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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

George McGovern: Mileposts on the road out of Iraq

A blueprint for leaving Iraq is offered by George McGovern and William R. Polk in their new book Out of Iraq, being published in October by Simon & Schuster. An excerpt appeared in the latest edition of Harpers. It is a technically complete treatment of how to disengage in a responsible way. It begins with the compelling case for withdrawal, including:
  • Polls show only 2% of Iraqis consider Americans to be liberators.
  • Iraq has become the primary recruiting and training ground for terrorists; it is a strategic necessity to withdraw.
  • Current US expenditures run $246 million each day.
  • We continue to throw good money after bad and to throw good lives after those already wasted. The sacrifice undergone so far is, in fact, W's explicit rationalefor staying the course -- so "they will not have died in vain."
What is it that needs to be done to be responsible, and not to leave a stateless situation and chaos?
  • Establish an international stabilization force comprised of contingents from Muslim countries, paid for by the US, outfitted with arms, transportation and communication equipment currently in the theater. (est. cost: $5.5 billion for two years.)
  • Establish a police system out of the "home guards" working with the national police to stabilize and secure the country. Avoiding warlordism or dominance of one or another militia will take up to five years of training, coordination and the support of respected indigenous leaders. The US has no useful role to play in establishing this system. (cost: $1 billion.)
  • Avoid reconstituting a heavily armed national army. Such a force would bring more instability. The army ought to be reorganized in a manner similar to the US Army Corps of Engineers and assigned a rebuilding function. (cost: $500 million.)
  • End the construction and development of permanent US bases. The official line is that bases are not being built, but they are. (cost: savings of unknown billions.)
  • Immediately withdraw the mercenary "personal security details" by stopping payment on their contracts. These are the most despised symbol of the occupation. (cost: savings of unknown billions.)
  • Clean up land mines and other unexploded or radioactive ordinance. (cost: $250 million for initial survey, unknown cost for removal.)
  • Reconstruct Iraqi infrastructure. The World Bank estimates $25 billion in public infrastructure has been destroyed. The work should be done by Iraqis and funded through the most local civil authority possible to foment grass roots democracy. (cost: $25 billion +.)
  • Demolish the blast walls and wire barriers that scar Iraq physically and symbolically, using Iraqi workers. (cost: $500 million.)
  • Rescue and restore as much as possible the archeological and cultural sites. ["Astonishingly, one American camp was built on top of Babylon.... The 5,000-year-old site at Kish was also horribly damaged."] (cost: $750 million.)
  • Undertake an independent accounting of reconstruction funds. The UN handed over billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenue to the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority). Accounting was never completed. Massive fraud is evident in the billions of no-bid contracts delivered to US corporations like Halliburton. Reports are that oil has been sold at discount to American corporations. These issues need to be fully accounted for and remedies exacted.
  • All contracts currently let should be voided and the Iraqi government given the charge of renegotiating them or opening them to competitive international bids.
  • Reparations need to be made to civilians for lives lost and property destroyed, for injuries from the war or subsequent torture. Claims should be assessed by an independent international body. (cost: $2 billion.)
  • Reconstitution of the Iraqi civil service, which has been decimated with the departure of judges, lawyers, social workers, journalists, etc., following the war. (cost: $500 million.)
  • Reconstitution of the Iraqi public health system, including recruitment and training or return of thousands of public health workers, as well as reconstruction of hundreds of health centers, clinics and hospitals. (cost: $20 billion.)
  • Official and unofficial apologies for the devastation visited on the Iraqi people. (cost: ?)
Even if these costs were twice the numbers indicated, the savings to the US would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have estimated the cost of four more years in Iraq at $1 trillion.

McGovern and Polk call for a withdrawal of troops and the institution of a multinational force. Certainly the American senior command needs to be replaced by competent internationally respected commanders. But the world cannot afford to leave chaos on the ground or the opportunity for a permanent blood bath.

Better would be the multinational force identified by McGovern and Polk, backed by Coalition troops under UN or NATO command in camps away from the populace, to enforce a separation of warring sides and prevent home guards and militias from becoming expeditionary armies.

We've made a helluva mess in Iraq, and it's going to take a complex and massive effort to set things even close to right, but it needs to be done. Any alternative will be even more difficult.