Tom Hayden has an interesting op-ed today in the Los Angeles Times. It’s useful because it gets past the thin debate on whether America should stay or leave and posits a way to leave that has a tangible work plan attached.
First, as confidence-building measures, Washington should declare that it has no interest in permanent military bases or the control of Iraqi oil. It must immediately announce goals for ending the occupation and bringing all our troops home — in months, not years, beginning with an initial gesture by the end of this year.
Second, the U.S. should request that the United Nations, or a body blessed by the U.N., monitor the process of military disengagement and de-escalation, and take the lead in organizing a peaceful reconstruction effort.
Third, the president should appoint a peace envoy, independent of the occupation authorities, to begin an entirely different mission in Iraq. The envoy should encourage and cooperate in peace talks with Iraqi groups opposed to the occupation, including insurgents, to explore a political settlement.
I have a slightly different view, but Hayden’s proposal is a good thing to chew on.
First of all, America’s obsession with military bases is not only manifested in Iraq — but throughout the region. While U.S. bases were withdrawn from Saudi Arabia, many new bases were established in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and beyond. Our base in Uzbekistan plays a support role for efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq — but is also there because of our interests in the Caspian Oil region.
America has a “military base” problem. Whereas Strobe Talbott once stated in a forum that he saw military bases as “anchors of stability in unstable regions,” they can also be radicalizing forces that trigger instability.
Thus, committing to withdraw or not to maintain permanent bases in Iraq is one step — but without rethinking the cost/benefit analysis of long-term base deployments, America will not get this aspect of its national security profile right.
The Iraqis will have little faith in any commentary about U.S. bases there if we remain committed to a creeping base strategy elsewhere in their region.
Secondly, on the issue of who has designs on Iraqi oil. America could be collaborating with other European powers and the Iraqi government in helping to encourage an Iraqi Permanent Fund, transparently managed and designed to distribute on an egalitarian basis oil-tied benefits to every working-age Iraqi citizen. I suggested this in an April 2003 New York Times article that argued that something like an Alaska Permanent Fund for Iraq would do more good for stabilizing our situation there than virtually any other policy course. Here is a link to that article.
Hayden’s proposal could be strengthened with some thinking about what we could do to build a class of political/economic winners amidst the chaos we have generated in Iraq.
Lastly, Hayden suggests some kind of American piece envoy to deal with the parts of the Iraqi political establishment that are pushing for a near-term American exit and don’t support our presence. Perhaps this is a useful Ambassador to have working the problem — but first, America has to understand that its “brand” is severely tainted in Iraq. Our moral credibility is in doubt.
What we may need instead is an envoy who knows that America generally has benign intentions — and generally tries to good things. Despite Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, citations of non-existent WMDs, etc. — we can find an envoy that knows our better side but who is NOT American.
Perhaps Norway, or the Netherlands, or the Phillipines, or the Danes have a diplomat of impeccable credentials to play this role, as a neutral arbiter in the process who will have greater moral standing than any American emissary but who can still work with America to achieve a stable order upon our exit.
— Steve Clemons