Commentary: It's time to get out of Iraq while the getting is good

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 31, 2009 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested that he might speed our withdrawal from Iraq by pulling out an additional brigade combat team by year's end.

Good idea! How about pulling out FIVE more brigades by then?

It's an idea whose time clearly has arrived, as evidenced by a remarkable memo from a senior U.S. military adviser in Baghdad, Col. Timothy R. Reese, that was leaked this past week.

Reese, who spent his most recent tour as an adviser to the Iraqi Army's Baghdad command, says that it's time for us "to declare victory and go home."

He recommends that we accelerate the pullout so that all U.S. combat troops and virtually all the rest of the Americans now serving in Iraq are gone by August of 2010, some 15 months earlier than planned.

To stay longer, the colonel wrote, will do little to improve the performance of the Iraqi Army but much to fuel the growing resentment of our presence among the Iraqi people and military.

Reese wrote that the huge advisory effort that's partnered U.S. combat troops with the Iraqi security forces "isn't yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition."

What makes Col. Reese's blunt observations and recommendations even more cogent is that he's one of the Army's thinking warriors — formerly the director of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kans. and the author of the official Army history of the Iraq War, "ON POINT II."

The Reese memo, which the Pentagon says was written in early July and wasn't meant for distribution outside the U.S. command in Baghdad, notes that since the new Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq went into effect, there had been a decided cooling of relations between the Iraqi Army and its American advisers and a forcible Iraqi takeover of a checkpoint in the Green Zone. Iraqi units, Reese reported, are now less willing to do joint operations with the Americans to pursue targets that the U.S. considers high value.

Reese said that all our efforts to plant the seeds of a professional military culture in the Iraqi forces have failed. "The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change," he wrote.

He goes on to delineate a score of points to prove that the Iraqi Army isn't very good by our standards, but it's good enough to do what its political leadership demands.

At this point, the colonel declares, it's time for us to declare victory and go home before things get a whole lot worse.

The Pentagon, predictably, dismissed the Reese memo as one man's personal view and one that's already outdated. Things between the American and Iraqi forces and governments are much better now than they were on June 30.

Uh huh. Sure they are.

I've suggested speeding up our withdrawal from Iraq several times before in this column. Doubtless I'll do so many more times.

Our combat troops have now withdrawn to huge central bases where life is much better and the work is less of a life-and-death matter.

Why do we need our troops sitting there for another two years at such phenomenal cost, when their hosts, the Iraqi people, don't want them there anymore?

We have other, more pressing issues to deal with at home and abroad. It's going to take time to reset our Army and rebuild and refurbish or replace the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of equipment that's been chewed up or used up in six-plus years of war in Iraq.

We're presently doing a temporary but costly three-year expansion of Army strength by 30,000 men and women because we have all those soldiers sitting in the Iraqi desert waiting for the fire bell to ring.

Our eight-year war in Afghanistan suddenly needs more attention and money, soldiers, Marines and civilians, because we didn't finish the job in 2001 and 2002.

The only things that can happen in Iraq because a new president listens to old strategists with an old strategy are bad things: It's hard to declare victory and leave with your head high if the old civil war comes roaring back; if the old communal butchery and murder resumes with a vengeance; if killing American troops again becomes the favorite sport of every side in the fight.

It's high time to get out while the getting is good.

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