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Opinion: Let Iraqis go their own way

Like the Brits in Palestine and US in Vietnam, it is time to get out of Iraq.

A traffic policeman directs vehicles during a sandstorm in Baghdad's Karrada district, July 5, 2009. (Saad Shalash/Reuters)

BOSTON — Whenever someone suggests that we end one of our foreign wars by simply declaring victory and going home, the name of Vermont’s crusty senator, George Aiken, is inevitably invoked. That was Aiken’s advice during the Vietnam War, but his advice was not taken, so we finally went home in defeat.

Now a generation or two later, it is a senior military adviser, Col. Timothy Reese, American adviser to the Iraqi military, who has made a similar recommendation in Iraq, the New York Times reported Friday. In a memo to his superiors, he said the Iraqi military was corrupt, poorly managed and overly influenced by sectarian pressures, and, since there was little possibility that the U.S. could improve that situation, we ought to leave the Iraqis to their own devises.

Reese said that the Iraqis are able to ride their own bicycle, now, and that we should take our hands off because we are holding them back and causing resentment. “If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted it is now long past,” Reese wrote.

Reese believes that the old Soviet model Iraq used for its armed forces before the Americans came is “too entrenched and will not change.” And U.S. combat forces “will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it.”

This is not the view of Reese’s superiors, who believe that, although we have removed combat troops from city centers, there is still a need for us to stick around for many years especially since violence is still so prevalent, and because of rising tensions between Kurds and Arabs.

This is the unending dilemma of colonial powers that see the need to withdraw but don’t want to leave too much of a mess behind. At what point to you take your hand off the bicycle and let your dependencies peddle on their own?

President Richard Nixon hoped to build up the forces of the Republic of South Vietnam so that American forces could comfortably withdraw. Some people spoke of a decent interval, a time of quiet and stability before the whole house of cards collapsed.

Revisionists say that we had basically won the Vietnam War by 1974, and if we had only stayed on to advise and provide air power and ammunition we might not have lost. That ignores the fact that the North Vietnamese always had the capability to lick their wounds and come back again in their struggle to unite their country. The timing was always up to the enemy. It also ignores the fact that, in democracies, citizens grow weary of colonial wars that last too long and cost too much.