that question, one thing I might just add quickly. Another one of our senior fellows is an economist and historian by the name of Robert Higgs, who’s done, literally, the seminal work on the nature of crises and the state power. His most recent book is a book called Against Leviathan, but it addresses what Dr. Ellsberg is also questioning about, what happens domestically as well. And certainly since 9/11, we’ve seen a growth of federal power and spending by a third, virtually unprecedented.

This gentleman right here.

Dr. Willie Curtis

I am Dr. Willie Curtis from the U.S. Naval Academy. First, I want to preface my question and comment that I’m not speaking for the Navy Academy. I’m speaking for myself. Okay?

Two things. One is that when we talk about bringing the countries in the area into the negotiations, we have to take into consideration this kind of Wilsonian-with-booths idea of establishing democracy in that region: Does it at all threaten those regimes? And how comfortable are they going to be with an Iraq that feels our vision of what the Iraqi role in government should be like in that region?

And secondly, it seems to me—I was a fairly young man during Vietnam, I was in the Air Force—but there was an argument being made about the domino theory. And I’m beginning to think that this administration sees the domino theory from a positive perspective rather than a negative one in which the Johnson administration.

So if Iraq goes to democracy, you'll have that dominating effect, and I’m not quite sure that it wouldn’t threaten the regimes in the region.

Ivan Eland

I don’t think there’s much danger of Iraq becoming a democracy, frankly. Maybe a Kurdish sub-state if it split off might be, but to me the administration by its actions was never really enthusiastic about creating an Iraqi democracy in the first place.

If you remember what happened was, they proposed this caucus system, which was a way to put in a friendly regime, and this is no different from how the U.S. has operated for most of the Cold War.

Now occasionally, we’ve been for democracy, but mostly we like, rather than democratic regimes, we like friendly regimes. We were going down that road until Sistani said, “Hey, the Shia are the majority here. I've got the votes. I’m going to put people in the streets. We want elections.” And the administration was trying to get away from that.

And then after they were forced to do this, then to me they developed this larger strategic vision of taking democracy everywhere. They always mention, but they started stressing it. And also after the bin Laden connection fell through, after weapons of mass destruction fell through, this was the only rationale for the war that was still afloat.

And in a democracy, you can't underestimate the fact that you need some sort of a rationale for doing this, especially when you’re attacking another country in a preventive style of thing.

On one other point, this idea, I think that, this is where I disagree with Gareth. I agree with most of what he says, but this idea that we’re going to negotiate with the Sunnis separately—we are going to have this grand negotiation, and the U.S. can mediate it, and we may have to bring in Iran and settle that conflict as well. But I think negotiating with the Sunnis, get them to stop fighting separately, is not going to work, simply because they do want the U.S. out, and they're willing to pretend like they’re negotiating. But they really are better off if the U.S. gets out of there. So they're willing to wait for it. I mean, even Iranian aid is not as good as the best forces in the world on the ground fighting against you. And if we start to flip-flop and back the Sunnis against the Shiite government because we’re scared of the Iranian influence, you're going to have the same problem. You're on one side of a civil war, like we were in Lebanon.

So I think we do have to have this grand negotiation with all parties, and I think frankly, if they're given the right incentives, they're going to want to break up Iraq.

David Theroux

Larry? You want to comment?

Lawrence J. Korb

You make a terrific point about the whole question of democracy and international help.

When we went to Afghanistan, we got help from all the countries in the region, and like Peter was saying, people aren’t ponying up for Iraq the way they did for Afghanistan in terms of money.

And the reason, when we went in, we didn't say, look, we’re going to establish a democracy in Afghanistan. We said, no, we’re getting rid of the Taliban. And in fact, we told the Taliban, if you turn over Al-Qaeda, we’ll leave you alone. But since they didn't, we went in.

And we didn’t say, and boy, we’re going to plant a democracy in Afghanistan. It is going to spread all around. I mean, you wouldn’t have gotten any help from the other countries because you were basically saying you’re going to undermine it.

When you went to Iraq, you said, one of the reasons—though it was kind of far down on the list—was, we’re going to establish a democracy in Iraq; it is going to spread all around. Well, you're not going to get help from the other countries because you're threatening them.

And that’s why I think once you make it clear that you’re going to get out, none of them have an interest. They don’t want Iraq to become another Afghanistan, where it becomes a haven for terrorists, because it would threaten all of them. I can’t guarantee, but I think you’ve got a much better chance of getting help from them if you make it clear that we’re going to leave.

David Theroux

Gareth, you want to say something.

Gareth Porter

Yeah, I just wanted to address the overall point that Ivan addressed as well, that is the nature of these rationales for big wars.

You know, Americans have to, I think, learn to spot these big myths, that every major elective war has a huge myth surrounding it. And you’re right, I mean, the idea of the domino theory was hovering in the background during the Vietnam period.

This gives me a chance to mention that in my book, there’s a whole chapter on how the domino theory was not really the strategic rationale behind the war, it was simply a politically useful myth for the people who were pushing the war, just as the caliphate myth is, you know, suppose to be useful for the present administration.

So I think there’s a much broader pattern here that, you know, we better get use to the idea of spotting these early and saying, no thanks, we’re not interested.

David Theroux

We’ve run out of time, but I want to thank our panel: Larry Korb, Bill Odom, Ivan Eland, Peter Brooks and Gareth Porter for their wonderful presentations.


I also want to thank all of you for joining with us and making this such a successful event. The discussions are obviously just beginning. Those of you who are here are welcomed to join with us. We’ll be having our open house immediately after this, in this room and downstairs. Those of you on C-SPAN, thank you for joining with us. We look forward to you joining with us on our next event. Good night.


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